A Second Editorial: What About Radioactive Contamination?

A lot of good people are still hiding the truth. It’s time for the real victims to speak.

By Metta Spencer | 2020-01-01 01:00:00

Peace and climate-change pretty much think alike, except about one issue: “peaceful nuclear technology.” Many peace groups intentionally avoid the subject, so as to maintain unity. This ambivalence is even reflected in our best international institutions. For example, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, while admonishing all states to become nuclear-weapon-free, also guarantees their right to non-military nuclear applications. Nor is there any prospect of reaching clarity, for, given the current state of international relations, no better treaty could be negotiated to replace the NPT. And in view of the urgency of abandoning fossil fuel technology, it’s easy to see why opposition to nuclear power is generally under-stated.


Everyone knows that radiation is a health hazard, but how serious are its health effects in comparison to the supposed benefits of radiation technology? Lately, while preparing for some of my weekly talk shows, I have been impelled to read books, watch videos, and listen to podcasts on the subject. It is affecting me. In fact, I’ve been challenging my friends to read them too. If you do, you may forever distrust the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and even your own government. Many authorities (all of them fine, upstanding citizens) have covered up terrible hazards to the entire biosphere. We should look closer at the effects on people around Three Mile Island (TMI), Hanford, Rocky Flats, the Nevada test site, the Marshall Islands, Mayak, Semipalatinsk, Chernobyl, the Navajo Nation, Fukushima, Saskatchewan, and wherever uranium has been mined or processed. We can only scratch the surface here, but it’s not hard to find out more.

I was initially unsettled by reading Kate Brown’s new book, Manual for Survival.1 Kate is an M.I.T. professor, fluent in Russian, who spent years in the field around Ukraine and Belarus (even picking radioactive berries with fall-out victims) and in the archives, figuring out who really has been lying. Hoping to recruit her for a talk show, I went to meet her for coffee at a hotel where she had come to address a biophysics conference. She was too busy to talk on my show right then, but she mentioned a Berkeley woman, Trisha Pritikin, who did so. And then I discovered Libbe HaLevy’s podcast series, Nuclear Hotseat, which has been produced every week for years.2 The most shocking hour-long chat I’ve heard there was with Alison Katz, who had worked in the World Health Organization for 18 years until she founded “Independent WHO” and demonstrated in front of it every week in protest against its deceptions.3


The podcast host, Libbe HaLevy, is a survivor of the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island. I was surprised at that word “survivor,” since I remember the official verdict: that very little radiation had been released by the accident and no one had been harmed. Untrue. In fact, the radiation gauges in the area of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania had gone “off the scale.” A local dentist had found his X-ray film fogged, and thousands had reported an odd metallic taste in their mouths.

Later, Dr. Steven Wing, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, studied cancer cases within 10 miles of the facility from 1975 to 1985. He found that lung cancer and leukemia rates were two to 10 times higher downwind of the TMI reactor than upwind. He said, “Several hundred people at the time of the accident reported nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and skin rashes, and a number said their pets died or had symptoms of radiation exposure ….The cancer findings, along with studies of animals, plants, and chromosomal damage in Three Mile Island area residents, all point to much higher radiation levels than were previously reported.”

And then Trisha Pritikin spoke on my talk show.4 She was born near the Hanford, Washington plant where plutonium was produced for the US bombs. Her father worked there and she probably began being irradiated in utero. For over 40 years, Hanford’s reactor blanketed much of the Pacific Northwest (including Canada) with low-dose ionizing radiation. Her father, mother, and infant brother died of exposure, and she has been ill throughout her adult life.

The Hanford victim’s symptoms match those of the civilians downwind of the Nevada test site. As a lawyer, Trisha has contacted many of them, and they have been demanding redress from the US government. Her book, The Hanford Plaintiffs: Voices From the Fight for Atomic Justice, will be released in March. Pritikin is organizing these fellow-victims in a group called Consequences of Radiation Exposure (CORE-Hanford), which will be one node of a global network that may emerge from a Toronto meeting in April.

Chernobyl and Fukushima are more often discussed than Hanford or Three Mile Island, but in those places, as usual, the truth has been concealed. The WHO did not even study Chernobyl for five years and then reported that only about 50 people died as a direct result of the event. The true figures will never be known, but three Soviet scientists reviewed over 1,000 published titles and over 5,000 Internet and printed Slavic publications. Their report was published in English by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009. It concludes that medical records between 1986, the Chernobyl year, and 2004 reflect an astounding 985,000 premature deaths as a result of the radioactivity released.

Obviously, this figure is disputed and most real sources of evidence are inaccessible. However, Alison Katz reveals that about 800,000 “liquidators” from the armed forces were deployed to put out the fire. Their average age was 33. By 2001, the government acknowledged that ten percent of these “liquidators” had died. That alone accounts for 80,000 deaths.

And WHO studied health effects only in three countries – Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia – though large swathes were also irradiated throughout Europe and even beyond. Also, WHO only studied cancers, mostly thyroid cancers, though because the immune system is also compromised by radiation, it can affect all organs, as well as the body’s genetic system. Indeed, for unknown reasons, the genetic damage, at least to voles, has been shown to worsen over time, generation after generation.


Alison Katz led a silent vigil every week for over ten years outside the Geneva Headquarters of her former employer, WHO. The protesters held placards accusing the WHO of falsely providing a clean bill of health for nuclear power. This continuing deception was based on “pseudo science” largely produced by the nuclear lobby and the IAEA. Actually, the WHO cannot avoid perpetrating this fraud, for it is institutionally subservient to IAEA, which is a more powerful body. The WHO only reports to the Economic and Social Council of the UN, whereas WHO reports to the Security Council, whose permanent five members are the main culprits in producing not only nuclear weapons but also promoting nuclear power. IAEA has usurped WHO’s mandate. A binding 1959 Agreement (WHA 12-40) between IAEA and WHO required WHO to get prior approval of IAEA before taking any action or publishing material dealing with nuclear health issue. Because for over 50 years WHO was in a conflict of interest, Alison Katz named her protest group “Independent WHO.” They demand that WHO establish a Commission on Radiation and Health made up of independent experts to undertake a scientific study of the health consequences of the accident at Chernobyl. Their website also proclaims that “Fukushima, WHO is concealing the true health consequences, just as with Chernobyl.”

But Fukushima was neither the first nor probably the last site of nuclear tragedy. We cannot here review the horrible diseases suffered by the Marshall Islanders, nor the people around Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan, nor the 1957 Kyshtym disaster or the others at the same Mayak plutonium production centre in Russia. Consult Google if you are interested.


Despite the continuing deceptions, many groups of people all around the planet worry about radioactive contamination. There is need for a decent global system of communication for grassroots civil society organizations. That would enable them to function as a network, should they choose to do so. Hence, on April 28, Project Save the World is organizing an afternoon and evening meeting in the Toronto City Hall. On that date, about 45 Japanese activists will be present, after having attended the NPT Review Conference in New York. We intend to include activists in several other countries in a discussion by Zoom videoconferencing. Concerned Canadians and Americans are encouraged to attend.

(See the ad on page 30 and watch the new page that will be created in the “Global Projects” section of our website for a worldwide campaign against radioactive contamination. We will keep you updated on that website and in the April issue of Peace so you can plan to attend.)

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2020

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2020, page 24. Some rights reserved.

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