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11.24 Weather disasters occurred almost daily over last decade, UN says

11.24 Most of Britain's major cities pledge to run on green energy by 2050

11.23 The Gene Hackers

11.23 Wind from Britain, solar from the Sahara, geothermal from Iceland

11.23 Alberta to introduce carbon tax

11.23 First EPA chief accuses Republicans of ignoring science for political gain

11.23 Climate change and the Republican party: 'America is not a planet'

11.23 World trade has an important role in combating climate change

11.23 The Guardian view on antibiotic resistance: a clear and present danger

11.22 Soper Farms Triples Net Income Switching From GMO Crops to Organic

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Daily: FAIR Blog
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11.24 Five people shot at Black Lives Matter protest in Minneapolis: Police

11.24 8,855 Murders by Firearm in US in 2012 vs. 30 (Equiv. 164) in UK [graphics, video]

11.24 Part 4: A reservation town fighting alcoholism, obesity and ghosts from the past

11.24 Donald Trump doesn't care what's true, just what his base feels is true

11.24 Republicans think being pro-family means forcing women to have babies

11.23 This is why we’re so f*cked: Our politics are only going to get worse

11.23 5 worst right-wing moments of the week — The Donald goes full fascist

11.23 Louisiana Just Voted to Give a Quarter of a Million People Health Care

11.23 Shooting in New Orleans park leaves at least 16 people wounded [normal, move along folks...]

11.22 Who Turned My Blue State Red?

11.22 Auto Insurance Rates Are 70% Higher If You Live in a Black Neighborhood

11.22 What Is Actually Radical About Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Socialism Isn’t the Socialism

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11.22 West Virginia mine explosion trial showcases challenge of jailing a CEO

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11.24 Saudi Arabia: Poet Sentenced to Death for Apostasy [Saudi Arabia: an ISIS-like Islamic theocracy...]

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11.23 Pfizer and Allergan poised to announce history's biggest healthcare merger

11.22 Hang Onto Your Wallets: Negative Interest, the War on Cash, and the $10 Trillion Bail-in

11.21 The 47 scandals that prove governments would be mad to go soft on banks


11.24 Muslims are integrated in France, but the bad guys want a clash of civilizations

11.24 Turkish military official says fighter jets destroyed plane after it violated country’s airspace, which Russia denies

11.24 Government ‘must do more to help vulnerable households this winter’

11.23 Beijing Replaced This Huge Bridge in Only 43 Hours

11.23 Paris suspect Salah Abdeslam still on run after Belgian police raids [1:35 video]


11.22 Argentina election: second round vote could spell end for 'Kirchnerism'

11.22 Brussels lockdown could last into next week over terror threat

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  Print view: Health and the Nuclear Gamble

Health and the Nuclear Gamble

The tragedy in Japan underscores the interconnectedness of our planet. Energy decisions made anywhere can affect all of us.

by Robert F. Dodge, M.D.
The amazing fact is not that the radiation that reaches our shores is described as low-level at the present time, but that it reaches us at all, traveling 5000 miles from Japan.

The world has anxiously watched the events in Japan unfolding this past two weeks after the horrific earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster. The feelings are magnified out of a sense of helplessness in aiding the victims in Japan mixed with concerns for potential effects and implications to our own health and communities. In assessing the devastating effects of natural disasters, we must pause as we consider the potential for catastrophic effects of manmade disasters, specifically from nuclear power plants.

The radiation effects of this disaster are unknown at the present time, with greatest concern for the firefighters and those workers and people in the immediate vicinity of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Unfortunately the news has gotten worse on a daily basis and has not been entirely forthcoming or transparent. We have moved from reassurance of no leakage to a small fissure in the containment chamber to the leaking of critical water from the cooling pools with variable releases of highly radioactive isotopes to the probability of a breach of the containment vessel that houses the nuclear core. The latter poses the greatest threat.

Fortunately the risk and radiation detected at our shores appears nominal at the present time. However our own National Academy of Sciences has stated that any exposure to radiation increases a person’s risk of cancer. There is no safe level of radiation exposure. The amazing fact is not that the radiation that reaches our shores is described as low-level at the present time, but that it reaches us at all, traveling 5000 miles from Japan. This underscores the interconnectedness of our planet and energy decisions made anywhere in the world. With nuclear power and all of its safeguards, it remains imperfect, and with the fragility of human technology there always exists the possibility of a nuclear accident with its risk of radioactivity release.

These invisible radioactive isotopes are intensely toxic to humans. Our bodies when exposed to them incorporate them into our cells as though they were life-giving molecules. This is coupled with their extended half-lives, where they can persist for years promoting health risks. Thus far Iodine 131 and Cesium 137 have been the two isotopes confirmed at present in the Japan tragedy. Iodine 131 has a half-life of eight days and is taken up by the thyroid gland, where it emits radioactivity, increasing the risk for thyroid cancer. Cesium 137, with its half-life of 30 years, is handled by the body like potassium, which is rapidly disseminated throughout our entire bodies where it can cause burns, radiation sickness, cancer (particularly of the soft tissues), and death.

The other isotopes of concern are Strontium 90 and Plutonium 239. Strontium 90, with its half-life of 29 years, is utilized by the body like calcium, depositing it in teeth and bone where it can cause cancer of the bone, bone marrow and soft tissues around the bone. Finally, Plutonium 239 is the most dangerous isotope. Its cancer-causing ionizing radiation risk can be either as an external hazard from outside the body or internal hazard by ingestion or inhalation, where it presents a significant lung cancer risk. Once it circulates through the body, it exposes the blood, kidneys, liver, and spleen to its cancer-causing alpha particles.

At the present time, Iodine 131 has been found in the drinking water in Tokyo at levels 200 percent above the allowable for infants and children, who are the most vulnerable to its cancer-causing effects. Milk and food within the region are showing radioactive contamination. The water within the Reactor 3, which is a mixed-oxide fuel reactor of plutonium and uranium, has shown radiation levels 10,000 times that typically seen.

As physicians our ability to respond to these potential toxins is woefully inadequate, focusing mainly on supportive care and comfort measures.

As physicians our ability to respond to these potential toxins is woefully inadequate, focusing mainly on supportive care and comfort measures while observing for the delayed effects of these agents. As with most serious illnesses in medicine, prevention is the best practice. As physicians, it is our obligation to do whatever we can to prevent illness.

If there were to be a meltdown, it would have the radiation potential of about 1,000 Hiroshima bombs in only one core. Chernobyl was comparable to 400 Hiroshimas.

If there were to be a meltdown, there is the potential for an astonishing release of radioactive material. We are talking about the radiation potential of about 1,000 Hiroshima bombs in only one core. Chernobyl was comparable to 400 Hiroshimas.

As the world grapples with this latest complex compound disaster, a serious reflection and reconsideration of our own nuclear power industry is in order. Nuclear energy is too risky, too dirty and too expensive. Are these risks to the health of our children and community ones we are willing to take? We need investment in safer energy sources, in particular renewable sources. As long as nuclear power plants exist, prevention of nuclear accidents is paramount. We also must have local disaster preparedness efforts and make ourselves aware of them.

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., is a Board Member of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and serves as that organization's and Peace and Securities Ambassador.

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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on March 26, 2011.


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