Dec 9, 2013
Truthdig Radio: Helen Caldicott, Mr. Fish on Ice
Posted on Mar 31, 2011
Truthdig Radio airs every Wednesday at 2:00 PM in Los Angeles on 90.7 KPFK. If you can’t listen live, look for the podcast and transcript of each week’s show Wednesday nights right here on Truthdig.
On this week’s show Helen Caldicott says “the French are ignorant” and “the English are nuts,” Dr. Alan Lockwood discusses Japan, Loretta Napoleoni calculates the terror economy, Marcia Dawkins measures misogyny and Mr. Fish finds his inner princess.
Click to listen to the show, or continue reading the full transcript below.
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Peter Scheer: I’m Peter Scheer, and this is Truthdig Radio, featuring the best interviews, features and commentary from Truthdig and KPFK. In keeping with our desire to bring you a wide variety of brain food, today we speak with doctors Helen Caldicott and Alan Lockwood about the radiation leaking out of Fukushima Daiichi. Loretta Napoleoni calculates the terror economy; Lupe Fiasco calls out President Obama; Marcia Dawkins measures a rise in misogyny; and Mr. Fish battles Disney’s ice princesses. Let’s do it.
Peter Scheer: This is Peter Scheer with Robert Scheer. We’re joined by Dr. Alan Lockwood, a professor of nuclear medicine and neurology at the University of Buffalo, and a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Dr. Lockwood, let me start by asking you, there’s been a lot of reports of radioactive material in the soil around the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, and also in the water around the plant. And you have a quote here that’s been widely reported in different papers, that plutonium, “If you inhale it, it’s there, and it stays there forever.” That’s rather terrifying. Can you elaborate on that?
Alan Lockwood: The reason that that is true is that the half-life of plutonium-239, which is the isotope that is almost certain to be present, is 24,200 years. So, considering the life span of the average human being, it’s basically going to be there for the rest of your life.
Peter Scheer: And when you say that’s what’s present—present in the soil? Is that, can you elaborate on that? Where is it in the plant?
Alan Lockwood: Well, plutonium-239 is likely to be coming from any one of a number of sources. First among these is the spent fuel rods that are housed in these tanks of water that have been a source of great concern, and the source of several fires that have been widely reported. Plutonium-239 is also present in the core of all of the reactors that are there; particularly large amounts would be found in the reactor that uses the mixed oxides of uranium and plutonium as the fuel source.
Robert Scheer: As a medical doctor specializing in this, what happens when you inhale this? I mean, what is the effect?
Alan Lockwood: Well, the most important thing that determines risk is the activity level of a particle that you inhale. If you were to inhale just a few atoms of plutonium-239, it’s likely that nothing would happen. But the probability of inhaling just a couple of atoms is low. It’s more likely that you would inhale a particle of some defined size, of plutonium, that would have a measurable level of activity associated with that. And that very fine particle—the smaller the particle, the deeper it travels into your lung—would lodge there and stay there forever. And one of the reasons that plutonium is so dangerous, aside from its half-life, is related to the fact that it decays by emitting an alpha particle. And these particles have very large amounts of energy, but travel for very short distances in tissues. So basically this particle will sit there in your lung for the rest of your life, irradiating a very small volume of lung with very high doses of radiation. And it’s that combination of long period of irradiation and high dose that increases the risk of developing cancer at some future time.
Peter Scheer: The BBC is reporting that the water clear-up at the plant is urgent; there have been conflicting reports about how dangerous the water is, that if it’s washed out to sea, it might be mostly diluted and inconsequential to human life. Do you have an opinion on that?
Alan Lockwood: The people who are at the highest risk from radiation injury are clearly those men, and perhaps some women, who are working to try to clean that place up. The reports that I’ve seen in the news and at various other media sources indicate that radiation fields there are really quite high, and that limits the length of time that these people can stay and work under those conditions without exceeding industrial exposure limits. The lower your exposure, the less the risk.
Robert Scheer: I actually happened to visit Chernobyl 11 months after the disaster. And what frightened me—I was working for the L.A. Times then—what frightened me was what we didn’t know. And just recently I’ve been reading reports of people who’ve gone back to Chernobyl, and they say there’s an area the size of Switzerland that you can’t live in. Is there anything like that in the prospect for Japan?
Alan Lockwood: I don’t think so. The Chernobyl disaster was orders of magnitude worse than what’s happening in Japan. And what’s happening in Japan is bad enough. But the reactor at Chernobyl had no containment vessel, and the whole thing blew up, so the entire core and all of its radioactive elements in it, got spread out over as perhaps, you say, an area the size of Switzerland that is now basically a dead zone. I was in Moscow about six weeks after the Chernobyl accident, and was taken to the hospital there, where the survivors of the team of engineers and firefighters were being cared for, the ones who were still alive. And I’m sure most of those men died as a result of their radiation exposures. It was a sobering experience.
Robert Scheer: So what is the prospect for Japan? I mean, is this something that we’ll get over and forget? Does this mean that these power plants can be made safe, or is this a nonissue?
Alan Lockwood: No, I don’t think we’re ever going to forget it. It’s etched indelibly in the memories of people all over the world, just like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Hopefully, the dispersion of radionuclides around the plant is such that there won’t be anything like a dead zone that surrounded the Chernobyl reactor, and it’ll be more like the Three Mile Island incident, where very shortly after the release of Iodine-131, radiation levels returned back to those that were indistinguishable from normal background levels, and there will be no additional risk to people who move about in those areas. I think it’s likely that they’re going to have to entomb those reactors in something like the sarcophagus that was constructed over the Chernobyl reactor.
Robert Scheer: Let me ask you a final question. The physicists and other scientists who worked on nuclear weapons—Hans Bethe, I remember in particular, I interviewed him—they believed in peaceful use of nuclear power. Maybe it was to assuage their guilt at making these weapons, or maybe they just thought it was a good thing. What is your own feeling? Is there a future, or should we abandon these efforts, or can they be made safe?
Alan Lockwood: I don’t think you can ever make everything completely safe. The engineers who designed the power plants in Japan thought they were safe and capable of resisting earthquakes and tsunamis, but that turned out not to be the case. I think that sort of a combination of public pressure, that “not in my backyard” aspect of things combined with the enormous costs that will be associated with the construction of nuclear reactors, will make them financially impractical to construct in the future, even if you were willing to ignore the risk. And the risk is always going to be there. The only reactor that will never create a health-related incident is the reactor that’s never built. I think what we need to be doing is looking for safe, renewable, alternate forms of energy.
Peter Scheer: Well, that’s a good note to end on. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Alan Lockwood.
Robert Scheer: Thank you.
Alan Lockwood: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Peter Scheer: Dr. Alan Lockwood is a professor of nuclear medicine and neurology at the University of Buffalo and a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Peter Scheer: You’re listening to Truthdig Radio on 90.7 KPFK.
Kasia Anderson: This is Kasia Anderson. I’m associate editor at Truthdig, and I’m here with Dr. Marcia Dawkins, Ph.D. She is a visiting scholar at Brown. She writes on the topics of race, gender and identity, and she’s also the author of the upcoming book “Things Said in Passing.” How’re you doing, Dr. Dawkins?
Marcia Dawkins: I’m fine, how are you?
Kasia Anderson: I’m doing great. And I’m very happy to talk about this topic, because it’s very timely, and it’s also of interest to me. And today we’re talking about your most recent column for Truthdig, called “The Rise of Mad Masculinity.” And do you want to kind of set the stage about your argument in that piece?
Marcia Dawkins: Sure. You know, I just started looking around; I found myself surrounded by the Chris Brown incident, Charlie Sheen, things going on in other parts of the world. And as I was putting my thoughts together, I flipped by E! Entertainment channel and saw this thing with Kirstie Alley being called a pig; then I…
Kasia Anderson: By George Lopez, yeah.
Marcia Dawkins: Yes, with George Lopez. And then I went online and saw that David Prosser had called one of his colleagues out. And I just said, you know, something is really going on here, and I want to dig deeper and find out more about what that is. So that’s what I tried to do in the post; I tried to call attention to what I’m seeing as a rise in mad masculinity, and then get us to think about why it’s happening and what we can do about it.
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