Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Politics of Representation and Radiation Risk

A commentator left a link to a very interesting article covering the “excess mortality” produced by atmospheric testing in the US occurring between 1951-1963:
Tim Fernholz (2017, Dec 21). US nuclear tests killed far more civilians than we knew. Quartz
When the US entered the nuclear age, it did so recklessly. New research suggests that the hidden cost of developing nuclear weapons were far larger than previous estimates, with radioactive fallout responsible for 340,000 to 690,000 American deaths from 1951 to 1973.  The study, performed by University of Arizona economist Keith Meyers, uses a novel method (pdf) to trace the deadly effects of this radiation, which was often consumed by Americans drinking milk far from the site of atomic tests. 
From 1951 to 1963, the US tested nuclear weapons above ground in Nevada. Weapons researchers, not understanding the risks—or simply ignoring them—exposed thousands of workers to radioactive fallout.
The study is the dissertation project for Keith Meyers, at the University of Arizona. He adopts the logic of studying how a particular radionuclide, Iodine-131 bioaccumulates in the environment and bio-magnifies in humans.

Radioiodine poses particular dangers to human endocrine functions because of the tendency for radioiodine to be concentrated in the thyroid gland. Endocrine-mediated disorders are varied, ranging from syndromes of intellectual impairment to cancers of the thyroid and pituitary gland, among others (see list of disorders here

Below find the content of a March 16, 2012 blog post I wrote on the politics of how dose is represented:

Friday, March 16, 2012 Estimating Dose and the History of Radiation Research

The recently declassified Nuclear Regulatory Transcripts (page 143 and 183-187) discuss the projected thyroid dose for 1 year old California children from Fukushima Fallout

The method used to project the dose to the thyroid from radioactive iodine was developed by Harold Knapp.  His method was controversial because it demonstrated amplified harm from doses that other scientists at the time considered "safe."

Knapp was part of a community of scientists and other professionals who braved the consternation of their colleagues and the disapproval of their institutions.

By calling into question establishment "truths," scientists, physicians, journalists and academics such as Harold Knapp, Jay Gould, Roselie Bertell, Joseph J. Mangano, John Goffman, Helen Caldicott, Harvey Wasserman, Alice Stewart, Robert Alavarez, Philip Fradkin, and many others have risked their professional careers.

Here is some background on efforts to measure the thyroid dose to children:

Kirsch, S. (2004). Harold Knapp and the Geography of Normal Controversy: Radioiodine in the Historical Environment. Osiris, 19: 167-181 
[excerpted] In 1962, after high levels of the isotope Iodine-131 were detected in Utah milk supplies, Dr. Harold Knapp, a mathematician working for the AEC's Division of Biology and Medicine, developed a new model for estimating, first, the relation between a single deposition of radioactive fallout on pasturage and the levels of Iodine-131 in fresh milk and, second, the total dose to human thyroids resulting from daily intake of the contaminated milk. 
The implications of Knapp's findings were enormous. They suggested that short-living radioiodine, rather than long-living nuclides such as radiostrontium, posed the greatest hazard from nuclear test fallout and that children raised in Nevada and Utah during the 1950s had been exposed to internal radiation doses far in excess of recommended guidelines. This paper explores the explicit historical revisionism of Knapp's study, his refusal, contra normal AEC practices of knowledge production and spatial representation, to distance himself from the people and places downwind from the Nevada Test Site, and the reactions his work provoked among his AEC colleagues.
Post continues but end of excerpt.
Just as the scope of effects from atmospheric testing was narrowed by problematic views of exposure and effects, so also was the scope of effects narrowed from Chernobyl.

So also is the scope of effects narrowed from Fukushima.

The scope of Fukushima effects has been narrowed in many ways, beginning with the the idea that Fukushima Prefecture alone was contaminated. Tokyo, for example, was and remains quite contaminated in areas:
Ishida M, Yamazaki H (2017) Radioactive contamination in the Tokyo metropolitan area in the early stage of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) accident and its fluctuation over five years. PLoS ONE 12(11): e0187687.

Abstract: Radioactive contamination in the Tokyo metropolitan area in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) accident was analyzed via surface soil sampled during a two-month period after the accident. 131I, 134Cs, and 137Cs were detected in these soil samples. The activity and inventory of radioactive material in the eastern part of Tokyo tended to be high. The 134Cs/137Cs activity ratio in soil was 0.978 ± 0.053. The 131I/137Cs ratio fluctuated widely, and was 19.7 ± 9.0 (weighted average 18.71 ± 0.13, n = 14) in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The radioactive plume with high 131I activity spread into the Tokyo metropolitan area and was higher than the weighted average of 6.07 ± 0.04 (n = 26) in other areas. The radiocesium activity and inventory surveyed in soil from a garden in Chiyoda Ward in the center of Tokyo, fell approximately 85% in the four months after the accident, and subsequently tended to rise slightly while fluctuating widely. It is possible that migration and redistribution of radiocesium occurred. The behavior of radiocesium in Tokyo was analyzed via monitoring of radiocesium in sludge incineration ash. The radiocesium activity in the incineration ash was high at wastewater treatment centers that had catchment areas in eastern Tokyo and low at those with catchment areas in western Tokyo.
Fukushima produced substantial fallout across North America.
Hawaii with 24 pCi/L of cesium-134, 19 of cesium-137, and 18 of Iodine-131

Geophysical Research Abstracts Vol. 18, EGU2016-10453, 2016 EGU General Assembly 2016 © Author(s) 2016. CC Attribution 3.0 License. Quantifying Atmospheric Fallout of Fukushima-derived Radioactive Isotopes in the Hawaiian Islands
Trista McKenzie (1) and Henrietta Dulai (2) (1) Geology and Geophysics, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, United States (, (2) Geology and Geophysics, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, United States (

We found that Fukushima-derived cesium was present in both mushrooms and soil and the soil inventories ranged 2.2-60.9 Bq/m2 for Cs-137 and 16.1-445.8 Bq/m^2 for I131. Additionally, we found that Fukushima-derived cesium inventories in soils were correlated with precipitation gradients. 
Radiation accidents re-occur with alarming regularity. Their impact is always trivialized with claims of no immediate risk:
Russia finds 1,000-times normal level of radioactive isotope after nuclear incident claims November 21, 2017. Reuters,
What risks to the food supply and the environment are posed by chronic exposure to radionuclides in suspended and/or concentrated in air, soil, food, and water?

The mantra of no immediate risk has been deconstructed quite thoroughly, as summarized by Rosie Bertell in her book by No Immediate Danger (excerpted here

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the communication used to represent and govern radiation risk. Most of all, I've been thinking about how its organized to deflect recognition of the scope of hazards.


  1. And this insane, evil man, elected president, wants more. Wants more weapons testing. He Is aiding, in funding new nuclear plants. He Is backing more subsidization, of old nuclear reactors at extreme health risk and high cost to rate payers. This crazy man is backing Nuclear projects with Nasa. The nightmare gets worse. To the wholly evil people who have used so called alternative media to get this devil in and expand this nightmare, there is no hell hot enough for you!

  2. Here is a list of reports of fatalities and injuries resulting from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.

    They do everything they can to hide all the injuries and fatalities caused by the Fukushima Nuclear Catastrophe, and also play down the risks.

    The evidence is overwhelming and clear, that large numbers of people have died, and more will die in the future as a result of this ongoing nuclear catastrophe!