Where the Wild Weeds Grow
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The Fukushima Radiation Leaks
Radioactivity is a highly controversial international traveler. As a waste product, it is but another environmental stressor found in the heap of technology’s discarded luggage.
Paracelsus, the father of toxicology, wrote: “Everything is poison, there is poison in everything. Only the dose makes a thing not a poison.” To down play the current impact of Japan's Fukushima nuclear reactor leaks is like attempting to lend perspective to the environmental impact of DDT in the 1940s. The pesticide’s efficacy against carriers of yellow fever and malaria was nothing less than gallant, earning chemist Paul Muller a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Still, the long-term negative consequences of its use led to a world wide ban some thirty-five years later.
Nuclear power is a seductive option for a highly populated, fossil fuel poor island like Japan. With that in mind, the effect of earthquakes on both nuclear reactors and waste storage facilities have long been a concern in their deployment. The theory of plate tectonics casts Southeast Asia as the most volatile area of the earth’s crust. Biogeographers have long noted the segregation of species along the Wallace Line, lending credence to this portrait of geological instability along this north-south axis.
For those Japanese and their world neighbors who have warned of such imminent risks, comparing the Fukushima radiation leaks to the carcinogenic effects of cigarette use may not be an effective tranquilizer. Yes, both are man-made stressors, but an individual has the power to control their exposure to tobacco. This is not yet the case in the international politics of radiation. It is also important to note that illness and death are not always the direct result of pathogens, but come instead from multiple stresses placed on the homeostasis of the organism.
If there was logic to the risks implicit in technology, perhaps we would address the 40,000 annual deaths resulting from car accidents in the United States. The micro-view is to regulate safety devices on vehicles, the macro approach might be to supplement those efforts by offering communities lower fatality mass transportation systems.
Pasted below is a short essay concerning cancer rates and fall-out from atmospheric nuclear bomb tests. The information is only as good as the sources so opinions may vary of the statistical profile, but its something to consider when we as individuals are forced to endure the politics of energy, defense and civilized existence.
Cancer and Atmospheric Bomb Tests
The other morning a friend and I were discussing what seems to be an abnormal number of cancer deaths in our generation. I wondered aloud if they could be the result of all the atomic bomb tests 50 years ago, or if cancer was always present at its current rate but masked by failure of diagnosis in generations before the bomb. So this morning I did a little research. Not only did I find a wealth of grotesque human injustices perpetrated by the Atomic Energy Commission, but records of actual human tests conducted on unsuspecting participants exposed or injected with radiation. As for the effect of some 330 atmospheric bomb tests by the US (plus those of the USSR and China), here is what I found in a quick search:
The European Union researched this and concluded in 2003:
“The ECRR model predicts 61,600,000 deaths from cancer, 1,600,000 infant deaths and 1,900,000 foetal deaths. In addition, the ECRR predict a 10% loss of life quality integrated over all diseases and conditions in those who were exposed over the period of global weapons fallout.”
There is even direct physical evidence that U.S. taxpayer-funded nuclear tests (mostly in the Pacific) killed Americans:
Washington University officials stumbled upon 85,000 teeth not used in the study in a remote storage area. The school donated the teeth to the Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP), a research group conducting its own study of Sr-90 in baby teeth, near U.S. nuclear reactors. Each tooth is enclosed in a small envelope attached to a card identifying the tooth donor.
RPHP scientists recognized that these teeth could help answer the long-awaited question of fallout’s harm to the health of Americans. The tooth donors, now in their 40s and 50s, could be tracked at current addresses or through death records. And Sr-90 could still be measured in each tooth, as the chemical decays very slowly.
Earlier this month, the first results of the RPHP health study were released in an article in the International Journal of Health Services. Baby teeth of St. Louis baby boomers who died of cancer by age 50 had more than double — 122 percent more — the Sr-90 concentration than did Boomers who are alive and healthy.
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