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Corrections of Frontline's "Nuclear Reaction"

by John W. Gofman, M.D., Ph.D. and Egan O'Connor.   Fall 1997.

Some Factual Errors in "Frontline's" Nuke Promotion

        a   *   A "Frontline" PBS broadcast named "Nuclear Reaction" resembles, in our opinion, a promotional film for nuclear electricity. Like other Frontlines, Nuclear Reaction is likely to be broadcast repeatedly. After writing PBS about one of the program's many factual errors, we also acquired the program's verbatim transscript. Below, we select a few of the Frontline errors for correction.

        b   *   Inherited Effects. The narrator says (p.4):   "Much to the scientists' surprise, there was no increase in inherited mutations [among children born to Japanese atomic-bomb survivors]. Despite the science fiction films, this fear proved unfounded." Correction, Please! Inherited mutations and inherited afflictions are radiation-inducible. Our assertion is based solidly on three pieces of undisputed human evidence:   (A) Ionizing radiation causes gene-injuries, most of which are repairable and some of which are permanent. (B) Not all cells die after acquiring permanently damaged genes. (C) Many germ cells with permanently damaged genes do result in live births --- otherwise, there would be no inherited afflictions in humankind.

        c   *   What follows from A, B, and C? Ionizing radiation contributes to mankind's burden of inherited afflictions. Even James Neel and other authors of the A-Bomb Studies (mentioned by Frontline) have emphasized the same conclusion. It is basic logic that, if people do studies which are incapable of detecting the effect to be tested, then failure to find the effect does not mean that the effect is absent and does not mean that "fear is unfounded."

        d   *   "No Choice" Except Nuclear Power. A French utility-man says (p.14):   "In France, we have no oil, no gas, no coal, no choice [except nuclear power]." Correction, Please! France could have developed solar energy instead. Solar energy includes wind-power, wave-power, direct solar heat, photovoltaic power, biomass, power from temperature-differences in ponds and in the ocean. Solar energy can be used to make clean hydrogen fuel, when fuel is needed.

        e   *   Even A Sheet Of Paper Is Protection From Plutonium. As the narrator says, the alpha particles emitted by plutonium "can even be stopped by a thin sheet of paper" (p.16). This is demonstrably true. Honesty, Please! Frontline chose not to explain that the paper-demonstration shows why alpha radiation is, in reality, an especially ferocious menace to human cells. Alpha particles are large high-speed, high-energy particles which interact so violently with paper or with human cells that the alpha particles transfer all of their energy to the paper or to human cells in a very short distance. The shorter the distance, the fewer are the cells which receive all the energy --- and all the damage. Because of this, the chance increases that the radiation-induced damage will be complex and non-repairable by the cell.

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