Symposium The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident. a project of The Helen Caldicott Foundation, co-sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility.
On March 11th , and 12th, the two year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident , some 400 people gathered at of the New York Academy of Medicine to hear 20 prestigious speakers discuss the meaning of this event, for Japan, and for the world.
Dr Helen Caldicott, renowned as the world’s most expert and most dedicated anti nuclear campaigner, called together this international panel of leading medical and biological scientists, nuclear engineers, and policy experts. No mean feat, organising this whole gathering, as well as the digital technology, to make speakers and their visual presentations available for later Internet, film, and print versions.
All the same, while Dr Caldicott was present, involved and approachable, throughout the symposium, she was largely in the background. She did participate with very relevant insights in question and answer time. And she did give a short, and quite inspirational speech at the close of the meeting – with the call to scientists and the media to face up to the present global crises of climate, environmental, and nuclear pollution.
But anyone who saw this occasion as a fervent anti nuclear rally would be mistaken. Dr Caldicott had managed a unique gathering of 20 exceptional speakers, who brought together a wealth of knowledge – scientific, medical, engineering, public policy. ( I have added at the end of this report the list of speakers, and moderators, and a brief note on each one’s very impressive qualifications.)
I’ve divided this report into two parts: 1.a brief, objective, account of the content of the symposium, 2. my own subjective assessment of it.
The impact of this symposium will go well beyond March 2013, because of the impression made on the participants, and because the lectures are available online athttp://www.totalwebcasting.com/view/?id=hcf# and will appear as a film http://cinemaforumfukushima.org/, and also in book form.
1. The content of the symposium kept pretty well to the title. So, participants learned a great deal about the effects of ionising radiation, and also about the complexities and problems in assessing those effects.
Japan’s former Prime Minister Naoto Kan opened the symposium, (by Video). The seriousness of the Fukushima situation was explained by Dr Hisaku Sakiyama , engineer Hiroaki Koide, diplomat Akio Matsumura The Japanese presence and support for this event was strongly evident.
It is not easy to pick out significant speeches from this field of speakers – covering radiation science, biology, cancer studies, paediatrics, epidemiology ecology, marine environments, oceanography, engineering, nuclear technology, public health, public policy – I thought that they were all significant.
Arnie Gundersen and David Lochbaum elaborated on the design and safety issues of the Fukushima and American nuclear plants, and the needs for future safety design, (and the costs of this)
Dr Steven Starr, and Ken Buesseler addressed environmental issues – the spread of cesium 134 and 137 , and the continuing radiation release into the ocean. Tim Mousseau ‘s research into wildlife in Chernobyl, and now Fukushima, is revealing the genetic effects of radiation, on later generations of insects and birds. This has implications for human genetics – and the newly important studies into genomic instability.
On the subject of ionising radiation, Dr Sakiyama gave perhaps the most comprehensive explanation – leading to the conclusion that children and pregnant women are at greatest risk from exposure .
Dr. Marek Niedziela’s (video) presentation gave a timely account of radiation effects on thyroid glands, thyroid abnormalities and later cancers.
Dr Ian Fairlie, Dr David Brenner, Steve Wing, Joseph Mangano and Herbert Abrams discussed methods of estimating radiation effects, particularly in relation to cancer.. Brenner and Wing sounded notes of caution – about the incidence of cancer anyway, (without exposure to radiation), and about the drawbacks in both risk assessment methods, and epidemiological methods of doing this estimation.
The inadequacies of the Atomic Bomb Survivors Lifetime Study were explained, and speakers were scathing about the biases and assumptions made in early estimates of the Fukushima health effects. Dr Fairlie exposed the flaws in the World Health Organisation’s radiation risk science.
Joe Mangano warned on “the greatest challenge to the research community – corruption – the corruption of the scientific method”. Steve Wing saw the main threats to scientific knowledge as “a lack of critical thinking”, and “a failure to question authority”.
A huge welcome was given to Dr Alexei Yablokov, Russian environmental researcher, who in 2009 first revealed to the world the magnitude of the health effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. (And The Establishment didn’t like this). He and Dr Wladimir Wertelecki focussed on research areas that have been ignored by the world’s scientific and health authorities. Their research highlighted the effects of internal emitters of radiation – the radionucleides that are breathed in or ingested, and lodge inside the body.
Both Yablokov and Wertelecki stressed the impacts on women, on foetuses, infants and children. Dr Werterlecki’s outstanding research on congenital malformations deserves a presentation all on its own. Alas, no space here to do justice to his account of the 10 year Ukraine program Omni-Net Ukraine Birth Defects Prevention Program. But, having listened to these speakers, one is left in no doubt that women and infants are in the greatest need of protection from ionising radiation. And also that the accepted radiation standards – based on an adult man, are a joke. This imbalance, the neglect of focus on the vulnerability of women, was emphasised by Mary Olson in discussing “Gender Matters in the Atomic Age”.
While radiation was the main theme of the symposium, the second day shifted the focus to America’s nuclear waste problem.. Robert Alvarez described the dangers of America’s cooling ponds of nuclear wastes. Kevin Kamps discussed this too, in his overall look at the history of the nuclear industry, and the secrecy and collusion in Japan that is paralleled in America.
Cindy Folkers detailed another area that has been pretty much “taboo” in the media – the question of radioactive contamination of food – the monitoring, and the non monitoring of this. Folkers recommends a limit of no more than 5 becquerels per kilogram in food, (though none is better) . USA permits 1200 becquerels and upwards per kg in food.
My favourite speaker was David Freeman, former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority – well, favourite because of his sense of humour, and very, very, down to earth style. Freeman outlined the history of commercial nuclear power – born in war, always a cover for nuclear weapons, always uneconomic. The USA’s spread of nuclear technology leads inevitably to the spread of nuclear weapons. Freeman criticised the anti nuclear movement for using sarcasm – which doesn’t work, doesn’t persuade anybody. He emphasised the nuclear waste problem, and nuclear costs, and pointed to the renewable energy movement as the way to a nuclear free future.
Not only are most speeches available at http://www.totalwebcasting.com/view/?id=hcf# but also some excellent documents and power point presentations – these can be found at the tab “Documents”
2. My impressions of the symposium
I was a bit disappointed to find myself to be the only Australian there.(apart from symposium co-ordinator Dr Helen Caldicott). I don’t think that there has ever been an international gathering quite like this, with at so many highly qualified speakers discussing a critical world event like the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The professionalism of this event was apparent – from the historic venue, The New York Academy of Medicine, to the calibre of the speakers, the organisation of the event, and the seriousness of the 400 or so participants.
Yet, amongst the people present, I did not feel that a great number of “uncommitted” professionals had flocked to hear the speakers. Nor had the mainstream media bothered to show up – except for that brief period at one lunchtime, when two American navy men from the USS Ronald Reagan spoke of their radiation exposure at Fukushima.
Certainly there was no one in evidence from the nuclear industry, or any pro nuclear group. I guess that they would not only ignore this event, but write it off as a group of feral hippies, radicals etc. Dr Alexei Yablokov has been under fire for having contradicted the official position of “few deaths” from Chernobyl. Arnie Gundersen is similarly regularly rubbished for his opinions on nuclear reactor unsafety. So, it seems to me that if professionals speak out negatively about nuclear issues, and have an impact, – well they become personae non grata to the general scientific and political Establishment.
Of course, this applies greatly to the organiser of this conference Dr Helen Caldicott – who has been regularly rubbished, especially in Australia, for being “emotional”. “irrational”. This, despite her encyclopaedic knowledge of nuclear history and nuclear issues. Her logic being incontestable – critics fall back on such personality attacks.
Anyway – if they thought that this symposium would be full of flag waving activists, and with anti nuclear pamphlets and books everywhere – they thought wrong. The whole atmosphere of this gathering was serious, and the speakers emphasised the limitations of research, and the need for critical thinking. As Steve Wing pointed out – “Not every study has to find excess cancers”.
I worry about many other facets of the nuclear danger – the effect of climate change on nuclear reactors, the effect of the nuclear industry on water scarcity, secrecy, on indigenous peoples, weapons proliferation, civil liberties. This symposium could not, and did not try, to cover so many other aspects. But the focus on ionising radiation was timely, as the nuclear lobby pushes the idea that “low level” radiation is safe, and governments lift the standard for “acceptable” radiation.
The public is not aware of the full implications of the radiation issue. We understand that an individual’s health risk, particularly the cancer risk, of added low level radiation is small. But even the rather conservative Dr Brenner emphasised the seriousness of the increased collective risk – which means a great many more cancers in the population as a whole.
David Freeman assessed nuclear power and climate change as “the most horrible threats that mankind faces”. With two years having passed now, since the Fukushima accident, media, business and governments will no doubt tend to ignore its effects. The New York lectures, available online, and soon in print form will continue to play an important role in keeping the nuclear danger in front of the public.
Chairman Donald Louria, MD: Chairman Emeritus of the Department of Preventive Medicine and Community Health, University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey.
Dr Hisaku Sakiyama, Doctor of Medicine, Former Senior Researcher in National Institute Radiological Sciences, Member of Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigative Commission – Risk Assessment of Low Dose Radiation in Japan; What Became Clear to The National Diet of Japan Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission
Dr. Tim Mousseau, Professor of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina – Chernobyl, Fukushima and Other Hot Places, Biological ConsequencesKen Buesseler, Marine Scientist, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute –Consequences for the Ocean of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant AccidentDavid Lochbaum, The Union of Concerned Scientists – Another Unsurprising Surprise
Dr. Wladimir Wertelecki, President of the Board, OMNI-Net Ukraine Child Development Programs (current). Professor of Biomedical Anthropology (Adjunct) Graduate Program in Biomedical Anthropology, State University of New York at Binghamton, NY (2011-). Former Chair of the Department of Medical Genetics and Birth Defects, University of South Alabama, 1974-2010 – Congenital Malformations in Rivne Polossia and the Chernobyl Accident
Dr. Marek Niedziela, Professor of Pediatrics, Poznan (Poland) University of Medical Sciences – Differential diagnosis of ultrasonographic thyroid lesions in children
Dr. Alexy Yablokov, Russian Academy of Sciences – Lessons from Chernobyl
Akio Matsumura, Founder of the Global Forum of Spiritual and Parliamentary Leaders – What did the World Learn from the Fukushima Accident?
Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar, Institute for Policy Studies, formerly of DoE – Management of Spent Fuel Pools and Radioactive Waste
Arnie Gundersen, Nuclear Engineer, Fairewinds Associates – What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?
Dr. David Brenner, Higgins Professor Radiation Biophysics, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University – Mechanistic Models for Effects of Ionizing Radiation on Living Systems
Dr. Steven Wing, Associate Professor Epidemiology, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University North Carolina – Epidemiologic studies of radiation releases from nuclear facilities: Lessons past and present.
Steven Starr, Senior Scientist, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Clinical Laboratory Science Program Director, University of Missouri – The implications of the massive contamination of Japan with radioactive cesium
David Freeman, Engineer and Attorney, Former Chairman of TVA, Office of Science and Technology in charge of energy and the environment in the Johnson White House, and for 2 years under Nixon –The Rise and Fall of Nuclear Power
Dr. Ian Fairlie, Radiation Biologist and Independent Consultant on Radiation Risks, Former Scientific Secretary to UK Government’s Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters – The Nuclear Disaster at Fukushima: Nuclear Source Terms, Initial Health Effects
Andrew S. Kanter, MD MPH FACMI, Immediate Past-President of Physicians for Social Responsibility – Moderator, Health Effects Panel.
Dr. Herbert Abrams, Stanford University, Emeritus Professor Radiology, Stanford University, Member Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation Committee National Academy Sciences (BEIR V11) – “The Hazards of Low-level Ionizing Radiation: Controversy and Evidence.”
Kevin Kamps, Specialist in High Level Waste Management and Transportation, Beyond Nuclear – Seventy Years of Radioactive Risks in Japan and America
Joseph Mangano, Executive Director, Radiation and Public Health Project, speaking on a new article about increases in newborn hypothyroidism.
Mary Olson, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Southeast – Gender Matters in the Atomic Age
Cindy Folkers, Radiation and Health Specialist, Beyond Nuclear – Post-Fukushima Food Monitoring
Hiroaki Koide, Master of Nuclear Engineering, Kyoto University Research Reactor Institute (KURRI), Specialist of Radiation Safety and Control.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, Founding President Physicians for Social Responsibility – The Nuclear Age and Future Generations