Dr. Judith Johnsrud
Director Environmental Coalition on Nuclear Power
No, I donít find it a pleasure to be this close to a commercial nuclear power plant. I donít think any of us do and how many of you do live within what they call the 10-mile emergency planning zone? A lot of you do. I donít know whether it makes much difference if you live that close or farther away. I well remember in the licensing of Three Mile Island that a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff said, in order to get the close in population out early in an accident, the police would prevent people who live beyond that 10-mile border from being evacuated. Iím willing to bet nobody from the industry has ever told you that before.
I want to do a little history if you donít mind. For those of you among my very dear old friends who are here, I apologize because you have heard me say this mantra again and again, but listen carefully because I believe itís at the absolute root of our problem with nuclear reactors. Iím quoting the 1954 Atomic Energy Act, and this is what it says: The Declarations, Findings and Purpose, chapter one, section one: ďAtomic energy is capable of applications for peaceful as well as military purposes. It is therefore declared to be the policy of the United States that the development, use and control of atomic energy shall be directed so as to make the maximum contribution to the general welfare, which is not defined. Subject at all times to the paramount objective of making the maximum contribution to the common defense and security.Ē Do you get it? This mandates the development and use of atomic energy and, oh by the way they count as control whether we get it or not. Then it goes on, ďthe development, use and control of atomic energy shall be directed so as to promote world peace, improve the general welfare, increase the standard of living and strengthen free competition in private enterprise.Ē Whatís missing? Did you hear a word about protection of the publicís health and safety? Did you hear a word about protection of the environment on which we all depend? No, no! You have to read further down in the Governing Law of the United States to find a word about health and safety and the environment.
I want to take you back to roughly 1970 when the nuclear industry said there will be 1,000 nuclear power reactors operating in the United States by the year 2000. They didnít make it did they? They got about 10-15%. They are down close to 10% of those commercial reactors that they wanted 30 years ago; and do you know why they didnít get all of them? Well, one of the major reasons was that American citizens figured out the safety issues and they organized and they engaged themselves in opposition through the courts, through the licensing proceedings; Frieda is nodding, she knows well. I was the legal representative for the citizens of the Harrisburg area in the original nuclear regulatory commission licensing of Three Mile Island in the mid to late 1970s, before the accident. I want you to know, if you are not aware, take a look at these plants. In the course of that licensing we were not permitted to ask a single question about the probability or the consequences of an accident more severe than the safety systems were designed to contain. Did you get that? Why? Well, because the nuclear regulatory commissionsí engineers had done probability analyses and they concluded that a severe accident was a highly improbable event. Three months after the plant went online, TMI Unit II suffered this nations worst nuclear accident and it still has not been decommissioned and cleaned up, 20 years later.
In 1989 only three years after Chernobyl I was invited to go to the Soviet Union and to visit the Chernobyl plant. Curiously, with a group of pro-nuclear people from the industry, including somebody from the Department of Energy and a bunch of people from the companies that were trying to sell their systems to the Soviet Union, right! It was not a comfortable time, and interestingly as well, when we actually went to the plant I realized that I was the only person there who had a hand-held radiation monitor. Can you imagine? They went to Chernobyl with out even having monitors. As it go closer, and closer to the plant, the busload, they told us we were so lucky, we were there on a day when it was raining because that kept the plutonium dust down. We got closer and closer to the ruined reactor and all those from the industry were hanging over me shoulder, trying to find out what reading I was getting. Well, this reads in counts per minute, from the cosmic sources, from the ground, from that and ordinarily, like right now I would get a number like 10 counts per minute and thatís normal for this area 10, 12, maybe even 15. As I got closer and closer to the plant, when they stopped the bus and we got out the count at about 600-ft. from the ruined reactor, it was 3,500 counts per minute. Well of course having been brought there with the industry I was able to talk to people in the government at min-atom and there were no problems they were getting it cleaned up. Only those 31 workers had been killed and, well there might be a few injured people but the government was taking care of them. No, no, when I went back again with environmentalists the next year and the year after on the fifth anniversary of the Chernobyl accident I heard a very different tale, because then we met with people, the people who had suffered the accident. Some who had evacuated, more who were still living just beyond the dead zone; the 30 kilometer zone where everyone was evacuated, where only very few elderly people have gone back to their roots, to their homes. We visited the hospitals, earlier the doctors had been disallowed from admitting any connection between radiation and the illnesses of particularly the children in their hospitals, but by 1991, indeed the doctors were talking and they were appalled at the illnesses. The research subsequently has established at long last without any question that not only cancers, not only leukemia, and not only gross genetic defects are the consequences of radiation exposures. Also, as Iím sure all of you know damage to the immunological system that allows the victim, the recipient of a dose to experience all sorts of ill health. The lack of an effective immune system exposes one to all kinds of other diseases. Particularly for children getting sick with all the normal diseases of childhood, the infectious diseases, but they get sicker, they stay sick longer and they are more likely to succumb to the same illness over and over again. Gastrointestinal disorders, respiratory disorders everywhere, asthmas, endocrine disorders, increases in diabetes oddly enough, and in some respect so damaging chronic fatigue, never ever having energy to do anything, for kids to learn, to stay in school, and with the babies, the babies experienced failure to thrive. Did you know thatís a medical condition? Children, babies are hospitalized if they fail to thrive. Now of course, we have seen the enormous increases in thyroid cancers and we are beginning to see all the other forms of illness. I remember sitting in a leukemia hospital in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, which was so hard hit and the head doctor talked to us about their lack of any equipment of medications, of anything to do for those children who were suffering. She cried, she couldnít help them. In the villages people would come up to us, they would say weíve had no help from our government. We donít know what to do. We donít know how to organize ourselves. If youíre not organized folks, and if your organizing can't bring others of the generation thatís grown up since Three Mile Island, and since Chernobyl. If we can't help people to understand the nature of this hazard, then they will be condemned to suffer more, and more, and more of it. Make no mistake; it is the intent of the nuclear industry to go back to the construction and operation of more, and more, and more reactors. It wonít matter if they are non-economic. They have never been economic have they? One of the reasons, by the way, that the earlier plants were not completed, those that were proposed and licensed to be constructed in the 1980s after TMI, one of the major reasons was the work of those of us who did organize, who did participate in the licensing proceedings. We went to court and cohered the agency, the NRC and the industry to improve their safety. After all there was a time you know, when there werenít even emergency core cooling systems. It was citizens who forced those, along with many other improvements.
So I donít want to prolong this but there are two or three other things I want to say to you, if youíre patient enough. One is that despite what we now know about low-level radiation, chronic doses received over and over again from many sources. The increase, the permissible routine emissions every day of the year, coming from every reactor and other nuclear facilities, all of those add to the background radiation around us all. Yet, the standards for your exposures are set on only the lifetime risk of fatal cancer, gross genetic defects in the first couple of generations, all other consequences of radiation exposures are ignored. No one in EPA, NRC, Public Health and the Federal Government even considers the multiple sources of exposure that we receive. Nor do they even do research to find out the relationship between a radiation exposure and all those chemicals around us from all those sources, including the ones that Jane has mentioned. We donít even know what those synergies are, and yet the nuclear industry is increasingly deregulated and allowed to do its own reporting, its own assessments of damage or of no damage, they are allowed to relax the frequencies of testing, of inspection, of repairs, of ordinary maintenance. Why? because of the costs. Meanwhile in order that this industry can continue to operate, the Federal Government and a number of its major agencies is apparently in the process of moving away from the basis of radiation protection, namely what is called the ďlinear hypothesisĒ of the relationship between the dose and the response. Are all of you familiar with what that means? Itís the kind of thing we donít think about. Well, what it says simply is that every dose you receive may have an impact on your health and itís a ďlinearĒ relationship. The higher the dose, the greater the impact, the lower the dose, supposedly the lower the impact, but all the way down to zero there will be an impact. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, EPA, Department of Energy, Department of Transportation (for heavenís sake), the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, the General Accounting Office, one agency after another are moving away from the linear hypothesis and returning to the notion of a safe threshold of exposure. Well folks, how do you think we evolved in the first place? Into what we are as human beings, one of the mechanisms was ionizing radiation, the cosmic radiation, and the terrestrial radiation, making us what we are. What they would do is to speed up the evolutionary process and understand well, for every favorable mutational change there are a lot of genetic mistakes and that translates into injured, damaged people. That transfers into cost too, doesnít it? Well, now the NRC has reached the point of recognizing that the cost of waste disposal is just too much to bear. So, having tried repeatedly for 20 years or more to deregulate radioactive waste, now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy and EPA, the Department of Transportation and others are proceeding to deregulate radioactive materials and radioactive wastes. To allow them to be recycled and reused in consumer products, anything you buy, everything you use, with no monitoring, with no labeling, with no way for you to know how much additional ionizing radiation you receive from deregulated radioactive materials and waste. To allow these to be shipped in international trade, to be allowed to be left on a site where the reactors are closed. It is the only way financially, and I really have come to the conclusion that the nuclear industry recognizes the federal government is going to have to pay for the high-level waste, but that low-level waste, all those radioactive materials, costs too much, let them go. A major factor, economic factor and basis for the industryís drive to go back to the nuclear option.