August 15, 2013. Senator Patty Murray’s office in Seattle, Washington. My name is Jordan Van Voast. I am a resident of Seattle, father, and a licensed practitioner of acupuncture for the past 15 years. With my friends and fellow citizens, I’m here today to express my alarm over the recent revelations at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan and request the Senator to work with colleagues, especially those from West Coast states, to initiate Senate hearings immediately into this emergency situation, giving it the critical high level focus needed in order to avert an even worse disaster than has already occurred.
We believe this is not simply a Japanese emergency, but a global one. Statements made otherwise by various government agencies including the IAEA, attempting to downplay the disaster, are based on inconclusive, limited data and a socio-psychological tendency to avoid causing alarm, panic and distract opposition away from the false premise that nuclear energy can ever be safe. Our specific concerns are as follows:
1. International Response/Containment: Recently, TEPCO admitted that 300 tons of radioactive water has been leaking into the ocean daily for 2.5 years, with reports that this could last for decades due to the plant’s being built on an aquifer which is now running through the uncontained and melting reactors. The long history of incompetence, corruption, and openly acknowledged lying involving Japanese government officials and TEPCO officials affords a very low level of confidence that the long term containment operation at Fukushima can be conducted safely. This is particularly concerning as TEPCO begins the delicate and dangerous operation of removing the 1300 used fuel rod assemblies from the rooftop cooling pool of reactor number four.
These spent fuel rods together have the equivalent of 14,000 times the level of radiation released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. What will happen if there is a strong earthquake? Just last week, a 6.4 magnitude quake struck this area. With Japan, the most seismically active nation on the planet, another major quake could come at any time. We urge you to use all available diplomatic channels to engage the Japanese government, to ensure that the highest level of international cooperation and expertise be employed to resolve this crisis. People like Arnold Gunderson and Paul Gunter, with independent expertise not beholden to the nuclear industry cartel need to be engaged.
2. Testing for Radiation: There are very concerning reports regarding the minimal testing for radiation contamination in our air, water, soil, and food by FDA and EPA. We believe that a more rigorous testing program needs to occur and the results need to be made public – not the orders of magnitude downgrading of radiation exposure standards which the EPA is currently proposing during radiological incidents. We also need to be conducting more rigorous epidemiological studies that screen for potential health effects due to Fukushima, following on the research of Joseph J. Mangano and Janette D. Sherman which documents a significant increase in infant morbidity in the Northwest United States following the melt down disaster at Fukushima.
3. Looking Ahead: Finally, while many reassurances have been given by industry, government, and even some in the scientific community minimizing the potential dangers from Fukushima, we need to be facilitating a larger conversation with ordinary citizens, farmers, mothers, independent scientists, religious and spiritual leaders, bioethicists, and even children, and not merely listening to the voices of political expediency endorsing business as usual. Particularly with regard to independent science, we need to guard against the overwhelming influence of corporate dollars upon research labs. Many scientists today feel the pressure of both their governments and the administration of their university to focus the lens of research in areas favorable to corporate agendas. When the corporate or national agenda is threatened, careers are terminated.
This was and continues to be a disaster of unprecedented scope and it is going to be with us for generations. Now is the time for extraordinary leadership, vision, and soul searching as we attempt to mitigate the effects of this disaster – and let us be clear here, there can be no “clean up, only mitigation – and face the reality of ending our global reliance on all forms of biosphere destroying energy production, including nuclear, before it is too late.
Thank you for offering us this time to voice our concerns.
(Sign our petition to West Coast Senators here).
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After our meeting with the staff member of Senator Murray’s office, I felt tears welling up in my eyes walking to the elevator. It was at once an emotional catharsis of toxic feelings of despair I had carried since my coming of age as a teenager during the height of the nuclear arms race, and an awakening to the recognition that our world is on the edge of unthinkable nuclear apocalypse and/or a long drawn out poisonous and cancer filled extinction with birth defects and suffering widespread.
When I was sixteen, shortly after getting a drivers license, I asked a girl out on our first date. Amidst the awkwardness of adolescent romance, a bad Hollywood movie and my anxiousness to make a good impression, I did not know how to make casual conversation with a girl. So I simply shared what was on my mind – my feelings of insecurity and existential confusion regarding the prospect of mutual assured destruction (MAD) by nuclear war.
That seemed to be the logical conclusion of where the arms race for military superiority between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was taking my world and all life above the cock roach family with it. My emotional sharing only elicited nervous glances and awkward silence from the young lady whom I was trying to impress. The take home lesson for me was that topics of discussion such as potential mass extinction events or the systemic institutional corruption and moral ineptitude of the government are not meant for polite company.
I learned to sublimate my fears, plan for college, and distract myself with the myriad distractions available to a privileged white American male coming of age – until now. The contradictions between the “everything’s fine, go shopping” messages and a sober analysis of reasoned opinion outside the corporate-political sphere of influence, are too large to ignore.
The Psychology of Self-Deception. There is a well-known psychological phenomenon which has been clearly documented – attempts to deceive others leads to self-deception, which could explain many of the global problems we are facing today, like Fukushima. The earliest recognition in literature of this fundamental lie goes back thousands of years to the ancient Indian epic, the Mahabharata in which a sage poses a riddle that goes something like this – “what is the greatest mystery in the world?” His answer: “although we see that everyone eventually dies, we do not act as if we believe we too will die”.
There are many other self-deceptions that we live, such as “money is happiness”. Maybe in the short run, money might seem like happiness, but once we’ve cut down the last tree, poisoned the last river, ocean, and garden, melted the last glacier – perhaps then we will realize that money isn’t happiness. Another common American self-deception is the idea that independence is strength. But everything exists in a complex web of inter-relatedness. Nothing is separate from anything else. Our thoughts, speech, and action create ripples which radiate outwards forever beyond the limits of time and space.
Daniel Goleman, PhD., author of ”Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception,” acknowledges that self-deception has some limited evolutionary benefits. However, while the “ignorance is bliss” coping mechanism might help us heal more quickly from a physical illness, many would reason that there is a larger price to pay. Einstein’s sober warning is worth repeating here: “The splitting of the atom changed everything save man’s way of thinking, thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.”
Our tendency to only see the reality we wish then explains why only a few people (duly labeled as fringe lunatics by mainstream group-think) are alarmed about Fukushima. There are powerful social forces – such as concern for one’s professional reputation – which are very effective in silencing cognitive dissonance. Hence, when we read an article like the one which recently appeared in National Geographic online about the leaking of radioactive water at Fukushima, we do not see the multiple levels of deception going on because it doesn’t fit with our comfort zone.
We easily agree with the conclusion of the article which concedes there’s a bit of a mess over there in Japan but it’s really nothing to worry about. The Pacific Ocean is large and has plenty of volume to absorb highly radioactive water. I’ve looked at the article maybe a half dozen times, and only at the last viewing did my consciousness register the Shell Oil logo at the upper right corner, announcing its proud sponsorship of National Geographic online. Corporate logos – burned into our retinas from an early age, modern icons for a culture suffering from an inner spiritual void.
The article is superficially truthful because it generates distortions of interpretation. These distortions arise due to selective editorial contextualizing that utilizes extensive quoting of “an expert” – in this case Ken Buesseler, “a senior scientist” with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) who discusses the immense volume of the Pacific Ocean and the rapid subsequent dilution of the radioactive water. Coincidentally, I happen to know a scientist who works at WHOI so I emailed him and mentioned the article. My friend had great respect for Dr. Buesseler, though conceded my point that he is probably not an expert on the health effects of radioactivity. Dr. Buesseler seems to ignore the fact that there is no safe dose of radiation. Radiation is cumulative, and is progressively concentrated as it moves up the food chain, with human beings (and endangered orcas) at the apex. Helen Caldicott, M.D. discusses the broader health implications of Chernobyl and Fukushima here.
More than likely, Dr. Buesseler relies to a large extent on the established benchmarks of other branches of government – like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Food and Drug Association (FDA) – in assessing the long term effects of radioactivity. Okay – a quick lesson in 21st century American civics is in order here: We no longer live in a functioning democracy. Former President Carter stated precisely that a few weeks ago. Furthermore, there is a widely acknowledged revolving door between industry and top government posts at agencies like the EPA and FDA. Corporate money in effect rules Washington based on the Supreme Court decision known as “Citizens United”, and the power of lobbyists to influence legislation.
Therefore, it is unsurprising that immediately after Fukushima, the government agencies involved all closed ranks with the nuclear industry, refusing to test for radiation in fish, and has – in the case of the EPA – astronomically raised the levels of acceptable radiation in the event of “radiological incidents” which means anything from Fukushima to so called “mobile-Chernobyls” (transportation of radioactive waste by truck and rail), or basically any situation – the language is so vague. No private insurer will ever underwrite a nuclear power plant, and so the government’s solution is to socialize the cleanup and health costs in essence. Although the new rules are already officially in effect, it is still possible to register a public comment until September 16.
Facing the truth regarding the pathological lying of our government and the actual extent of damage that has already been done is not easy because overcoming denial gives way to grief and sadness and the awful truth: There will be more suffering due to Fukushima, Chernobyl, and in all probability, more nuclear accidents, perhaps many times worse. Fukushima came very close to causing an evacuation of Tokyo. Here in America, we have Indian Point just outside New York City.
It is difficult to say what the future will bring. But this much we do know: Japan’s new government wants to restart most of the 50 reactors currently offline by July of 2014. More on Japan’s nuclear power culture of denial here. Japan is the most seismically active nation in the world. Fukushima is not the only reactor complex sitting atop a fault line.
There are over 430 reactors worldwide, many of them old and being used beyond their intended lifespans. “Nuclear power has always been a house of cards.” (Paul Gunter of Beyond Nuclear.org). As painful and scary as it may seem to face the truth, doing so brings freedom and a wide open heart of fearlessness conducive to immensely powerful action – more power than the splitting of the atom I daresay. I do not subscribe to the fatalistic pronouncements of those who say “we’re doomed”. There is still much of great value that we can do while we breathe even in this very moment. It’s up to each one of us to decide our future now.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFoVUNApOg8 (Paul Gunter, July 3rd, 2012, Director of Beyond Nuclear discussing developments at Fukushima).