Interior Department Nominee Opposes Nuclear Power

by | Jan 6, 2021 |

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If Joe Biden ever does become president, his pick for Secretary of the Interior, New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland, will be an easy target for Senate Republicans in her confirmation hearing. Besides Haaland’s illogical opposition to fracking and her nonsensical support of the Green New Deal, Haaland received ‘Special Recognition’ as part of the Nuclear-Free Future Award 2020 in September. She concluded her acceptance speech:

“I’m committed to fighting for a nuclear-free future!”

Ironically, Haaland also proclaimed last month, after Biden announced her candidacy for the Interior post:

“We know that climate change can only be solved with the participation of every department and every community coming together in a common purpose — this country can and will tackle this challenge.”

Like many climate activists, Haaland is clearly unaware that, aside from complete economic collapse, nuclear power is the only way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States significantly. The misunderstanding about nuclear power on the part of Haaland and many others who support the climate scare is undoubtedly largely the result of media exaggerations, and at times, outright lies about the consequences of highly publicized nuclear accidents. 

In “America’s Nuclear Energy Could Unite the Left and the Right,” our article in last week’s America Out Loud, we explained how, despite sensationalist media claims, the impact of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident was in fact trivial. We also explained why the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine could not happen in the U.S. We pointed to the conclusion of the United Nations’ Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation 2000 report that there is no evidence of any major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure after the accident. We only touched briefly on the 2011 accident at the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear plant, so let’s examine what actually happened there more closely.

It has been almost a decade since a major earthquake and a devastating tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. We should all be celebrating that there was not a single case of radiation-induced illness or death due to escaped radiation. But years of anti-nuclear media and activists’ rants left this an untold story. While there were indeed thousands of lives tragically lost due to the tsunami and subsequent pollution from wastewater, there have been no fatalities due to the clean, bountiful electricity produced by nuclear power in the region. 

How many people in this country are aware of this outcome? The answer is very few because the media failed to follow up their hysterical warnings of radioactive waste reaching our shores. None ever did. Another celebration was in order.

Yet, with no scientific reason, Japan and Germany shut down most of their nuclear reactors. The construction of additional nuclear power plants around the world was slowed for most of the decade. Now they are largely back on track, but not in the United States.

PRECAUTIONARY DEATHS

Approximately 160,000 people were evacuated from the Fukushima nuclear power plant area shortly after it was damaged by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. An evacuation order forced 70,000 people to leave the area, and an additional 90,000 left voluntarily. They returned soon afterward. The 70,000 forced evacuees also eventually returned to their homes.

Sadly, it is estimated that 1,600 people died prematurely from stress-related illness in the evacuation process. The ‘precautionary’ action, taken in response to hypothetical health risks, was more harmful than the risks themselves. This tragic event illustrates the need for public policy decisions based on sound science rather than unsupported environmental scares. The senior author of this article made the point repeatedly in the days and weeks following the event that the science was clear that fears surrounding the damaged nuclear power plant were vastly overstated. For this, he (Dr. Lehr) was pilloried by anti-nuclear extremists, much as climate activists lambast anyone who dares expose the lack of sound science to back the climate scare. 

CLOSING THE BOOK ON FUKUSHIMA

Despite the breathless media reports of radiation threats issued in the immediate wake of the earthquake and tsunami—and still repeated to this day—United Nations health experts have closed the books on any asserted risks from the nuclear power plant damage. The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) issued a press release two years later that said: 

“Radiation exposure following the nuclear accident at Fukushima-Daiichi did not cause any immediate health effects. Eight years later, still, none have appeared. It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers.”

UNSCEAR continued:

“To date, there have been no health effects attributed to radiation exposure observed among workers, the people with the highest radiation exposures.”

Why does uncertainty remain about the effects of low-level radiation in light of any long-term negative impacts? All living organisms have been in a sea of radiation since their first appearance, and radiation has been affecting their genes all of this time. Approximately 15,000 gamma rays or particles hit the average person every second. And after more than 120 years of extensive health effect studies, we know more about ionizing radiation than we do about any other stressor on human health.

Lauriston Taylor, a founder of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), observed back in 1934 that:

“No one has been identifiably injured by radiation while working within the first standard set at 0.2 roentgen/day by the US National Commission on Radiological Protection (NCRP, now the ICRP).”

IMPORTANCE OF DOSE LEVELS

After discovering x-rays and radioactivity more than 120 years ago, hundreds of medical practitioners began testing and using the penetrating radiation to examine internal injuries and illnesses, reducing the guesswork in diagnosing diseases. They discovered low-level radiation produces remarkable beneficial effects, while they also knew high-level short-term exposures cause significant harm.

IS THERE A SAFE LEVEL OF RADIATION?

MOST DEFINITELY THERE IS, BUT!

So why is there a perceived radiation problem? What is the reason for the fear, uncertainty, and doubt regarding the effects of radiation?  To understand this, we need to consider the origin of the linear no-threshold (LNT) dose-response concept, which forms the basis for radiation protection activities and cancer risk calculations that have been costly mistakes for decades.

The invention and use of atomic bombs in 1945, the nuclear arms race, and the rise of the anti-nuclear movement likely induced many concerned scientists to disregard 70 years of research and experience on the use of radiation to stimulate the protection systems of living organisms.

Many scientists instead accepted the new fear generating LNT concept that says the risk of cancer and genetic disease increases linearly with radiation dose, from a single atom of radiation.

The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) made a 180-degree turn by rejecting its 1934 standard based on the tolerance dose, which had stood for many years without any problems being recognized. It issued new recommendations based on the Linear No Threshold (LNT) model to evaluate the statistical risk of cancer from any radiation exposure. This is the basis of our unfounded radiation scare.

Dr. Edward Calabrese, a world-renowned radiation toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts, wrote in the 2013 Archives of Toxicology:

“In 1956, the US National Academy of Sciences Committee on Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation Genetics Panel issued the most far-reaching recommendation in the history of risk assessment that genomic risks associated with exposure to ionizing radiation should be evaluated with a linear dose-response model, no longer via the threshold dose-response model that had long been the ‘gold’ standard for medicine and physiology. The Genetics Panel members believed that there was no safe exposure to ionizing radiation for reproductive cells, with the mutation risk being increased even with a single ionization. In 1958, the LNT concept was generalized to somatic cells and cancer risk assessment by the National Committee for Radiation Protection and Measurement.”  

Dr. Calabrese discovered that many panel members had a conflict of interest in establishing this flawed rule. As practiced by the modern radiation protection community, the LNT hypothesis is one of the greatest scientific scandals of our time.  

We documented this fraud from Calabrese’s research into the lies and biases in the work of early researchers in “Scientific Skullduggery Behind Radiation Fraud,” our August 5, 2020, America Out Loud piece.

IT IS TIME TO CORRECT THIS TERRIBLE LNT POLICY

It is essential that we revert to the ICRP standard of 1934 and the tolerance dose concept for radiation protection. This change would remove many constraints on the use of x-rays, CT-scans, and nuclear medicine techniques to diagnose many illnesses. It would also pave the way for clinical studies on many potential applications for low radiation to treat critical diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, by reducing restrictions regulating adaptive protection systems.

The urgent justification for this change in concept is the divergence between fear and facts regarding Fukushima, three Mile Island, and Chernobyl. Radiophobia erupted around the world despite the scientifically-expected lack of any serious radiation harms. Besides the German and Japanese nuclear energy phase-out, lifesaving radiation medical applications continue to be impeded. Let’s celebrate this life-saving technology’s availability rather than stopping it from appeasing self-interest, which is definitely the prevailing case today.

Appearing on Fox Business’ “Varney & Co.” last month Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) predicted that there would be “a bit of a brawl” in the confirmation hearing of Haaland. Her support of the Green New Deal and her opposition to fracking have been cited as key bones of contention. If Crammer and other Republicans are truly going “to stand our ground and fight the fight,” as he told Fox News, then they should also demand that Haaland explain why she sides with climate activists who oppose nuclear power. Few of the stances taken by the left in recent years are as ridiculous.

Image: Reuters

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Dr. Jay Lehr is a Senior Policy Analyst with the International Climate Science Coalition and former Science Director of The Heartland Institute. He is an internationally renowned scientist, author, and speaker who has testified before Congress on dozens of occasions on environmental issues and consulted with nearly every agency of the national government and many foreign countries. After graduating from Princeton University at the age of 20 with a degree in Geological Engineering, he received the nation’s first Ph.D. in Groundwater Hydrology from the University of Arizona. He later became executive director of the National Association of Groundwater Scientists and Engineers.

Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition, and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. He has 40 years experience as a mechanical engineer/project manager, science and technology communications professional, technical trainer, and S&T advisor to a former Opposition Senior Environment Critic in Canada’s Parliament.

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