=================Electronic Edition====================
.                                                               .
.           RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #543           .
.                     ---April 24, 1997---                      .
.                          HEADLINES:                           .
.                A GLOOMY YEAR FOR NUCLEAR POWER                .
.                          ==========                           .
.                         CORRECTIONS                           .
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The nuclear power industry is having another bad year.

** A study published in January in ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
PERSPECTIVES (a federal government journal) concludes that people
who lived near the Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear plant in
Pennsylvania in 1979 are more likely to get lung cancer, leukemia
and all cancers combined, compared to people living further from
the plant.[1]  The TMI nuclear reactor released radioactivity
into the surrounding air in March, 1979 during a loss-of-coolant
accident that crippled the plant.  A 1990 study had concluded
that certain cancers were occurring among nearby residents at
unusually high rates, but that radiation released during the
accident was probably not the cause.[2]  The latest study, by
Stephen Wing and others, says those rising cancer rates WERE
caused by radiation.[3]

The nuclear power corporations are working overtime to discredit
Wing and the other authors of the new study.  The industry's
attacks on Wing are deflecting attention away from the real
issue: both the 1990 study and the 1997 study agree that cancers
are occurring at unusually high rates among people who lived near
the TMI nuclear reactor in 1979. Whether radiation released
during the accident caused these cancers, or whether the TMI
plant caused them in some other way is an interesting sidelight,
but is not the central issue.

After the authors of the 1990 study concluded that radiation
released during the 1979 accident probably wasn't causing the
cancer increases near TMI, they did a second study.  They found
that the cancers might have been caused by accident-related

Stress is definitely known to damage the immune system, and a
damaged immune system may fail to prevent cancers.[5]  If your
immune system is damaged, even routine low-level releases of
radioactive gases from a nearby nuclear power plant might be
sufficient to cause cancers.

There was plenty of reason to feel stress back in 1979 if you
lived within 100 miles of TMI.  Shortly after the initial
accident, government and industry officials got caught telling
the public a series of bald-faced lies, compounding the public's
initial distress. Meanwhile, hydrogen gas was building up inside
the TMI containment vessel and reputable scientists were taking
bets on whether it would explode and breach the containment,
releasing more radioactivity. Meanwhile, a hot, heavy mass of
melted fuel was beginning to burn its way through the bottom of
the reactor, threatening to contact the soil below and perhaps
set off a steam explosion.  Either of these scenarios could have
released large quantities of radiation into the surrounding

Sensibly, the governor of Pennsylvania evacuated women and
children within a 5-mile radius of the plant. Many local people
never fully recovered from the whole experience and never
regained trust in officialdom as the damaged reactor's twin was
put into service.  Some local people were studied years later
and, sure enough, they registered high stress levels at least
five years after the accident.[7]

So take your choice.  Cancers are increased among people who were
living near TMI when the accident occurred.  That much is known
and is not in dispute.  Maybe radiation released during the
accident caused the cancers.  Or maybe the very real threats of a
hydrogen explosion and a full-scale meltdown (the "China
syndrome") worried people sick. Either way, TMI will not soon be

** Two fires occurred on the same day at a nuclear fuel
reprocessing plant in Tokai, Japan March 11, 1997, 70 miles from
Tokyo.  According to the NEW YORK TIMES the Tokai plant contains
4.4 tons of plutonium. One fire started at 10 a.m. and was
quickly snuffed out, authorities said.  However, 10 hours later a
second fired erupted, accompanied by an explosion that blew out
all the windows and one of the doors in the concrete building,
exposing at least 30 workers to radioactivity and releasing
radiation into the atmosphere.[8,9]  Radioactive materials from
the plant, including plutonium, were detected 23 miles away.  A
citizens watchdog group in Tokyo reported that radioactive
iodine-129 was released as well.[10]  Radioactive iodine tends to
accumulate in the thyroid gland of humans, where it can cause

Japan produces 34% of its electricity using 51 nuclear power

At the time of the Tokai fires and explosion, Japan's state-run
nuclear industry was under a cloud; a serious accident in
December, 1995, had closed the Monju experimental fast-breeder
reactor.  The Monju plant, 220 miles from Tokyo, was supposed to
demonstrate that a nuclear plant could safely and affordably
"breed" plutonium fuel for other nuclear power plants.  However,
a leak in the liquid sodium coolant system in December, 1995,
closed the demonstration plant, bringing disgrace upon the
government corporation that ran it --the same corporation that
operates the Tokai plant.

According to the NEW YORK TIMES, "The Government-run nuclear
energy company was harshly criticized for its slow response to
the Monju accident and for its attempt to cover it up.  The
company's top executive was replaced, safety manuals were revised
and other reforms were supposedly introduced.  But many of the
same types of mistakes were made in the Tokai accident."[8]  The
TIMES said of the Tokai fires and explosion, "A seeming comedy of
errors in responding to the fire and informing the public was
more disturbing to some than the amount of radiation released."[8]

** On February 2, 1997, two accidents occurred within 24 hours at
the Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria, England, just across
the Irish sea from Ireland.  Irish authorities summoned the
British ambassador to send a formal message "not to proceed" with
the creation of a nuclear waste dump at Sellafield.  In the first
accident February 2nd, six workers were "slightly contaminated"
at the Sellafield fuel reprocessing plant.  Less than 24 hours
later, radioactive liquids spilled from a storage tank.  The NEW
YORK TIMES reported February 8 that, "A scientists' report
earlier this week indicated that radioactive material from the
proposed underground waste storage site at Sellafield could seep
into the Irish sea."[11]

Other problems

Frightening accidents are not the only problems plaguing the
nuclear power industry.  Plutonium can be recovered from the
highly-radioactive waste created by a nuclear plant.  The
plutonium can then be fashioned into an atomic bomb.  The U.S.
turned its back on "waste reprocessing" (to extract plutonium) 20
years ago, but other nations such as Japan and Britain have not.

Without the plutonium-extraction step, nuclear waste must be kept
somewhere "safe" for an eternity (240,000 years) --something
humans have never done before.  Modern humans (HOMO SAPIENS) only
appeared on Earth 100,000 years ago, so securing deadly wastes
for 240,000 years is a novel idea, to say the least.

** February 6, 1997, U.S. authorities protested Russia's
announced plan to sell two nuclear reactors to India.  The U.S.
says it fears India wants the reactors to make atomic bombs.
India surprised the world by exploding a plutonium bomb in 1974,
using plutonium scavenged from a research reactor supplied by
Canada.  India and Pakistan are bitter enemies and have fought
three wars since 1947.  Indian officials say they need the
reactors to generate electric power and the U.S. is imposing a
colonialist double standard.

The Russians had previously announced plans to sell a reactor to
Iran, a country that definitely wants a bomb, U.S. officials

Residents of Florida are expressing concern because Russia has
said it wants to help Cuba acquire a nuclear power reactor.
Floridians 90 miles from Cuba aren't worried about atomic bombs,
but they fear that the Russian reactor may not be safe.[12]

The Russians say they can't afford to worry about the worldwide
proliferation of nuclear weapons --they need to sell reactors to
raise cash.  Many Russian nuclear engineers have not been paid in
months. Last December, more than a dozen employees at a St.
Petersburg nuclear power plant seized the reactor's control room
and threatened to shut down the plant if they weren't paid[12]
--inadvertently suggesting a new kind of instability that can
plague nuclear power technology.

** Extreme poverty has driven North Korea to agree to take
radioactive waste from Taiwan.  Taiwanese authorities have not
been able to overcome local opposition to the siting of a nuclear
waste dump, so they have signed a contract with North Korea to
take 200,000 barrels of their nuclear waste at $1135 per barrel.
This has set off alarm bells in South Korea, 40 miles from the
chosen disposal site.  The waste would reportedly be buried in
old coal mines, and South Korea is concerned about possible water

Japan has reportedly been considering paying the Marshall Islands
to take Japan's radioactive waste, but such talk created
political opposition among Marshall Islanders and Japan backed

** In Germany March 5, 1997, nuclear waste from two German power
plants and a French reprocessing plant were trucked 12 miles from
a railway station at Dannenburg to the Gorleben waste burial site
in northern Germany, setting off huge protests.  Five thousand
demonstrators set up blockades to stop the trucks, which were
carrying six 90-ton containers of intensely radioactive spent
fuel rods.  German police had to organize what the NEW YORK TIMES
called "Germany's largest postwar security operation" to protect
the trucks.[14]

It seems clear that wherever nuclear power technology gains a
foothold, serious trouble follows close behind.
                                                --Peter Montague
                (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

[1] Steve Wing and others, "A Reevaluation of Cancer Incidence
Near the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant: The Collision of
105, No. 1 (January 1997), pgs. 52-57.

[2] Maureen C. Hatch and others, "Cancer Near the Three Mile
Island Nuclear Plant: Radiation Emissions," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF
EPIDEMIOLOGY Vol. 132, No. 3 (September 1990), pgs. 397-412.

[3] "Revisiting Three Miles Island," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
PERSPECTIVES Vol. 105, No. 1 (January 1997), pgs. 22-23.  And
see: Maureen Hatch and others, "Comments on 'A Reevaluation of
Cancer Incidence Near the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant,'"
pg. 12.

[4] Maureen C. Hatch and others, "Cancer Rates after the Three
Mile Island Nuclear Accident and Proximity of Residence to the
1991), pgs. 719-724.

IMMUNITY (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).  See
especially chapter 8.

THREE MILE ISLAND (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing
Office, 1979).

[7] Evelyn J. Bromet and others, "Long-term Mental Health
Consequences of the Accident at Three Mile Island," INTERNATIONAL
JOURNAL OF MENTAL HEALTH Vol. 19, No. 2 (1990), pgs. 48-60.

[8] Andrew Pollack, "After Accident, Japan Rethinks Its Nuclear
Hopes," NEW YORK TIMES March 25, 1997, pg. 8.

[9] Associated Press, "2 Fires Break Out at Nuclear Site in
Japan," NEW YORK TIMES March 12, 1997, pg. A4.

[10] Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, "Tokai Reprocessing
Plant Suffers Fire After Explosion," press release dated March
11, 1997. Citizens' Nuclear Information Center is located in
Tokyo, Japan.  They can be reached by phone: 03-5330-9520; by
fax: 03-5330-9530; and by E-mail: cnic-jp@po.iijnet.or.jp.

[11] Reuters, "Irish Protest 2 Accidents at British Nuclear
Plant," NEW YORK TIMES February 8, 1997, pg. A5.

[12] Michael R. Gordon, "Russia Selling Atomic Plants to India;
U.S. Protests Deal," NEW YORK TIMES February 6, 1997, pg. A3.

[13] Sheryl Wudunn, "North Korea Agrees to Take Taiwan Atom Waste
for Cash," NEW YORK TIMES February 7, 1997, pg. 1.

[14] Reuters, "German Nuclear Waste Arrives to Big Protests," NEW
YORK TIMES, March 6, 1997, pg. A11.


In Rachel's #540 and #541 we attributed quotations incorrectly to
Harriet Hardy; they were actually quotations from Alice Hamilton
of Harvard University.

In Rachel's #542, we gave an incorrect address for WASTE NOT; the
street is Judson, not Hudson.

Descriptor terms:  nuclear power; tokai, japan; sellafield;
england; reprocessing; plutonium; tmi; pennsylvania; radiation;
stress; immune system damage; nuclear weapons; a-bomb;
corrections; cancer; plutonium; iodine-129; coverups; ireland;
proliferation; india; russia; iran; cuba; north korea; taiwan;
radioactive waste; japan; marshall islands; germany; gorleben;

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