Much ado about something big
By Bobbie Paul
Earlier this week, I went to New York. The city. I love it. I'm a theatre rat. But I'm an even bigger fan of Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder, in 1980, of Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND), distinguished member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, author, speaker, radio host, and, most importantly, one of the world's most inspiring voices for ending the nuclear threat on our planet. Helen was the one who inspired so many of my sheroes here in Atlanta to form our Atlanta WAND chapter back in 1984: Bobbie Wrenn Banks, Mary Terrell, Carolyn Moise, Berta Laney, Ruth Boozer, Cherry Clements, Marianne Webster and so many others. Helen's urgent call to end the nuclear era - if you love this planet - captured my heart (and maybe yours) long ago.
So, here we were, some 250 people strong gathered in the Big Apple at the New York Academy of Medicine because Helen and her visionary US Director Mali Lightfoot from Asheville , North Carolina had called us to come. We were marking the second anniversary of the Fukushima disaster (3.11.11) and we were about to spend two days hearing from an amazing array of doctors, researchers, scientists, and dedicated anti-nuclear activists from Japan, Russia, the Ukraine, Scotland, England and the United States about their expert investigations and findings of The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident.
And we weren't disappointed.
Monday morning we heard from the Japanese former Prime Minister - Naoto Kan - about the tragedy that occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power reactors following the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. Although press reports in major media outlets have dwindled in the past two years the effects of this tragedy persist and have altered the physical and emotional landscape forever. Kan was followed by a man I had the pleasure of meeting last year in Chicago - Radiation Specialist and Master of Nuclear Engineering Mr. Hiroaki Koide - who has been working for 43 years to educate his people about the dangers of nuclear power. These presentations were made possible through the sophisticated world of video. The entire symposium, including Q & A sessions, was live-streamed to audiences around the world and should be archived and available online soon. The Georgia WAND staff watched almost all of Monday's presentations on their computers at 250 Georgia Avenue!
Several of the presenters were familiar to those of us who contribute to the No New Nukes Y'ALL list serve: Fairwinds Associates Arnie Gunderson from Vermont who has been a leading critic of the new Westinghouse AP1000 reactor (now under construction at Plant Vogtle in Burke County) and David Lochbaum who serves with the Union of Concerned Scientists. These men talked about what the operators (Tokyo Electric Power Company or TEPCO), the Japanese government, and regulators actually knew and how they presented information to the public. Gunderson and Lochbaum, both former Nuclear Regulatory Commission employees, drew comparisons between the Japanese situation and our own here in the United States.
The Southeast was well represented with the studies of Dr. Stephen Wing from the University of North Carolina (Epidemiological Studies of Radiation Releases from Nuclear Facilities: Lessons Past & Present) and the fascinating report of onsite studies done by Dr. Tim Mousseau professor of Biological Studies at the University of South Carolina (Biological Implications of Chernobyl, Fukushima and Other Hot Spots). Former Dept of Energy whistle blower Bob Alvarez gave a chilling report on the management (or lack of management) of the spent fuel pools which store lethal amounts of radioactive waste at the Fukushima plant and at our own 104 reactors in the US. (Translation: we still have no safe place for our highly radioactive trash and we need to harden this trash onsite NOW instead of leaving it in vulnerable pools of radioactive waste hoping to - one day - have a place to send it and store it underground forever).
The most chilling moment of the Symposium for me came during a Monday press conference when we heard the stories of two young US Navy sailors who were called to Fukushima soon after the disaster happened. Jaime Flynn and her buddy Maurice never knew why their Navy aircraft carrier was suddenly called to leave South Korea on March 12 of 2011. Their ship was within one to ten miles of the Japanese coastline near the Fukushima nuclear plant for days after the accident. They were handling polyester ropes, flags and other fabrics on the Navy ship which was placed in dry dock for over a year. Jaime and Maurice were not told of the nuclear accident until a week later and had no idea that they had been exposed to harmful levels of radiation. They began suffering serious radiation sickness symptoms within two months after exposure (loss of hair, lumps on jaw, between eyes and on thigh, disappearance of menstrual cycle, loss of weight and muscle mass).
This story fascinates me and I hope to write more about it as I learn more about their case. Unable to sue the US government, they are suing TEPCO. Over 100 people in the Navy have come forward to tell of their related illnesses since hearing the stories of Jaime and Maurice and many of those folks are now also involved in their law suit to recover damages.
The nuclear industry has caused so many instances of environmental injustice that need to be brought to light. Hearing of how the industry continues to operate in an atmosphere of secrecy, cover-up, and minimization puts more fire in my belly to continue working with the residents of Burke County to seek justice.
Helen closed the symposium with compassionate and fiery remarks. She charged us to heal the planet and SAVE AMERICA!
Thank you, Helen. Thank you, Mali. I came home knowing what I have to do next.
PS I did catch some theatre on Sunday, the day before the Symposium began. It was a lively, updated show of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing at the Duke Theatre on 42nd St. I highly recommend it. Directed by a woman!