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And it makes us remember the second and third biggest lies told us by the atomic power industry: that no commercial nuke could explode, and that no one would be harmed by reactor fallout.
Prior to the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, there was at least one minor explosion (on March 28, 1979) at Three Mile Island (TMI) in Pennsylvania. Thankfully, TMI Unit 2’s containment dome was uniquely solid. The site is in the flight path of the Harrisburg airport. Citizen activists had demanded Unit 2’s containment be able to withstand a jet crash. So they forced construction upgrades that may have saved millions of lives when the reactor was stretched to its limits.
TMI’s owners long denied there was a melt-down at all. But robot cameras later showed otherwise. The industry still denies anyone was harmed by TMI’s fallout. But the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the Baltimore News-American reported that downwind farm and wild animals died in horrifying droves. Parallel reports by researcher Tim Mousseau are now coming from areas downwind from Chernobyl.
Village Voice reporter Anna Mayo (recently deceased and greatly missed), photographer Bob Del Tredici and filmmaker Robbie Leppzer all documented TMI’s immense human toll. In 1980, I interviewed dozens of local downwinders enduring radiation-related illnesses including cancer, emphysema, heart disease, stroke, sterility, birth defects and Down’s Syndrome.
Recent studies by nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen indicate TMI2’s containment may have cracked, releasing far more radiation than generally suspected. Even now, nobody knows exactly how much did escape, what it consisted of, where it went or who was impacted. TMI’s owners have quietly paid at least $15 million in damages to downwinder families, including at least some payments for Down’s Syndrome.
By 1979 new reactor orders had already stopped due to the industry’s horrific inefficiencies, bad economics and lack of answers for decommissioning and radioactive waste storage. The industry’s biggest lie—that atomic power would be “too cheap to meter”—was already obvious.
But when Chernobyl blew up 30 years ago, it exposed lies number 2 and number 3: that a commercial reactor could not explode and that the industry’s radiation would kill no one.
Here’s a short list of 30 ways these two tragic flaws are killing us all. They are discussed with experts Joe Mangano and Dr. Janette Sherman on my recent Solartopia show.
1. According to studies by three top European scientists, first published in 2009, more than 985,000 people have died from Chernobyl’s fallout.
2. Impactful radioactive contamination is still in evidence in soil throughout Ukraine, Belarus and as far away as Scotland.
3. By some estimates, children born throughout regions downwind of Chernobylhave suffered radiation-related diseases at rates affecting up to 80 percent of those born in critical areas.
4. Reindeer, sheep and other animals across northern Europe are still too heavily contaminated to be safely consumed.
5. Radioactive fallout from Chernobyl hit northern California within 10 days of the explosion, followed by a 60 percent drop in bird births recorded at the Pt. Reyes sanctuary north of San Francisco.
6. Epidemiological studies by Mangano, Sherman and others show that nearby infant death rates rise when commercial reactors open, and drop when they shut.
7. Epidemiological studies show direct links between reactor operations and cancer rates downwind, including a 70 percent excess of thyroid cancer in the four counties surrounding New York’s Indian Point reactors as opposed to the nation as a whole.
8. When Chernobyl blew up, industry apologists emphasized that such a disaster at a Soviet reactor had nothing to do with American nukes. But on March 11, 2011, four General Electric reactors exploded at Fukushima (three melted, and their cores have yet to be found).
10. The Fukushima disaster still dumps at least 300 tons of radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean every day.
11. Thousands of tons of contaminated water are being held in flimsy storage tanks at Fukushima, at least some of which are likely to give way; serious leaks of radioactive water are also on-going at Indian Point, Florida’s Turkey Point, numerous other commercial reactor sites and at the Hanford (Washington) military reservation.
12. The Japanese government and Fukushima’s owner (Tepco) are hinting strongly they would like to dump still more thousands of tons of radioactive water directly into the Pacific.
13. At least 7,000 clean-up workers are still being exposed to radiation at Fukushima every day.
14. It remains unclear exactly where the cores from Units 1, 2 and 3 might be, what can be done to contain them and exactly what kinds of long-term dangers they pose.
15. Thyroid abnormalities among children in the Fukushima area are far beyond normal.