No nuclear plant deaths outside Chernobyl?

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.

11 Comments

  1. Posted February 25, 2009 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    …Follow the money trail. It always leads to corruption. Same problems here in the US. One can always ask ‘who-stands-to gain-what’ . The Entire conventional fertilizer industry for example…. or how about the majority of government alphabet soup agencies that are so layered most consumer citizens have no idea how to filter truth from reality. Mission statements are one thing, actions taken by agencies to guarantee paychecks rather than results are altogether something else.
    No nuclear energy system has ever been able to break even especially given the problem of what to do with the waste. True definitions of science or economy are all but forgotten….
    M in Maine

  2. Talmage Hansen
    Posted April 26, 2009 at 4:07 am | Permalink

    Roberto, I find it interesting that you were appalled when someone didn’t accept your point of view. But let’s suppose for arguments sake that you were right and your sources are more correct than his.

    12 Deaths world-wide from direct nuclear energy production. There have been 330 deaths from coal energy production just in the last 10 years, just in the US. Of course we don’t want anyone to die in a Utopian world, but if that can’t be avoided why not choose the safer option?

  3. Roberto Verzola
    Posted April 26, 2009 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    The issue of deaths and injuries is a matter of fact and not of opinion or point of view. A simple Web search can easily establish the truth or falsity of this claim. I cannot accept your “let’s suppose for argument’s sake…” tack either. I’d rather ask you to go and check first, so we don’t have to suppose anything or argue about a matter of fact,

    What appalls me is that a congressman would make, and then persist in, such a false claim, despite media and official reports about nuclear plant deaths and injuries, and despite being told that his claim is false.

    To argue his case, Rep. Mark Cojuangco makes a lot of other claims on health impact, safety, economics, viability, etc. If he gets his facts wrong (or worse, makes false claims) about simple factual details such as deaths and injuries, then his proposal is not credible.

  4. Talmage Hansen
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Okay.
    So, if 12 deaths is all the deaths that you’ve been able to confirm from nuclear plants, then nuclear energy production is the safest, cheapest, and most practical option for the US.

  5. Roberto Verzola
    Posted April 28, 2009 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Yes, those are the immediate deaths (within a few months of an accident) resulting from nuclear plant accidents that I could manage to find, without spending too much time on it. They were enough to convince me that Rep. Mark Cojuangco tends cite false figures if these would strengthen his pro-BNPP case.

    Since you are talking about the US, I won’t argue with you. My immediate concern is the proposal to recommission the 23-year old Bataan nuclear power plant. Use your figures to convince more Americans to support nuclear power.

    I would simply advise you to also search the Web for data on indirect health impacts which may manifest themselves over several years or decades (though these are harder to prove), including the impact of the nuclear weapons industry. Search the Web for “a million nuclear deaths”, for starters.

    I would also advise you not to confine your comparison to nuclear vs. coal but to take into account the wide range of renewables that are becoming or have already become economically feasible.

    Greetings,

  6. mark howell
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    Robert

    You are no more accurate than the man you crticize. I believe there were 3 ruptured pipe accidents you mentioned. They were not nuclear accidents. These pipe failures while they may have occured a plants that used nuclear fuel they were steam plant accidents so get your facts straight additionally Mr. Cojuangco refered to commercial nculear power electric generating plants so the 2 that you used that were at enrichment facilities do not fit. There has been no definitive tie to increased deaths due to the TMI accident. There are clusters of higher than average cancer cases spread around the world maybe they are tied to the chemicals and toxins that are the result of manufacturing all the plastics etc. just like what your computer is made of plus the heavy metals.

  7. Catherine Healy
    Posted December 14, 2009 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    Wow, you seem really against nuclear power without knowing the whole story yourself.
    Nuclear power is by far the safest form of power generation currently in widespread use. Although the book you read might have been interesting, there have been no deaths from Three Mile Island, the reactor meltdown was completely contained.
    I’m going off of statistics by the WHO and not a pair of authors who obviously have a bias toward one way.
    If you want a really good book about nuclear power and its place in the coming years, try “Beyond Fossil Fools”, I can’t remember the author but it’s free to download and is a very informative book written by an engineer (who tend to have less bias and a firmer grasp on reality in my opinion).
    I truly wasn’t searching for someone to rip on, I’m writing a paper about nuclear energy and wanted to know when the first death was so I could compare it to coal mining accidents, but your article just peaked my anger.

  8. Roberto Verzola
    Posted December 15, 2009 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    In fact, I’m an engineer myself, so I am quite familiar with the weaknesses of complex technologies.

  9. Bruce Burma
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Robert, When global warming feedbacks start to get out of control in about 15 years. We are all going to wish we were a bit more realistic about nuclear power as an option to power society.

    James Hansen who i am guessing your probably respect is a big proponent of nuclear, his concern outlined in his book is the earth becoming another Venus 200-400 years out, all because of our actions during the first part of this century.

  10. Roberto Verzola
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    Hello Bruce,

    I haven’t read Hansen, but I am aware of the Venus analogy and it truly scares me. But cancers from radiation scare me too. The nuclear option will not solve global warming because it will not eliminate corporate greed, which is the true cause of the problem. As the corporate appetite for energy grows, they will go back to fossils and keep exploiting them. And we will still have the global warming problem plus the radiation problem.

    Our real problem is that the human isn’t anymore the dominant species on this planet. We have created an artificial species — the corporation — and it has come to dominate us. Most of us are now domesticated work animals or pets of one corporation or another. We are their dogs, cats, horses and cattle, their chicken, parrots, and goldfish. Corporations run the world now.

    Global warming is simply an effect at the end of a very long cause-and-effect chain which you can trace back to corporate greed — the pursuit of profit and wealth without limit. There are other effects of corporate greed, including the poisoning of our environment with toxins and radioisotopes, and the spread of harmful genetically modified organisms. This is what we have to solve. Solve it and the root cause of global warming will go away.

    Early humans were able to control or kill the largest beasts of their time. We have not found yet a reliable way to control or kill a runaway corporation.

    What we need is a species consciousness, an awareness are corporations are different from us and they are destroying our world. We need homo sapiens to start thinking about freeing our minds from the corporate grip, and reuniting with our fellow natural species.

  11. Roberto Verzola
    Posted January 27, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    I browsed the Internet for James Hansen and know a little more about him now. I note that he advocates “fourth generation” nuclear power, and classifies today’s technology as “second generation”. I note further that he also promotes “renewable energy such as wind power”. The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant that the government wants to revive is probably first generation, because it was designed and built in the 1970s. We paid more than $3.2 billion for it, and it has not given us a single useful watt. Now the government wants to rehabilitate it at the cost of another $1 billion more or less.

    If we, and the rest of the world, spent our money on renewables especially solar and wind, the cost of these technologies would further go down, making them much more affordable than fossils or nuclear. Photovoltaics rely on silicon (from sand), one of the most abundant elements on the earth’s surface. Silicon-based chips have dropped in price dramatically over the past half century. Though we haven’t seen enough of this dramatic drop in photovoltaic cells yet, we will soon do so, as the world (especially China) ramps up its production of photovoltaics.

    The economics of solar energy are far more promising than nuclear energy, especially if we direct our scarce funds towards this technology rather than wasting them on nuclear energy.

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