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Foreword to the 1979
Printing of Poisoned Power,
After the Three Mile Island

          Both of us who wrote Poisoned Power find ourselves heartsick that it took a near-disaster for the American people to learn all the things which we described in this book eight years ago. There is nothing in Poisoned Power which is out-of-date, except for the names of a few characters in the shabby nuclear energy charade.

          Huge quantities of hydrogen were generated in the recent Three Mile Island nuclear plant accident. A hydrogen explosion did indeed occur. It is largely a matter of luck that the hydrogen explosion was not much larger, considering the amount of hydrogen generated. Under slightly altered circumstances, the explosion could have ruptured the containment vessel or have led to a far more severe disruption of the reactor itself, in either case with possible release of massive quantities of radioactive poisons.

          Yet, ever since the accident, the nuclear industry propagandists have been congratulating themselves on the fact that it was just a near-disaster and that tens or hundreds of thousands of people were not killed. But an actual disaster was prevented by a simple quirk of fate—when and how the hydrogen explosion occurred—and not by their engineering skills nor by their "defense in depth."

          It is now clear to most Americans that the nuclear emperor is wearing no clothes. Those Americans who did read Poisoned Power knew this, and much more, long ago. While it is sad that we have waited so long to rid America of this monstrous aberration of technology, at least there is a better chance of doing so now, before many more Americans of this and future generations are condemned to miserable deaths.

          This book is about health—the health of this and future generations. It is about the lies, the cover-ups, and the callousness of those who are willing to trick you into accepting nuclear power so that they (or their bosses) can make money or expand a bureaucratic empire, even though their activity kills people.

          Nuclear power is not the only enterprise imposing on your health, but if allowed to proceed unchecked, it surely will lead ultimately to setting back public health by hundreds of years. And the public health disaster will then be irreversible because once the radioactive poisons are let loose into the environment, there is no way of bringing them back under control.

          The Three Mile Island accident has left tremendous numbers of Americans interested in, and anxious to know about, how radiation affects health. This book provides a simple and clear explanation. In addition, it exposes the moral corruption of scientists, lawyers, physicians, industrialists, and government leaders in attempting to deceive the public into believing that there exists such a thing as a "safe," "permissible," or "allowable" dose of radiation which will do no harm.

          This book tells the reader why cancer and leukemia risks are increased even with the smallest dose of radiation. The so-called permissible dose of radiation, for nuclear workers or for the public at large, represents only a legalized permit for the nuclear industry to commit random, premeditated murders upon the American population.

          Following the crimes of the Nazis in the early 1940s, the Nuremberg Trials were held. There, it was declared for all the world to know that individuals must be held personally responsible for crimes against humanity and that it is not acceptable to say, "I was only following orders," or "I was only following government laws and policies."

          Experimentation on humans without their knowledge or consent is obviously a crime. There can be no doubt that the promoters of nuclear power—be they engineers, politicians, or scientists—are indeed committing these crimes against humanity. Americans would be justified in demanding that Nuremberg-type trials be held for these individuals.

Violating the Inalienable Right to Life

          The charge that nuclear power promotion represents a crime against humanity is a serious one indeed. We do not make this charge lightly. So we must explain further.

          After Three Mile Island, all Americans witnessed the efforts of government and industry officials to say that the amount of radiation inflicted on people in the area caused no injuries or deaths. This is an absolute lie, as you will understand after reading this book. You will realize that we do indeed know the effects of so-called "low" doses of radiation.

          However, we shall never know exactly how many people will die of premature cancer and leukemia from the Three Mile Island accident because in the critical first few days there were no radiation monitors in many of the areas where people live. The few monitors right around the plant and the few measurements from airplanes represent a travesty upon honest monitoring.

          Believe it or not, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) permits giant nuclear plants to operate without having monitors installed and operating at all times in every populated area within 50 miles of the plants. Consequently, during an accident, there can be no way for people to evaluate the danger they are in, no way for them to decide whether or not to stay. But the no-monitor policy is no accident, for it helps to protect the utilities from lawsuits for personal injury.

          The number of premature deaths caused by the Three Mile Island accident will be no fewer than six. The number could easily be 60, or 600, for the doses could well be 100 times higher than the government estimates. And all the while, the industry and government officials lie to the American people, saying there was "no injury to people."

          There are two possible ways to describe the motives of the promoters of nuclear power, yet either way makes them indictable for crimes against humanity.

          First, let us assume that they really are ignorant about existing knowledge of the effects of "low" doses of radiation when they say, "We don't really know yet about the effects of `low' doses of radiation." In that case, these promoters of nuclear power are saying in effect, "Expose people first; learn the effects later." There is only one description for such planned mass experimentation on humans—moral depravity. And such experimentation with "low" doses of radiation can produce irreversible effects not only on this generation, but upon countless future generations of humans who have no voice, no choice. If that is not a crime against humanity, what is?

          Alternatively, let us assume that they truly do know the facts about fatal injury from "low" doses of radiation, and yet they are still willing to promote nuclear power. In this case, the charge is not experimentation upon humans, but rather it is planned, random murder. The crime of murder is perhaps worse than the crime of experimentation.

          And it is not only "low" doses of radiation, with their delayed effects, which are at issue. We could have had high, massive doses of radiation affecting hundreds of thousands of humans from the Three Mile Island accident, and that would have meant massive numbers of deaths, not later from cancer, but sooner from the agony of acute radiation sickness.

          Yet the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter, urges that we go ahead with nuclear power even faster than before. He urges this with his accelerated licensing bill even as he is appointing a committee to figure out why the accident occurred. Obviously, his philosophy is also experimentation on humans. "Expose first; learn later."

          The clamor of the nuclear industry to go full speed ahead, the clamor of the Carter-and-Schlesinger mentalities to go full speed ahead with nuclear power since we happened to escape a full-scale disaster at Three Mile Island, should teach the American people that nuclear power promoters are intent on "going for the Big Apple" before they will quit. Too much money is at stake. Nothing short of the loss of a major city—a New York, or Philadelphia, or Chicago, or Boston—will make them feel remorse.

          But they can be stopped, with a very simple campaign.

Revolt of the Guinea Pigs

          The pollsters are reporting that even after Three Mile Island, most people still believe we need nuclear power for the economy and still favor going ahead with it—provided the plants are near someone else. The willingness to risk killing other people in order to get what you think you need (nuclear power) is, of course, morally bankrupt and no different from the position of the active promoters.

          Nevertheless, we are sure the pollsters would get a different answer if they were to ask people:

"If you had proof that neither the government nor the nuclear power industry believes in the safety of nuclear plants, would you still favor going ahead with nuclear power?"

          The evidence that neither government nor industry believes in the safety of nukes is the Price-Anderson Act, a law which is explained in this book. Utility officials told Congress that if they had to take financial responsibility for the death and havoc which their nukes might create, they would not build a single one. So Congress agreed that utility stockholders should not have to gamble on the safety of nukes, and in 1957, Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act which says that the public will pay for the havoc. In 1967, when the utilities said that they would not go ahead unless the act were renewed, Congress renewed it. And in 1975, when the utilities said they could not afford to go ahead unless the law was renewed again, guess what! Congress renewed it for them.

          The evidence is clear: utilities and Congress have no confidence in the safety of nukes. Utilities are willing to risk your lives and your property on nuclear power, but they are not willing to risk their dollars.

          And so the most dangerous industry ever conceived is permitted by Congress to operate without even the normal restraint on reckless activity, namely the financial responsibility for the injury and damage caused by such activity. Obviously Congress has always thought that this is the treatment the American people deserve.

          People who are sick about being used as guinea pigs had better start the 1980 campaign now. We urge 100 million Americans to tell their senators and representatives, "You sponsor repeal of the Price-Anderson Act now, or we are starting the campaign against you right now."

          When the Price-Anderson Act is repealed and the utility companies, their suppliers, like Westinghouse and General Electric, and the banks have their own dollars gambled on the line for nuclear power, we will soon see how much confidence those in the nuclear power industry truly have in the safety of nuclear power.

          We predict this simple campaign can persuade the industry to "phase out" nuclear power about 24 hours after repeal of that law.

"But we need the power . . ."

          Lastly, we must deal with the economic blackmail being used to bludgeon Americans into accepting nuclear power. "It is either nuclear power, or starving in the dark," say the promoters of nuclear power. They lie like carpets.

          We can say, with great assurance, that nuclear power itself is the greatest threat to our energy supply, to the health of our economy, and to employment for our people. If we stopped pouring funds down the rathole of nuclear power, the money would be available to stimulate bigger and cheaper sources of clean energy which are benign and which would be a real boon to our economy. We now have the equivalent of 50 giant nukes which are operable (sometimes) in this country. This book tells you about two simple, proven resources of additional energy, ready to "go" quickly, which would be equivalent to over 600 giant nukes (See page 206.)

          If there is one thing we do not have to worry about, it is that banning nuclear power will hurt either our energy supply or our economy. Nuclear power today provides about 12 percent of our electricity, but since electricity accounts for only a fraction of our energy, nuclear power is really supplying only 3½ percent of our total energy today. It is trivial.

          Nuclear power is not necessary, it never has been necessary, and it never will be necessary.

How to Make Sense of "Millirems" and "Picocuries"

          Virtually all Americans have heard by now of the "millirem" in news reports about the radiation doses received by people near the Three Mile Island plant. On page 44 of this book, it is pointed out that, for the kinds of radiation inflicted by that accident, the millirem is the same as the millirad—the unit used in this book.

          It is a simple calculation indeed to estimate the number of fatal cancers and leukemias which are produced by any nuclear accident, provided we know the dose received. The process, which is explained in the following paragraphs, can be summarized in a glance by a single equation:

(# of rems)                  (# of persons exposed)               # of deaths
----------- X (# of hours) X ---------------------- X (1 death) =  which will
   hour                         300 person-rems                   occur later

          The first term or factor is read "number of rems per hour," and the fourth term is read, "one death per 300 person-rems." Since the persons, rems, and hours in the numerator and denominators all cancel each other out, you are left with the number of deaths.

          At Three Mile Island, the monumental nonpreparation of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the utility company left us without measurement of the true doses received by a million or so people. A few days after the accident began, the NRC began reporting radiation doses to the public as "a few millirems per hour." Invariably it was pointed out that the doses were "low," while such reports carefully avoided stating that it is not just the number of millirems per hour which matters, but rather the total millirems received by the people. And the total millirems are obtained by multiplying the millirems per hour by the number of hours of exposure, as shown by the first two terms in the equation. To convert millirems to rems, you just divide by 1,000 since there are 1,000 millirems per rem.

          Everyone knows the exposure continued at least 100 hours, possibly two or three times that. But the publicists for the nuclear industry realized that total millirems would be a much larger number than millirems per hour, so they helped to deceive the public about the true magnitude of the hazard by sticking to the number which sounded smaller.

          Let us say, for illustrative purposes, that the average dose-rate during the first five days was only one millirem per hour, or 0.001 rem per hour. This is what we put into our first term of the equation.

          Then let us say that the dose continued for 100 hours. So that's what we put in the second term of the equation. When we multiply terms one and two, the hours cancel out, and we get the total number of rems: 0.1 rem, or 100 millirems.

          Since 950,000 people live in the four counties nearest the Three Mile Island plant, we can put in 1,000,000 as the thrid term in the equation. When we multiply 0.1 rem times 1,000,000 we get 100,000 person-rems or man-rems.

          Then we come to filling in the fourth term. In the first printing of Poisoned Power, we used figures for this term which were called over-estimates of the hazard by atomic energy "experts." Those "experts" were wrong then, and they are even more wrong now, for new evidence in the last eight years shows we had underestimated the hazard. It takes fewer man-rems of radiation exposure to guarantee that someone will get cancer or leukemia than we realized eight years ago. Our best estimate is that there will be one death for every 300 man-rems received by a population whose average age at exposure is about 25 years. If we use the figure of 300 man-rems, we may still be underestimating the hazard. By the way, there will still be one cancer whether 10 rems is given to each of 30 people (10 x 30 = 300) or whether 1 rem is given to 300 people (1 x 30 = 300) or whether 0.1 rem is given to 3,000 people (0.1 x 3,000 = 300) or whether 0.01 rem (10 millirems) is given to 30,000 people (0.01 x 30,000 = 300) because the number of man-rems is the same in each case; and that means the number of cancers which will occur later are the same.

          Now we are ready to solve our equation. We have 100,000 man-rems to multiply by one death per 300 man-rems. The man-rems cancel out, and by simple division of 100,000 by 300, we arrive at 333 fatal cancers or leukemias. So it should now be clear that even very "low" dose-rates like one millirem per hour can kill plenty of people when the dose is inflicted for a few days on a large number of people. The true dose at Three Mile Island itself and the true number of cancers will never be known.

          In view of these facts, it was clearly a deception for officials to talk about doses that are "only like getting an X-ray," as if giving a million people a medical X-ray were safe. Medical irradiation not only kills about 20,000 to 40,000 Americans per year, but medical irradiation is voluntary. There is a world of difference between risks that are freely chosen (like medical X-rays, smoking, driving) and deaths which are inflicted at random on people whose consent was never given—which certainly includes people of future generations who will be killed by the nuclear pollution we are creating today.

          As they look at the figures used in our fourth term (one death per 300 man-rems) no doubt some so-called atomic energy "experts" will again say we are overestimating the hazard of radiation. We are proud that we disagree with the "think-alikes" who populate the advisory committees and high government posts in public health. Their jobs, grants, and appointments depend on their minimizing the harmfulness of radiation so that the nuclear industry can go forward as their bosses desire.

          Our purpose is the objective analysis of the facts at our disposal. Small wonder there is disagreement! With our degrees, experience, credentials, and proven abilities, we could each be earning $1,000 per day as consultants for the nuclear power industry, if only we were willing to confuse the public, muddy the logic, ignore enough evidence, and say that nuclear power plants make "good neighbors." But we won't take the industry's blood money. You decide whose credibility is higher, when experts disagree.

Curies, Microcuries, and Picocuries

          Now we come to the term, "curie," a radiation measurement we avoided in the first printing of Poisoned Power simply because it is quite complex to go from the curie measure to the rad or rem measure, and rads or rems are what are really important for health effects.

          However, the Three Mile Island accident has introduced the term "picocurie" into news reports about levels of radioactivity in milk, for instance, "picocuries per liter of milk." A liter is about a quart, but what is a picocurie?

          In nuclear science, we often need a description of how many radioactive atoms are disintegrating by radioactive decay in one second. Disintegrations are emissions by the atoms of alpha, beta, or gamma rays with various energies. So a curie is a measure of the "strength" of a radioactive source.

          By universal scientific agreement, we state that when we have a radioactive substance which is showing 37 billion disintegrations per second, we have one curie of radioactivity. It does not matter if we are talking about plutonium, strontium, iodine, or any other radioactive species or mixture of species; it is always 37 billion disintegrations per second which is called one curie.

          In order to describe radioactive sources which are less strong that a curie, we have sub-units:

  • one millicurie means the substance makes
              37 million emissions per second;
  • one microcurie means it makes
              37 thousand emissions per second;
  • one nanocurie means it makes
              37 emissions per second;
  • one picocurie means it makes
              0.037 emissions every second.

From Curies and Picocuries to Rems and Millirems

          When the public hears that 100 millicuries of radioactive iodine have been released from a nuclear plant, the immediate question is, "How big a dose (in millirems) will that give me?"

          The answer is far from simple to figure out, for readily understood reasons.

          In order for any of those "millicuries" to produce "millirems" in people, the radioactive material must first reach people.

          First of all, the direction of the wind and its speed determine how many millicuries will reach a particular region in a certain amount of time. Some radioactive substances will decay in seconds and never reach people; others will be around for centuries or longer.

          Next, there is the question of whether the radiation exposure from the millicuries is only outside the body, or whether some of the radioactive material gets into the body, via inhalation or drinking and eating contaminated water and food. If contaminated food is shipped and sold to people at a distance from the release of radioactivity, they can become irradiated by a "low" level release even though they are a hundred miles away.

          For instance, radioactive substances can deposit themselves on the ground and fields, and cows foraging the area like vacuum cleaners can take up the radioactive substances into their bodies. Later, the cows can secrete radioactivity into their milk. If milk from a particular dairy is sold 100 miles away, the child who drinks the milk will get exposed to radiation even though his parents might assume they were a safe distance from the radioactive release.

          There is a large body of scientific investigation devoted to finding out the likelihood of deposition of radioactive poisons at various distances from a nuclear plant after a release. There are still many uncertainties in the data for such a depositions.

          In addition, there is a large body of investigation concerning how much of what is deposited on land is likely to get into cow's milk or into the flesh of animals which are used for food.

          And in addition to that research, there is a large body of investigation concerning how much of whatever radioactive material is eaten will stay in the body, and for how long.

          Lastly, calculations have to be made of the radiation dose (in millirems) caused by each different kind of radioactive atom which does stay in the body. Different radioactive substances give off different amounts of energy with each radioactive disintegration, and it is this energy which is causing the injury to the cell. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission now publishes tables which provide estimates of the number of millirems harmful to various organs of the human body which will be given off by every picocurie of a variety of radioactive substances actually eaten.

          Every one of the factors just described is involved in trying to convert picocuries released at a nuclear facility into millirems of radiation dose received by the public. However, the dose-estimates reported around Three Mile Island accident did not take all these factors into account. When measurements were finally made there, they were direct readings of only the external gamma ray dose coming primarily from radioactive doses in the air.

          A recent study by some independent scientists at Heidelberg University is very critical of estimates made by the nuclear industry and by government about what happens to the picocuries at every step of the chain, from release right through to the ultimate estimate of millirems inflicted on people. The Heidelberg study suggests that the nuclear industry and government always choose those numbers which will make it appear that the dose to people is lower than it truly is, with the dose sometimes underestimated by as much as 1,000-fold.

          Since the whole field (converting picocuries to millirems) is complicated, it is hard to know sometimes where the truth lies in such matters. One point is certain, however:

          An ethical society, concerned with preserving the inalienable right to life, would learn all the steps in such pathways before ever permitting activities which could release the radioactive poisons upon the public. An uncertainty factor of 1,000 is a horrible uncertainty to have about the dose a human infant will receive. Experimentation on people by the nuclear industry must be stopped, and the industry's disdain for people's health—its "Expose first, learn later" philosophy—must be exposed for its moral bankruptcy.

          The risks from irradiation are cumulative. A small dose will give you a small risk. But another small dose will give you an additional small risk. By now, the nuclear industry must have announced 100,000 "small" releases of radioactivity into the environment. It is the only industry which can add 100,000 "small" releases to each other, and still say the sum is small and the harm to the public is zero!

Summary: The Important Questions

          There has been much press and TV coverage devoted to the technical aspects of the Three Mile Island accident, but very little to its moral aspects. Yet the really important questions about nuclear power are ethical:

  • The use of lies and deception by the nuclear industry in order to manipulate public opinion, and in order to use people, even kill people, for the benefit of that industry.
  • The experimentation on people without their knowledge or consent.
  • The acceptance of random murder and denial of the inalienable right to life as the cost of "progress."
  • The genetic degradation of the human species, vs. our minimum responsibility to protect our species' genes from injury.
  • The need to hold bureaucrats and industry employees personally accountable and responsible for implementing hazardous and even murderous policies, even if such policies are advocated by Congress and the President.

          Yes, Poisoned Power is a sad story about the absence of ethics and morals in men. But it is not too late to jolt society into realization of what is going on, and what is in the future if humans do not improve in the very basic and minimum principles of morality. Either we improve, or the future is dismal indeed. We hope that Poisoned Power upsets you enough to make you work toward such improvement.

—John W. Gofman
San Francisco    
June 1979           

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