At the Feb. 2 hearing in Congress, when Rep. Mark Cojuangco of Pangasinan defended his proposal to recommission the Bataan nuclear power plant (BNPP), he claimed that no deaths have occurred in a nuclear power plant accident outside Chernobyl.
As a resource person in the same hearing, I had called his attention to this wrong information. Addressing him directly, I told Cojuangco that several deaths have occurred in Japan due to nuclear plant accidents. Prof. Kelvin Rodolfo had also complained about Cojuangco’s “distortion” of one of his papers, co-authored with Joan Cabato et. al. If a casual checking of his claims right away reveals such misinformation, how can we trust the rest of the claims in the Cojuangco bill and explanatory note, which were not accompanied by feasibility studies done by experts, I asked.
On Feb. 20, Cojuangco spoke as a resource person at the Kamayan sa EDSA forum on the BNPP. In the forum, he repeated the falsehood that no one has died in a nuclear accident outside Chernobyl.
Now, if someone makes a mistake once, even if that mistake is made in an official testimony at a Congressional hearing, he can perhaps be forgiven for getting his facts wrong. But if his attention is called about it, the least he’d be expected to do is to double-check his facts and correct the mistake.
To repeat the same falsehood in another public forum, after having been told that it is not true, suggests a deliberate intent to mislead the public.
The first death in a U.S. commercial nuclear facility occurred in July 1964, as described in this New York Times story.
In their 1982 book Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience With Atomic Radiation (the entire book is available online here), authors Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon review the trail of deaths in the U.S. caused by atomic radiation. Chapter 14, entitled “People Died at Three Mile Island”, describes the elevated death rates among infants along the path of the radioactive plume that came from the TMI accident.
Here’s another New York Times report of a nuclear plant accident in a Virginia nuclear plant in the U.S., which scalded four people to death. It occurred in December 1986. The burst steam pipe accident is similar to another deadly nuclear accident that would subsequently occur in Japan, described below.
A serious accident occurred at the Tokai-mura nuclear plant in Japan (this one is a fuel processing plant rather than a power plant) in September 1999, and two of the exposed workers subsequently died from exposure to radiation, as described in this journal article.
Here’s a report from the New Scientist about the Mihama nuclear plant accident in August 2004, which “killed four people and injured seven.” This is also a burst steam pipe accident. An extremely detailed description of the Mihama accident can be found in this accident database, which contains detailed descriptions of 12 other serious nuclear accidents.
I got these reports simply by searching the Internet for “death from nuclear plant accident”.
Searching for “injuries in nuclear plant accident”, I came across this report of two deaths in a Pakistan nuclear plant accident in 2008, although this accident seems to involve a plutonium enrichment plant rather than a power generating plant.
There have been, of course, more injuries than deaths, but I didn’t bother counting anymore.
By the way, I have been counting actual deaths reported in scientific journals or media. But some scientists have a much higher estimate of the number of deaths from the accumulating radiation in our environment. Very much higher. The highest I’ve seen is this report (search the Web: nuclear deaths).
UPDATE: in a public forum on the BNPP last April 16, 2009, held at the Negros Occidental provincial capitol in Bacolod City and sponsored by the Freedom from Debt Coalition, with the provincial governor Isidro Zayco, Congressman Jose Carlos Lacson, and several other local officials among the audience, Rep. Cojuangco and I were the main speakers. I raised this issue once more. In fact, to avoid embarrassing Cojuangco, I said he was “getting very poor information from his staff”.
Incredibly, Cojuangco stuck to his false claim.
How do you deal with such audacity? I simply asked the audience to check for themselves, with the search term “nuclear plant accident death”. Some government officials, it seems, do not yet realize that it is not so easy to fool the public anymore, thanks to the Web.
At one point in the Bacolod debate, he claimed that Sweden was already getting 95% of its electricity from nuclear plants. Although I didn’t know the actual Sweden figure, I questioned this claim because I knew that France, at around 80%, was often cited as the country most dependent on nuclear electricity. I asked the audience to double-check it. I checked later myself: Sweden’s figure was around 45%.
At some other point in the debate, Cojuangco also corrected me, referring to the $9.5 million I cited as cost of the 1990 NES technical audit which found the BNPP not safe to operate. This amount was reported in the media, quoting government technical consultant Nicanor Perlas. Cojuangco said nonchalantly, “actually it was $8.5 million”, suggesting that I had my facts wrong. Well, it so happened that my next BNPP forum after Bacolod was on April 18 in Iloilo, where Nicanor Perlas himself was also a speaker. Nicky confirmed that it was $9.5 million.
Apparently, this cavalier attitude towards truth (and lies) is simply a Cojuangco debating trick, to score instant points against an opponent.