The Price of Secrecy
AS LATE AS the spring of 1970, I believed that the radiation resulting from the normal operation of nuclear power plants was so low as to present no significant hazard to public health. This belief was based on the results of an old study of emissions from the first commercial nuclear electric power plant, located at Shippingport, Pennsylvania. Conducted almost ten years earlier, it had measured the radioactivity in the cooling water taken from the Ohio River both before and after it had passed through the plant. It found that the plant added so little radioactivity to the water that there were times when the chemically filtered water leaving the plant was actually less radioactive than the river water entering the plant -- especially during periods of heavy fallout.
It therefore seemed reasonable to expect that if such low levels of radioactive waste releases had been achieved in 1957 in the very first nuclear power reactor built in this country, then the later, more advanced plants would release even less. But early in 1970 I discovered that this was not the case. In the published record of the hearings on the environmental effects of electric power generation, held by the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy in November 1969, there were tables supplied by the AEC listing the amounts of radioactivity discharged into the water and air by commercial nuclear power plants in the United States. Many plants were listed as actually releasing hundreds of thousands of times as much radioactivity into the air as others. For example, in 1967 two reactors had discharged as much as 700,000 curies, while another had released only 2.4 curies, or some 300,000 times less.
These were truly enormous quantities. Some of the many different isotopes contained in these gaseous and liquid discharges, such as cesium and strontium, were regarded as hazardous at levels as low as one ten-billionth of a curie per day in milk or food. A single curie of iodine 131 could make 10 billion quarts of milk unfit for continuous consumption, according even to the existing guidelines adopted by the federal government. Such large releases of radioactivity were in fact comparable to fallout from small tactical nuclear weapons. Although dilution in the air would reduce the hazard to people living more than fifty miles away from these plants, those living nearby were unknowingly accepting vastly greater risks to the health of their children.
Furthermore, the permissible levels listed for many of the reactors were enormous. For the Dresden reactor, located some fifty miles from Chicago, which had emitted 260,000 curies of radioactive gases in 1967, the permissible amount had been set at 22,000,000 curies per year by the AEC. Thus, in terms of permissible levels, the huge amount actually released could be, and was, cited by the power company as representing only about 1 percent of the maximum levels allowed.
Curiously, there was no listing given in the record of the hearings for the Shippingport plant. Why had the AEC left it out of the material presented to Congress? A few months later, at a meeting of the Health Physics Society, Charles Weaver, Director of the Division of Environmental Radiation of the Public Health Service's Bureau of Radiological Health, presented the results of studies just published in March of 1970 on the radioactivity emitted by a series of nuclear plants. According to his report, in 1968 Shippingport had emitted a grand total of only 0.001 curies into the air, or 240 million times less than was released the same year by the Dresden reactor near Chicago, Illinois. And the same report also explained why some reactors released so much more radioactivity than others. They were grouped according to type of design, and it was only the boiling-water-type reactors that showed such very large releases, while the pressurized-water reactors, which included Shippingport, consistently showed the lowest waste discharges. Some of the commercial pressurized reactors did, however, emit much more than others, and all of them discharged significant quantities of radioactive tritium into the cooling water, which was then released into the surrounding rivers and lakes.
Why weren't all the reactors designed like Shippingport, so as to release the smallest amounts of radioactivity? The answer could be found in the history of reactor development. The pressurized-water reactors, like Shippingport, were originally designed for use in nuclear submarines by Westinghouse under the direction of Admiral Hyman C. Rickover. Since they had to operate for long periods in a sealed, submerged vessel, these rectors had to be designed with a minimum of radioactive leakage either into the submarine, where the crew had to live for months as a time, or into the water, where the bubbles of radioactive gases would permit easy detection of the submarine's position. The Shippingport reactor was in fact a prototype naval propulsion plant owned by the Navy and the AEC, and not a commercial power plant at all.
Meanwhile, the General Electric Company was encouraged by the AEC to quickly develop a new type of large power reactor that would be cheap and efficient enough to compete successfully with the fossil-fuel-burning electric power plants in widespread use. For the more complex pressurized reactor with its double cooling loop, although safer, was too expensive. And so GE developed the much simpler boiling-water reactor. This design, in which economic considerations were the major factor, sacrificed protection against radioactive leaks in favor of lower cost and greater efficiency of operation. Experiments showed that corrosion was a more serious problem in the single-coolant-loop GE design. Large amounts of fission products would inevitably build up rapidly in the coolant and escape through pipe joints, valve packings, and high-speed rotating shaft-seals to be discharged into the air and water. Thus, if a cheap, economical way to generate large quantities of electric power was to be demonstrated quickly so as to convince the utilities to go nuclear, there was only one solution: Set the permissible amounts of radioactive waste discharges into the environment so high that the actual releases would always be well below this limit.
By 1959, the first large boiling-water reactor plant was completed at Dresden, Illinois, and in August of 1960, the first electricity from the 200-megawatt Dresden generators began to flow into the power grid of the Commonwealth Edison Company, serving the people of Chicago. The releases of radioactive gases into the atmosphere were relatively low in the first full year of operation, and so were the discharges of tritium, strontium 90, and other isotopes into the Illinois River. In 1961 only 0.158 percent of the maximum allowable amount had been released into the air, and even liquid wastes were held down to 6.3 percent of permitted levels. Compared to the amounts of radioactivity then being released into the water and the air by the renewed testing of nuclear weapons, this was certainly quite small.
But signs of trouble began to appear the very next year. By the end of 1962, corrosion had begun, and the amount of radioactive gas that had to be discharged into the air increased by almost ten times to 284,000 curies. Even the radioactivity discharged into the river rose more than three times. By 1963 emission of radioactive gases had been successfully brought back down to 71,600 curies by the replacement of leaking fuel rods, but the corrosion continued, and gaseous releases shot up to 521,000 curies in 1964.
No longer were the radiation doses to the surrounding population negligibly small compared to background radiation, as everyone had hoped. Annual average external doses to the population within a few miles of the plant could be estimated at 20 to 30 millirads by 1964. This was fast approaching the 88 millirads that the people in the area normally received from cosmic radiation and natural radioactivity in the soil, and it compared with what had been produced by weapons fallout.
It was becoming clear that the permissible levels of radiation from nuclear plants could not be lowered, as some scientists were beginning to urge, without having to shut the huge plant down only a few years after it had been built at a cost of well over a hundred million dollars. In fact, pressures were actually building up from industry and the military to raise the permissible discharges to the environment from nuclear activities, especially in the event of an accidental heavy release from a reactor or from fallout if weapons tests in the atmosphere were ever renewed. And so, in 1964 and 1965, the director of the Federal Radiation Council, Dr. Paul C. Tompkins, who had previously served as Deputy Director of the AEC's Office of Radiation Standards and Director of Research in the Bureau of Radiological Health of the U.S. Public Health Service, announced a twentyfold rise in the permissible amounts of the most hazardous isotopes in milk in the event of an accidental release. For the first time in the history of radiation standards the permissible doses to the public were raised rather than lowered, despite the mounting evidence that there was no safe threshold dose of radiation as presented in August 1963 before the Joint Committee. And this was done quietly by presidential executive order, for which no public hearing is required.
When in 1966 the gaseous discharges from the Dresden plant had climbed to 736,000 curies, or more than twenty times what they had been in 1961 and more than twenty million times more than Shippingport had released the same year, a decision was made to start replacing the corroding stainless-steel-jacketed fuel rods with more resistant, but also more expensive, zircalloy-clad fuel. By this time, the liquid releases, containing iodine, strontium, cesium, and other highly toxic elements, had risen to forty-three times their initial value, and, instead of being a small fraction of the permissible level, they had actually reached a full third of the AEC standards. Enormous quantities of these isotopes went into the Illinois River, flowing past Peoria, where the river water began to be used for drinking, and on to the Gulf of Mexico, concentrating thousands of times higher in the fish and in the birds that fed on them.
The example of Dresden clearly showed that it would not be possible to lower permissible radiation levels without having to shut down the whole series of boiling-water reactors that had now gone into operation all over the United States, each having cost some one hundred million dollars. And construction would have to be halted on dozens of even larger reactors in various stages of development throughout the United States and the rest of the world.
On June 6, 1970, just a few months after all the new reactor emissions data had been published, the British medical journal Lancet printed a full account of Dr. Stewart's fifteen-year study of the increase in leukemia and cancer among the nineteen million children in England and Wales that were born between 1943 and 1965. Her conclusions were now statistically unassailable: doubling the number of X-ray pictures doubled the risk of leukemia and other cancers, and there was no evidence for a safe threshold even at a single diagnostic X-ray. One modern pelvic X-ray gives about the same dose to the fetus as is permitted for the general population by the existing federal radiation standards (175 millirads). And when the radiation was given in the first three months of pregnancy, Dr. Stewart's data showed that a mere 80 millirads -- about the dose that was received from external radiation alone by the people living near the Dresden reactor in the peak year of emission -- would double the spontaneous rate of leukemia and cancer in the children before they reached the age of ten. And there had been significant rises in leukemia and fetal and infant mortality in the Troy area at similar external dose levels of only 50 to 100 millirads.
There was thus little doubt that detectable health effects should have occurred in the areas surrounding the Dresden plant and other reactors. But it would require a considerable effort to collect the data from the volumes of the U.S. Vital Statistics, and I had no one to help in such a task, for I had been unable to obtain any funds for such studies. Fortunately, a group of students who had become interested in environmental pollution as a result of Earth Day indicated a willingness to help. The group divided itself into small teams, and each took on the task of gathering the data for a particular nuclear installation.
Since most of the fission products emitted by reactors are short-lived, persisting only for anywhere from a few days to a few months, it appeared that the effects on infant mortality would be sharp and immediate, just as had occurred with the short-lived isotopes in the case of fallout. There would probably be no significant residual effect, and so the rises and falls in infant mortality should correlate closely with the rises and falls in the reactor releases.
In October 1970 we examined the infant mortality rates in the counties around the Dresden reactor. In 1966, within a year after the emissions rose sharply from the relatively low value of 71,600 curies in 1963 to 610,000 curies in 1965, the infant mortality rate in Grundy County, where the reactor was located, and in adjacent Livingston County, jumped by 140 percent, or to more than twice its 1964 value. While only thirteen infants in these two counties had died in the year after the minimum radioactive emission, by 1966 this number had jumped to thirty. And the number of babies born live in these two counties actually decreased slightly from 1170 to 1082 in 1966, so that the jump in rates per 1000 births was actually even larger.
There could be little doubt about the statistical significance. Established statistical estimation techniques showed that the possibility of such a fluctuation being accidental was much less than one in 10,000. But this was not all. The students had gathered the data for all five counties surrounding Grundy County, as well as for a control group of six counties as far to the west and north of Grundy as possible within the state of Illinois, counties that bordered neither on the contaminated Illinois River nor on the Mississippi, where the effluent from other nuclear plants upstream in Minnesota and Wisconsin might lead to rises in mortality.
And when we carried out the comparison in the change of infant mortality rates for these two groups of rural counties of similar climate, medical care, and socio-economic character, the result was even more conclusive: While the mortality rates in the counties around the reactor had increased an average of 48 percent, the upwind control counties actually showed a decline of 2 percent in their average infant mortality rates.
Furthermore, with the prevailing westerly winds, the radioactive gas would drift eastward to Cook County, where Chicago was located, with a population of some five million. Since the radioactivity would have become much diluted with distance, only a small rise in mortality rates of a few percent would be likely. But since so many more children were born every year in Chicago than in Grundy County, the total number of additional deaths would be significant. And when we checked the figures, this is exactly what had taken place: Infant mortality in Cook County had gone up by 1.5 percent, during a time when in New York City it had declined by 6.7 percent.
Since some six million people lived within a radius of 50 to 60 miles from the Dresden reactor, and since the total population of Illinois was ten million, there should have been a significant rise in infant mortality for Illinois as a whole. And there was indeed -- from an all-time low point of 23.9 in 1963 to a peak in 1966 of 25.6, in exact coincidence with the peak of gaseous emissions from the Dresden reactor. This was followed by a renewed decline in both recorded gaseous releases and infant mortality as the defective fuel rods were replaced.
With the advice of Dr. Morris DeGroot, head of the Statistics Department, Carnegie-Mellon University, who had become interested in the problem, we applied further statistical tests. The results were always the same: A significant rise and decline in infant mortality in Illinois compared to all other neighboring states in the northern U.S., correlating directly with the rise and decline of radioactive emissions from the Dresden reactor. Relative to Ohio, a few hundred miles to the east, where the infant mortality rate had been the same as in Illinois before the reactor had been started up in 1960, the excess infant deaths in Illinois for the years 1960-68 numbered close to 4000. And for each infant dying in the first year of life, it was well known that there were perhaps three to four that would live with serious genetic defects, crippling congenital malformations, and mental retardation, afflictions in many ways far worse than death in early infancy.
The largest numbers of deaths among the newborn infants were caused by asphyxia or respiratory distress, including hyaline membrane disease, long known to be associated with immaturity, and also general immaturity and "crib death." These were the very causes that had risen sharply all over the world during the period of nuclear testing and had only begun to decline again a few years after the test-ban treaty came into force. Yet here in Illinois, they were still increasing. And among the older infants, noninfectious respiratory disease deaths rose almost 90 percent, and bronchitis almost 50 percent, in the two years after 1964.
In fact, for all ages, there was a rapid rise in deaths due to such lung diseases as emphysema and bronchitis after the onset of the Dresden emissions. The rise was far greater than in more heavily polluted New York. In the ten years between 1949 and 1959, these death rates in Illinois increased by only 9 percent, but they rose by 75 percent in the short period from 1959, when the reactor was completed, to 1966, the last year for which data were available. This was more than eight times the previous annual rate of increase.
Thus, the radioactive gases released from reactor stacks, gases which had been widely regarded as relatively harmless, now appeared to be far more serious in their effects than had been anticipated. Although these gases do not concentrate and remain in the human body, they do dissolve readily in the bloodstream and especially in the fatty parts of many cell membranes when they are inhaled over periods of hours or days. And some of them transform themselves into the biologically damaging cesium, strontium, and yttrium inside the body. As a result, the internal radiation damage to the small air sacs of the lungs, which are lined with cells that produce a crucial fatty substance (lipid) that acts to keep these air sacs open when the air is exhaled, could be far more serious in causing respiratory damage than the external radiation dose from the radioactive gases outside the body.
There was still another way, more indirect but more efficient, in which small amounts of radioactivity could produce deaths from respiratory problems, especially in the newborn. Some of the radioactive chemicals produced by the fission of uranium -- such as yttrium 90, the daughter product of strontium -- were known to concentrate in the pituitary gland. And recent studies had revealed that the critical lipid needed to prevent the lung from collapsing was produced in special cells of the lung under the chemical control of the pituitary gland in the last few weeks of fetal development just before birth. Thus, even slight damage to the pituitary gland from radioactivity in the air or in the mother's diet could lead to a slight retardation in development, so that the lung would not be quite ready to function properly immediately after birth. And the result would be that otherwise apparently normal babies would be born underweight and would succumb to respiratory failure shortly after birth.
The rise in infant deaths from respiratory diseases associated with immaturity also indicated that the atmospheric reactor releases should be causing an increase in low-birthweight babies. This expectation was confirmed by the data for Grundy County, where the Dresden reactor was located. The number of low-birthweight babies born in this county rose and declined in exact synchronism with the measured gaseous emissions, the rises going as high as 140 percent. No such increases in the number of underweight babies took place in the six control counties more than 40 miles west of the reactor.
The sudden rise in emphysema and bronchitis all over the United States and other countries, noted by I. M. Moriyama, followed the onset of large-scale atmospheric releases of radioactive gas and dust in the early 1950s, also fitted the hypothesis that radioactivity in the air was causing lung damage. When we plotted the emphysema and bronchitis death rates for the states where ordinary air pollution was lowest but radioactivity in the air itself was highest, such as dry, dusty Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico, where the winds picked up the radioactive dust again and again, we found that after declining in the 1940s, the respiratory death rates per 100,000 people suddenly began to rise sharply between 1946 and 1951, exceeding those in the much more polluted but higher-rainfall states of the east such as New York and Massachusetts, where the radioactivity was cleansed from the atmosphere and soaked into the ground by the rains. By the early 1960s, even in the heavily polluted coal-and steel-producing state of Pennsylvania, these types of respiratory deaths, normally attributed only to ordinary air pollution, were lower than in the clean mountain air of Wyoming.
Clearly, air pollution from ordinary fossil-fuel-burning power plants, which had doubled steadily every ten years for many decades, could therefore not be blamed for all of the alarming rise in lung disease deaths. Instead, all the evidence pointed to radioactive air pollution, both from fallout and from nuclear power plants, as the greatest single contributor to the rise in all types of chronic lung disease around the world, multiplying the effects of the other pollutants -- including cigarettes, as in the case of the uranium miners.
Furthermore, there was one source of radioactive pollution that was potentially even more serious than the boiling-water reactors. This was the effluent from the nuclear-fuel processing plants. These plants recovered uranium from the spent reactor fuel elements, as well as plutonium, which could be sold back to the government for use in building bombs and missile warheads. In the process, radioactive gases and large amounts of other fission products were discharged into the air and adjacent rivers. Here all the efforts to prevent the escape of radioactivity from the reactors themselves were therefore completely nullified.
The students gathered the data for the first commercial fuel-reprocessing plant, located in West Valley, New York, some 25 miles south of Buffalo. This plant had gone into operation in April 1966, and reports on its radioactive gas releases, as well as measurements of liquid waste releases and doses from the food produced nearby, had just been published by the U.S. Bureau of Radiological Health in May 1970. When we looked at the available data for infant mortality in Cattaraugus County, where the plant was located, we saw that infant mortality had jumped up 54 percent between 1966 and 1967, far above the rate for New York State as a whole. Once again, every adjacent county had gone up dramatically at the same time, while the next ring of counties rose only slightly. And those beyond 50 miles all showed declines in their infant death rate, as did New York State as a whole and all the adjoining New England states to the east.
But this situation was not confined to New York State. In some of the counties in Pennsylvania just to the south of the plant, the same rise in infant mortality had taken place. Warren County, directly to the southwest along the valley of the Allegheny River, had gone up almost exactly the same amount as Cattaraugus County. And along the Allegheny River below Cattaraugus County where the plant was located, infant mortality had either jumped up or refused to decline further, the effect diminishing with distance all the way down to Pittsburgh.
The map of the area made the explanation evident: The small tributaries that flowed into the Allegheny River as it passed through New York State originated within a few miles of the fuel-processing plant near West Valley, where the radioactivity discharged from the stack and the storage reservoirs seeped into the watershed for the entire Allegheny River system. Along the Allegheny near the Pennsylvania border, infant mortality had risen 56 percent in Warren County and 48 percent in Venango, through which it passed next. Even as far away as Armstrong County, more than 100 miles downriver, infant mortality had gone up 4 percent that same year, while Pennsylvania as a whole showed no such rise, though it was not declining as rapidly as rural states having no nuclear facilities. Evidently it was not just the inhalation of the atmospheric gases that was important in infant mortality, but also their deposition by rainfall in the headwaters of the Allegheny river, contaminating water, fish, milk, and vegetables with radioactive cesium, strontium, iodine, and other toxic elements.
When we checked the levels of radioactivity in milk reported by the Public Health Service, we found the confirmation of what we had begun to suspect: Of all the milk-sampling stations in the entire United States reporting for the 12-month period ending in March 1970, only those in Pennsylvania showed a level of short-lived iodine 131 greater than 1 micromicrocurie per liter. And there was a more disturbing piece of evidence: strontium 90 had climbed back up to more than half the level that existed at the peak of atmospheric weapons testing, and it was still rising. The West Valley plant was the first commercial facility of its type in the United States, and it emitted far greater amounts of toxic radioactive elements into the environment than did any single nuclear reactor, including Dresden. Yet many more of these plants were planned for the future.
There simply could be no further doubt as to the cause of the rising infant mortality around the West Valley plant: Measurements carried out by the Public Health Service and published in May 1970 showed that, aside from the dose produced by the krypton gases released into the air, doses as high as 250 millirads from cesium and 532 millirads from strontium would be received in a single year by any individuals who ate significant amounts of the area's heavily contaminated fish and deer. These were doses much greater than the 100 millirads normally received from natural background radiation. In fact, they far exceeded even the annual doses during the height of nuclear testing. And these dose calculations were only for the adult, and not for the much more sensitive fetus and infant, where the even more intensive concentration in various critical organs would make the doses far higher still.
The findings were further confirmed when the infant mortality rates in the counties around the AEC's Hanford Laboratories in Washington were graphed. It was at Hanford that nuclear fuel was first processed to produce the plutonium for the Trinity explosion at Alamogordo, New Mexico, in 1945. During this period large quantities of radioactivity were released by the Hanford plant. These releases had explained the early infant mortality rise in Montana and North Dakota that showed up on the Trinity map. But at the time, I did not examine the effect on the counties around the Hanford works itself. Now, when we compared the infant mortality rate for 1945, after the emissions had occurred, with the rate for 1943, before the plant had been started up, we found that the rate for Benton County, where the plant was located, had jumped 160 percent. Umatilla, the adjoining county to the south, had gone up 60 percent, while Franklin, directly to the east, increased 50 percent and Walla Walla, just to the southeast of Franklin, rose 10 percent. Yet infant mortality for the state of Washington as a whole declined, as it also did in Oregon.
And within a few more months, the results for Consolidated Edison's Indian Point plant on the Hudson River in Westchester County, 20 miles north of New York City, disclosed similar rises and declines in infant mortality that correlated with the rises and falls in the plant's radioactive releases, including observable effects on New York City itself. Yet this was a pressurized-water reactor, the type that generally had the lowest releases of all, and it was located in an area of excellent medical care. Evidently it had not been possible to maintain the standards of a naval-type plant and remain commercially competitive with the boiling-water plants. Similar situations existed around all the reactors we checked in various parts of the country. Even the small research-type reactors, such as the TRIGA, installed on college campuses and in laboratories all over the world, appeared to be capable of causing the same effect. When figures on the year-by-year emissions of the TRIGA reactor at Pennsylvania State College became available, we compared the infant mortality rates in the surrounding town, State College, with those in Lebanon City, a similar town some 100 miles to the east. State College showed precipitous rises and falls in infant mortality, corresponding closely with the rises and falls in emissions from the TRIGA. The State College rate went from 9.9 per 1000 births in 1963 to 24.7 in 1968. During the same period, the rate in Lebanon City, as well as in Pennsylvania as a whole, declined steadily from the peak reached during the atmospheric tests of 1961-62.
Since the population of State College was comparatively small, however, a remote possibility existed that these increases could be due to chance fluctuations. So we next examined infant mortality rates around the TRIGA on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana, where the population was much larger. From 1962, when the reactor commenced operation, through 1965, the year it reached full power, infant mortality increased by 300 percent. In this study, for the first time, we also had an opportunity to look at another category of possible radiation effects: deaths from congenital malformations. During the same period in Urbana these deaths increased by 600 percent, from 3.5 per 100,000 in 1962 to 23.5 in 1965. And in 1968, after the reactor was shut off, they turned downward to 6.6 per 100,000, while infant mortality showed a similar drop. In McLean County, which extended 20 to 60 miles northwest of Urbana and thus would not have been significantly exposed to the effluent, both categories of death declined steadily throughout the same period. The surprising strength of the effects from the TRIGA emissions, which were much lower than the emissions from the larger reactors we studied, could be explained by the fact that the TRIGAs were located right in the middle of densely populated areas. Therefore, the emissions would reach the developing infants in much more concentrated form, with much less time for the short-lived isotopes to lose their radioactivity.
It was the announced intention of the AEC, numerous public utilities, and the government that this country's energy needs would be supplied largely by nuclear-power reactors in the near future. Only fifteen or twenty such reactors were in actual operation, but more than a hundred were under construction or planned, as were the necessary number of fuel-reprocessing plants. But if our findings proved correct, then the entire program, with its phenomenally large investment of funds and scientific energy, would become virtually useless in its present form. Considering the apparent effects from normal operation of these plants, during which no more than one ten-millionth of their stored-up radioactivity had ever been discharged, a single large accidental release could be a national catastrophe of nuclear warfare dimensions. If the general public grasped this fact, then most people would probably consider the risk of this technology far too great to be accepted. But through all the years while reactor technology was being developed, the possible dangers of low-level radiation -- either from fallout or from nuclear power plants -- had been publicly minimized by the military, by industry, and by the health agencies that had given their stamp of approval to nuclear activities. The warning signs had been ignored or suppressed. And little or no funds had been made available for development of the potentially safer and more efficient alternatives to nuclear power, such as coal gassification or magnetohydrodynamics, which would permit the continued use of the still-enormous reserves of fossil fuels. Little or nothing was done to find means of harnessing the vast stores of geothermal energy in the crust of the earth, or the pollution-free energy of the sun. Yet there was little question that these alternative means of electric power production could have been successfully developed.
Our reactor findings were met with opposition as strenuous as that which greeted the evidence on the effects of fallout. Notable among our critics was Edythalena Tompkins, a public-health scientist who was recently placed in charge of all studies of radiation effects on the population by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Edythalena Tompkins was also the wife of Paul C. Tompkins, the director of the Federal Radiation Council who in 1964 had presided over the first raising of permissible radiation levels in history. Additionally, she had been a critic of the fallout evidence, particularly that relating to the effects of the Trinity test. In the spring of 1970, a student at the Pittsburgh School of Public Health had informed me that Mrs. Tompkins had told him there were serious errors in my map of infant mortality after the Trinity explosion. My map had shown no rise in infant mortality among the white population in three states that were in the path of the fallout -- Oklahoma, Florida, and South Carolina. The explanation for this was that according to the official weather map these states had received little or no rain and thus little fallout during the week following the Trinity explosion. This fact had provided an important confirmation of my hypothesis. However, Mrs. Tompkins had told this student that just the opposite had been the case: The infant mortality in these states had actually risen, just as it had in the states that received the rains. He then gave me a series of five maps that had been prepared by Mrs. Tompkins, and on all of these maps the three key states did indeed show sharp increases in white infant mortality during the five years following Trinity.
This appeared to be a devastating piece of evidence, but my associates and I rechecked our figures and found that only in these three crucial states did they differ from those on Mrs. Thompkins's maps. I suggested to the student that he himself recalculate the figures. After doing so he informed me that our figures were the correct ones and then called Mrs. Tompkins for an explanation. Mrs. Tompkins said that she had evidently made a mistake, but that in any event these maps were not intended for publication. Subsequently, however, AEC representatives and members of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy stated publicly that my infant mortality figures for the states that had low rainfalls after the Trinity test had been proved to be inaccurate and that the true figures completely invalidated my conclusions. Yet the only time these particular figures had ever been challenged was by Mrs. Tompkins.
After our group began making the reactor findings public, Mrs. Tompkins, by now with the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency to which she and her husband had been transferred, began conducting her own studies of this subject too. Her method was to calculate the infant mortality rates in a series of circular areas surrounding the reactor, and compare these figures for five-year periods before and after the reactor had gone into operation. She concluded that even the most heavily emitting boiling-water reactors had no detectable effect on infant mortality.
Since vital statistics are recorded by county and not by circular regions around reactors, however, Mrs. Thompkins's method first of all necessitated that she make her own estimates of both the population figures and the infant mortality rates. And her use of concentric ring-shaped areas omitted a very important consideration: The emissions from reactors are not evenly distributed in all directions. Their distribution depends not only on the direction of the prevailing winds, or on geographical features such as high mountains and resulting differences in rainfall, but also on the discretion of the reactor engineers, who can and do time the releases to coincide with a certain wind direction that may or may not be the prevalent one. And then, of course, the counties that take their drinking water and fish from the rivers, lakes, or oceans into which the reactor releases its liquid effluent would also be expected to show sharper increases than the others. Thus, highly asymmetrical situations can develop around reactors, situations in which the counties most heavily exposed to the effluent show sharp rises and falls in infant mortality that correlate directly with rises and falls in the reactor releases, while in other counties, such as those upwind to the west of Dresden, the rate may continue the decline that began shortly after the cessation of atmospheric testing. Thus, if all the surrounding counties are averaged together over five-year periods, as in Mrs. Tompkins's method, the overall figure may show little or no increase in infant mortality. Furthermore, in the case of reactors that began operation in the early 1960s in areas that had received heavy fallout (as had the three boiling-water reactors studied by Mrs. Tompkins), it is possible by this technique to demonstrate an actual decline in infant mortality after the reactors were started up and the fallout levels died down. But in all of these cases, if one examines the yearly figures, the infant mortality rates in the counties heavily exposed to the reactor effluent show sharp rises and falls in direct correlation with the releases, declining steadily with distance in any direction from the reactor when the counties are of similar socio-economic and climatic character.
Significantly, an independent statistical study of this subject was presented at a scientific meeting in July 1971 by Dr. Morris H. DeGroot, head of the Department of Mathematical Statistics at Carnegie-Mellon University. Dr. DeGroot found that infant mortality increases did take place in close correlation with releases of radioactivity from the heavily emitting reactors at Dresden, Illinois; Indian Point, New York; and Brookhaven, Long Island. Perhaps most important was his finding that in the area around the reactor at Shippingport, Pennsylvania -- the only other reactor studied by Dr. DeGroot -- there was no correlation between releases and changes in infant mortality. As the official release figures showed, the Shippingport reactor had the lowest gaseous emissions of any reactor in the country, since it was a non-commercial naval submarine type of plant.
But later in 1971, the most comprehensive independent study of all was completed. It was conducted by Dr. Lester B. Lave and his associates, Dr. Samuel Leinhardt and Martin B. Kaye, of the Graduate School of Business Administration at Carnegie-Mellon University. This was a study of fallout effects, but the results apply equally to reactor emissions. The three scientists concluded that, during the time period studied (1961-67), fallout appears to have been the single most important factor affecting fetal, infant, and adult mortality, more important than ordinary air pollution. Through the use of computerized statistical techniques they corrected their estimates to account for the effects of such variables as sulfur dioxide, socio-economic factors, background radiation, and others in 61 metropolitan areas of the United States. The principal findings and their implications may be briefly summarized as follows:
Infant mortality is strongly associated with levels of strontium 90 and cesium 137 in milk, especially the former. The association is such that for every single micromicrocurie of strontium 90 per liter of milk there is an increase of 12 infant deaths per 100,000 births. Since, during 1961-67, there was an average of 15.8 micromicrocuries per liter of milk in the U.S., then these findings indicate that during this period there were close to 7600 infant deaths every year due to fallout. For the world population, this would mean an extra 100,000 infant deaths per year. But during the peak of testing, these levels reached between 50 and 100 micromicrocuries per liter in many locations around the world, and as late as 1971 they were still between 5 and 15 in most parts of the northern hemisphere. And they then began to rise again following the large French and Chinese test series and the rapid growth in releases from nuclear reactors and fuel reprocessing plants.
Dr. Lave's group also found that mortality rates for the whole population -- in other words, all causes of death among all ages -- were also highly correlated with fallout levels. The calculations showed that there were 1.29 extra deaths per 100,000 people for each single micromicrocurie of strontium 90 per liter of milk. At the 1961-67 levels, this amounts to some 40,000 extra deaths each year in the United States, and thus some 600,000 among the world's population of over three billion people.
And during the fifteen-year period of heavy nuclear testing that began in the early 1950s, when the short-lived iodine and other isotopes were added to the strontium 90 in the milk, there would have been many millions of extra deaths.
At long last, more than a quarter century after Hiroshima, studies of the health effects of fallout were being made by independent scientists outside the government such as Lave, Leinhardt and Kaye. But as I was not to learn until much later, neither the public nor the scientific community at large would be able to learn of these results. When the Carnegie-Mellon scientists submitted their paper to Science, Abelson refused to publish it, even though a similar paper by the same group linking ordinary air pollution to mortality increases using the same statistical techniques had been published by Science earlier.
The paper was finally accepted for publication in the much less widely read journal Radiation Data and Reports, published monthly by the Environmental Protection Agency. But the important findings of Lave, Leinhardt and Kaye never appeared in print. Just before publication, when the plates had already been prepared, the authors received word from the editor that objections from highly placed government officials forced them to destroy the plates. The article has never appeared in the scientific literature, and at the end of 1974, publication of Radiation Data and Reports ceased with the December issue after fifteen years of providing the only comprehensive source of data on radioactivity in the environment, following deep budget cuts in the Office of Radiation Programs ordered by the Nixon administration.
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