The Cellcube battery by Gildemeister Energy Solutions
Renewable energy is often dismissed because of two major drawbacks. First, there isn’t enough capacity to meet even the present demand that is fulfilled by hydroelectric, carbon and nuclear fuels. There is only a fixed amount of sunlight falling on the earth, and there are competing demands on the use of lands and oceans for solar panels and wind farms. Second, renewables don’t provide a steady supply of base load electricity that can meet fluctuations in demand throughout the day. We don’t constantly get sunny days and windy nights.
The first problem is explained well in a book by David Mackay called Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air (this link is a video summarizing the book). The only solution for the first problem is the grim conclusion that no future growth of our energy needs is possible. In fact, global energy consumption will have to decline a great deal in order to avoid future nuclear accidents and stop the rise of atmospheric carbon above catastrophic levels (which were just measured for the first time to be above 400ppm).
The second problem might be much easier to solve. Vested interests in the coal, oil and nuclear industries have been reluctant to learn about the good news and report it, but if you search for the information you can find some promising developments in batteries that could store energy created by renewables and deliver up to 2 megawatts on demand.
Donald Sadoway at MIT has developed a battery, with cheap and abundant materials, with which “… we’d be able to address the problem of intermittency that prevents wind and solar from contributing to the grid in the same way that coal and gas and nuclear do today.” With investors and support from MIT he has established Liquid Metal Battery Corporation. Modules of batteries could be built up to the size of a shipping container, and these could provide 2 megawatts, the amount consumed on average by 200 American homes.
Another battery technology already in use is the vanadium redox battery that has been commercialized by the German company Cellstrom GmbH. Other applications are in wind farms in Hokkaido, Japan and Tasmania, and a semiconductor factory. Output of these batteries, also called output balancers, range from 5 kilowatts to 1.5 megawatts.
The plan to have a localized supply of electricity for a small number of homes fits with the vision of distributed generation that is being proposed as the solution to the traditional large grids with expensive gigawatt generating stations located far from population centers. In a distributed generation scheme, a population of a few thousand people could be serviced by a gas generator, with this local grid fitted with batteries and supplemented by residential solar panels that sell their excess capacity. Each local system could still be connected to the older larger grid for back up supply, and for a place to offload power at times of oversupply.
Solving the problem of intermittency is a huge step in energy innovation that demolishes the most common defense of dirty and dangerous ways of generating electricity. It provides some hope that, if we are smart, we can avoid a bleak future of Canadians freezing in the dark, and Qataris dying of thirst when their water desalination plants run out of fuel. But this solution doesn’t solve the supply problem, the really difficult challenge of devolving to a less energy intensive way of life. How could the human race go back to a pre-industrial age without rediscovering quaint traditions like serfdom, slavery, sexual inequality and constant war? Even to ask such a question seems far-fetched, but in the film Into Eternity – a film about the construction of a nuclear waste depository – the experts assume that the people of the future won’t be technologically literate enough to understand the danger of what we have left for them down in the hole... but come to think of it, most people alive today don't understand the danger either.

Teach your children well

My son is on the student council of his junior high school, and the members of the council were recently offered a chance to visit a session of the Narita city council doing its work. The problem was that there were only two people from each school’s council allowed to go, but three were interested in participating. The teacher in charge decided he would select participants by judging the questions they would like to ask the elected officials. The other two students wrote almost identical questions asking about earthquake preparedness, but my son wanted to ask about the plan for cleaning up radioactive hotspots around parks and schools.
Guess who wasn’t chosen. 
There are obviously going to be various opinions about the proper response we should have to the level of contamination we have in our town. This problem is unprecedented and complex. No one knows what the risks are and what action should be taken, but it is discouraging to know that a public servant thought that he had to shield elected officials from being questioned on this sensitive topic by a fourteen-year-old.
August 2011: 0.83 microsieverts/hour by a drainage ditch on the grounds of a junior high school in Narita City, Chiba, Japan. Air readings a few meters away were 0.14 - only double the pre-accident background level.

But this is how it goes. Fourteen months after the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, Narita City, and other communities in Northern Chiba, still have no plan for cleaning up the radioactive runoff that has accumulated in curb sides and ditches. Compared to the contamination levels in Fukushima, these hotspots are a lower priority, and there is unlikely to be a pathway from a footpath curbside to human ingestion, but still this is radioactive waste that would be cleaned up immediately if it were a small-scale leak that a government could resolve quickly.
The problem in Chiba is that there is widespread but comparatively light fallout in many municipalities, and local governments have no expertise in how to deal with such a mess. They await guidance from the national government, but it is distracted by other problems, or is thoroughly unwilling to admit the problem needs attention. There also is the implicit worry about reputation and land values that keeps everyone quiet. Local citizens have exerted no pressure at all.
The inaction is hard to fathom because the labor involved would not be much to add to the normal work of parks and recreation workers. Large crews of workers come through once every few weeks in the warm months to cut the lawns. How much extra expense would it be to have a crew in hazmat suits go around and sweep up the dirt in the curbs and find a place to store it away from human contact? More than the expense, it seems to be a reluctance to risk a blow to the city’s image.
I suppose having a father who patrolled the neighborhood with a Geiger counter has been an influence on my son, but I didn’t suggest to him that he ask his question. I didn’t even know he had an opportunity to visit the city council. This was his own plan, and though he was angry at the rejection for a couple days, he now understands the lesson learned, without having had to waste his time with a visit to city hall.


Caught in the Devil's Bargain

A drink machine in the 'hood. Here we see carbon fuel is now used, instead of uranium, to make electricity to sell iced green tea that was tainted with cesium from the nuclear accident (the 2012 crop has also come up tainted!). Perhaps this is not the best use of precious energy supplies.
Summer is just around the corner, and now that there are no nuclear plants operating in Japan, Japanese citizens, corporations and officialdom are belatedly scrambling to come up with energy conservation plans. As if they couldn't have seen this coming months ago! As soon as everyone got through the summer of 2011 without any brownouts or rolling blackouts, they went back to their usual complacency, heedless of the need to conserve for other good reasons such as reducing carbon emissions or the trade deficit.
The university where I work had a conservation program last year that demanded only the easy sacrifices, but even these saved the institution a considerable sum in electricity fees. But as soon as the summer was over, everyone was eager to go back to life as before. What was worse was that no one has had the foresight to get solar panels installed on all the rooftop real estate we have on campus.
You may feel like a bucking stallion when you smoke these, but like the tea leaves, tobacco also picked up cesium. The government didn't bother to take the tainted tobacco off the market. They are cancer sticks already containing radioactive polonium 210, right, so who cares? ...uh, besides the people who have to breathe the second-hand smoke.
With the solar panels on the roof of my home, I can sell electricity for 48 yen/kwh, while I have to pay only 16.2 yen to buy a kwh from TEPCO. Over a year, this gave me electricity costs of 118,023 yen (US$1,400) and electricity income of 107,280 yen (US$1,357). With the cost of the panels rolled up in the mortgage, it takes about 14 years for the cost to be recovered, even with the subsidy for solar-generated electricity.
These figures are for a recent construction, insulated and energy-efficient, “all electricity” small 3-bedroom home. The insulation, water heater, refrigerator, washing machine and the stove were the most energy efficient designs available in 2008. We gave up air conditioning during the peak hours of hot afternoons, and cut back in other various ways, but it was obvious that the solar panels can’t provide even half of what a family uses. Without the subsidy (a factor of 2.96 times the retail price), the solar panel income would have been only 36,243 yen (US$458), if I could only sell it at TEPCO’s selling price of 16.2 yen/kwh. So there is still a lot of green energy innovation and energy conservation that has to happen in order to silence the voices that want to bring back nuclear. But it is also important to remember that the valuation of energy created with carbon fuels is not fixed in stone. In the future, if we finally understand that the atmosphere cannot take any more CO2, solar energy will be properly valued at something above 16.2 or even 48 yen/kwh.
As far as I can tell, the conservation effort has barely begun. The efforts made last year consisted of setting air conditioners at higher temperatures, turning off a few lights, and having weekend shifts in factories. No one wanted to set bold policies such as, for example, forcing landowners to have government-owned solar panels on their property. Instead, governments just timidly tweak the feed-in tariff or set up a confusing system of incentives then hope something good will happen. No one wants to face the difficult questions about curtailing economic activity, or commandeering the economy, but this is really what energy conservation is about.

The governor of Tokyo whined about all the electricity “wasted” by refrigerated vending machines, but even these create incomes and jobs for someone. Why pick on them but not demand (just to pick an example of a possible victim) that television networks stop broadcasting during peak hours? Real energy conservation will only happen if we stop kidding ourselves that we can both reduce carbon emissions to sustainable levels and meet our growing “needs” with alternatives to carbon fuels. It ain’t going to happen. Instead, we can only hope we find a way to transition peacefully to a society in which more people work back on the farm (as championed by the slow food and sustainable food movement). Food cost should become a greater share of household budgets, while mortgage payments should recede from being the biggest part of them. As Joni Mitchell said long ago, “we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

written by Joni Mitchell

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him where are you going
And this he told me
I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
I'm going to try an' get my soul free

We are stardust

We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

Then can I walk beside you

I have come here to lose the smog
And I feel to be a cog in something turning
Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man
I don't know who I am
But you know life is for learning

We are stardust

We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

By the time we got to Woodstock

We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation

We are stardust

Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil's bargain
And we've got to get ourselves
back to the garden


National Sacrifice Zones

Consider two approaches to dealing with toxins in a hypothetical garden.
In the first approach, imagine the tomatoes in your neighbor’s garden were found to have a lethal dose of a known human-made contaminant. His daughter eats one of the tomatoes and dies the next day.
In the second approach, he decides he must dispose of the tomatoes in case he or someone dear to him consumes them. However, a local farmer tells him that he can sell his tomatoes to the local co-op which will use them to make tomato juice and sell it over a wide area. The toxin will be diluted to a level which is below allowable levels. Studies have shown that at this level of dilution, the risk is so negligible that it will cause only one extra cancer death per 100,000, in addition to the rate that is “naturally” already several hundred per 100,000. Result: one additional death the next decade.
Whatever you think about the morality of the two approaches, the result is the same: one death by poisoning. It could be that our brains have evolved to be  tricked into thinking the second approach is better. We can discount the future and deceive ourselves into thinking someone else will be the victim, so we accept risks that are spread out over distance and time. This is "allowable risk." But our powers of rational thinking, if we decide to apply them, are capable of seeing that the two outcomes are equal. Unfortunately, the instinct-driven dilution solution has become the standard practice in Japan since the Fukushima Daiichi crisis.

In fact, as Ace Hoffman argues, dilution is the only option for all polluting industries:

With a poison which behaves according to the LNT [linear no threshold] model, dilution is the ONLY solution offered for such pollution, and it's not a very good one. Spreading LNT poisons into the environment IS premeditated murder, so you better have a pretty good reason for doing so, if you plan to do it. The nuclear industry excuses itself as "vital" because they produce electricity, which most certainly is very important.
But electricity -- and mountains of nuclear waste -- is ALL nuclear power plants produce. (One or two of them also produce a few medical isotopes, but that could be done just as well with a much smaller and safer reactor -- and ONE such reactor would be sufficient for the entire world. And, there are often other ways to obtain those isotopes or better yet, other medical procedures (such as MRIs) that can be done. So let's not get sidetracked...).

My 11-year-old daughter provided some perspective on this issue when she asked me about the human sacrifice scene we had recently watched in the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The film portrays a kitsch Aztec-ish priest ripping the heart out of a live human sacrifice (by the way, Lucas and Spielberg, nice touch for a children's movie), and my daughter asked me if there are still people in the world who do human sacrifice. I told her no, there are no civilizations left who believe it is necessary to satisfy their gods by ripping organs out of live captives. But I don't want to shelter her from what the world is actually like, so I asked her what she thought about the fact that a few people get poisoned in the process of making energy so that the majority can have their cars and electricity. She gave me her standard, "yeah, adults are stupid" reply, then added, "but that sacrifice is not like the movie, it’s not bloody, it's not face to face killing people right in front of you." No, it certainly is not, but it is something to keep in mind as we celebrate the marvelous decline of violence of the 20th century.

Further reading:

On National Sacrifice Zones, from the New York Times, October 1988:

Lawmakers who have studied the Energy Department's estimated $200 billion plan for decommissioning abandoned plants and for cleaning up radioactive and toxic wastes fear that the costs may be so high that the program may never be completed… Engineers at the Energy Department have privately begun calling such contaminated sites ''national sacrifice zones.'' They grimly joke that some zones could turn out to be larger than many of the 39 national parks. But they also say that failing to address the issue could mean that contamination continues to spread through the environment.

Some parts of the plutonium-contaminated buildings, inside the sacrifice zones, are also referred to grimly as “eternity rooms.”


Don Quixote and the Hyperboloid Cooling Towers

Don Quixote is greater today than he was in Cervantes’s womb... The parody has become a paragon. …[He] looms so wonderfully above the skyline of literature, a gaunt giant on a lean nag, that the book lives and will live through his sheer vitality... He stands for everything that is gentle, forlorn, pure, unselfish, and gallant.  
-Vladimir Nabokov [1]

When I started my blog about nuclear history, with a title that quixotically asked the world to establish a nuclear-free world by the year 2045 (a century after the first atomic bombs exploded), I created an image for my homepage in which I altered Pablo Picasso’s 1955 sketch Don Quixote to overshadow the renowned windmill with the hyperboloid cooling towers of a nuclear power plant. The reference might be obvious for those with a knowledge of classic literature, but it probably requires some elaboration in this age when so many have been told to follow an education in the arid realm of STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. They have their stems, but they don’t have their roots. They can find some perhaps in the time when Cervantes’ great novel was written in the dying days of another age of technological "triumph."
Don Quixote is the fictional errant knight created by Miguel de Cervantes in two works of fiction, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha Part 1 (1605) and Part 2 (1615). Spain had just spent a century plundering the silver of the new world, but the galleon trade had corrupted the nobility, caused global financial chaos, and ultimately weakened the Spanish empire. Carlos Fuentes described it as “a country that has conquered and plundered and built a New World in the Americas and returns, exhausted.” [2]
Don Quixote tells the story of a late middle-aged estate owner who, having read too many romantic tales of chivalric knights, seeks greater meaning in life by setting off on a life of adventure and daring-do with his servant and sidekick, Sancho Panza. As the road story unfolds, Don Quixote must see every mundane encounter through a lens of delusion in order to make it meet his expectation of adventure and his need to do good. Imagination must test reality, or reality must test imagination.
Part 1 was a literary success that Cervantes added to ten years later with Part 2, and with it he gave the Western canon some of its earliest meta-fiction before there was a word for it (Shakespeare’s play within the play appeared in the same decade). In the contemporary era, we have become accustomed to the blend of mockery and pathos we see in reality TV “characters,” and we know that real gangsters watch the fictional Silvio from the television drama The Sopranos doing an imitation of Al Pacino from the fictional movie The Godfather Part 3. Before all this, in the early seventeenth century, Cervantes had his hero in Part 2 living in a world in which everyone he meets has read Part 1, and his celebrity as the foolish, errant knight is what leads him to be invited by real aristocrats to a real castle for their mocking amusement and his humiliation.
In the castle, Don Quixote is finally living the dream, but it is here that he eventually becomes aware that only his make-believe at the country inn, which he took for a castle, has lived up to his ideals. Life with true aristocrats has shown him their treachery. After all, the noble baron turns out to be a greater fake than the deluded knight. It is revealed by his servants that he is hopelessly in debt to the rising merchant class. As Don Quixote wakes up from his illusions, the aristocrats are disillusioned as well, for they have been slow to realize that they needed Don Quixote more than he needed them. He possessed the ideals they lacked in themselves. As the reviewer Richard Eder put it, “Seeking to toy with him, they are toyed with, just as readers have been ever since.” [3]
In a review of the latest English translation by Edith Grossman, the Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes wrote:

The illusion comes crashing down. Books are no longer the grand, imaginative truth that moved Don Quixote through perils without end. So the windmills were not giants. So the armies were only flocks of sheep. So reality is shabby, gray, unarmed... What can Don Quixote do but return home, get into bed, recover his reason and peacefully die? The “impossible dream” is over. No wonder that Dostoyevsky, in his diary, calls Don Quixote “the saddest book ever written.” For it is, he adds, “the story of disillusionment.” That Edith Grossman has brought all these levels—and many more—to contemporary life is a major literary achievement. For to read Don Quixote, in an increasingly Manichaean world of simplistic Good versus Evil and inquisitorial dogmas, becomes one of the healthiest experiences a modern, democratic citizen can undertake. [4]

The windmills that Don Quixote mistook for giants can be seen in Picasso’s sketch, but I’ve added the hyperboloid cooling towers of a nuclear power plant to the horizon. What does the reworked image mean? Do the cooling towers push aside the windmills as the new evil giants? After all, windmills carry a benign meaning now as renewable sources of electricity. Is it a delusion for one unaccomplished, isolated writer, advancing in years like the old knight himself, to take on the nuclear industry? Or does the image now show the disillusionment, the reality unveiled? While the majority of citizens tilt at their chosen windmills by pursuing their personal dreams, their religions and their favored causes, a larger threat now looms on the horizon—nuclear waste and weapons, or, more generally, all that makes up the debt of ecological destruction that has been left for future generations to deal with.
   One could also ask who is really being quixotic in arguments about how to deal with the nuclear legacy. Is it a pipe dream to think the nuclear genie can be put back in the bottle, or are the real dreamers those who think that fallible humanity can manage this technology without destroying what sustains life?
   The dreamers remind me also of Don Quixote’s sidekick, Sancho Panza, who is the fool when his master is wise, and wise when his master is the fool. Throughout the story he often forgets, or pretends to forget, that his master is mad, and he goes along with his delusions, imagining that when Don Quixote prevails, he himself will be rewarded with a fiefdom in Africa that will provide him with an endless bounty of wine, gems and young maidens. It’s a boy’s dream of getting something for nothing, like electricity too cheap to meter—the dream of having servants at one’s command without a Faustian bargain in the deal. Sancho learns, when he actually does become a governor, that there is always a price too steep to pay, and he jumps at the chance to return to his humble home.
   Carlos Fuentes said in his review of Grossman’s recent translation, “Don Quixote has so many levels of significance that I can set foot on only a couple of them.” I leave it to readers to add their own ideas about what the mash-up of the sketch means. [5]


[1] Vladimir Nabokov, Vladimir Nabokov: Lectures on Don Quixote, ed. Fredson Bowers (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983), xix, 28, 112.

[2] Carlos Fuentes, “Tilt,” a review Edith Grossman’s English translation of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, New York Times, November 2, 2003.

[3] Richard Eder, “Beholding Windmills and Wisdom From a New Vantage,” New York Times, Books of the Times, November 14, 2003.

[4] Fuentes op. cit.

[5] Fuentes op. cit.



Humanity flunks the marshmallow test

“Every man has inside himself a parasitic being who is acting not at all to his advantage.” 
-William S. Burroughs

In 1972, Walter Mischel of Stanford University conducted the famous marshmallow test to measure four-year-old children’s ability to delay gratification. The deal was that children had to resist eating a marshmallow for a few minutes while no one else was in the room, then they would be given two marshmallows. Predictably, many of the children couldn’t hold out, but those who did were found in follow-up studies to be higher achievers in academics and careers.
Philip Zimbardo has spoken about this and other psychology experiments in a series of TED talks, and he adds the caveat that one can lean too much toward a focus on future payoffs. He says, “… the optimal temporal mix is what you get from the past -- past-positive gives you roots. You connect your family, identity and yourself. What you get from the future is wings to soar to new destinations, new challenges. What you get from the present hedonism is the energy, the energy to explore yourself, places, people, sensuality.”
This balance is difficult enough for individuals to achieve, but the question I raise here is how the human race is to collectively find such balance. As it is now, with serious people declaring that we can solve global warming by having more nuclear energy, they have decided to be like a heroin addict who switches to crystal meth during a supply crisis.
No one ever stops to think about what future generations might want. This involves not only our desire for cheap energy now, but it is also seen in our attitude to cancer. We know what’s causing it, but when it appears close to us, all we want is the cure.
Imagine that tomorrow all the cancer therapy were gone. Perhaps governments just wanted to devote their resources to education and vaccinations and dental care for the poor. No radiation treatment, no chemotherapy, no surgery, no MRIs and other fancy diagnostic tools. A small percentage of the population, most of whom had already lived a few decades, would just have to quietly leave the stage so that others could have a good life. Of course, if this were to happen, there would be massive, instant protests, and in fact, every politician knows cancer treatment is too sacred to even question like this. Even if cutbacks in health care do occur, politicians never spin them as reductions in cancer treatment. This is because we are present-focused. When we were healthy we let governments and corporations fill up the world with carcinogens and other toxins, but when we ourselves or our loved ones are sick, we want the cure and we want it now. But for every day of our healthy lives we accept that industrial pollution and nuclear accidents will, inevitably, cause thousands of cancers and diseases at some time in the future, hopefully to no one we know. This death and suffering is acceptable, while the abandonment of present cancer patients is unthinkable.
And so the war on cancer is completely focused on treatment and research to find the cure, a cure which, if it exists, will be available to only a minority of the world’s population. We wear pink ribbons for breast cancer research and grow mustaches for prostate cancer research, and every corporation hops on the bandwagon by promising to support the cause if you just buy their brand (for more on this see the trailer for the documentary Pink Ribbons).
My favorite example of this excessive sentimentalizing of cancer can be found in the beautiful parkland of Toronto’s Don Valley. In a spot just behind the Ontario Science Centre one can now find Lung Cancer Canada Grove, which is a plaque with a bas-relief of two lungs, surrounded by saplings. Nowadays, as you enjoy nature, you didn’t ask for it, but you are expected to pause for a moment to mourn for the fallen soldiers in the war on cancer.
And yes, I get it. It’s sad. We’ve all lost people to cancer, and most of us will die of it, but my point is, while we’re all jogging and swimming and cycling for the cure, we look kind of dumb for not stopping to ask why this is happening. If you really want to honor the memory of those who have died, think less about the cure and do something to eliminate the root causes.
We’ve been led to believe that cancer is natural and unavoidable. Rare mutations occur, it’s part of the natural process of aging and dying. In any case, we die of cancer in our later years because now we live longer thanks to medical science’s vanquishing of other diseases. However, this is only partly true. This argument can’t account for the increase in childhood cancer and the increasing rate of cancer in otherwise healthy adults, not to mention the shocking rise in so many other diseases. The fifty-year-old in 2012 who hasn’t died of infectious disease or accident is exactly the same as the fifty-year-old in 1912 who hadn’t died of infectious disease or accident, except the former is more likely to have pancreatic cancer at this age.
In the 1950s, when atmospheric thermonuclear testing was in full swing, some scientists predicted an increase in cancer would hit the Northern Hemisphere in the 1970s, and sure enough it appeared (see Childhood Cancers by the US National Cancer Institute). Just as this fallout was decaying away to less harmful levels, the fallout from Chernobyl went around the world in 1986.
During the period of bomb testing, one researcher in Missouri had the foresight to collect thousands of baby teeth, and he tracked strontium 90 levels in the teeth to health outcomes forty years later. The persons more exposed to bomb fallout had worse health, and cancer was not the only noticeable health effect.
There is evidence but no perfect proof of a causal link between cancer and radioactive fallout, and doubters will never be convinced, as its effects have been mixed with the effects of environmental chemical pollution. Furthermore, people smoke, drink, eat junk food, and live sedentary lives. Then, when they become unwell, they get x-rays and CAT scans, and consume pharmaceuticals that contribute to a new health a problem while fixing another. So it is not only the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, but also Dupont Chemical and the nuclear divisions of Toshiba and General Electric that would like to say, “Thank you for smoking.”
The fetal origins hypothesis was originally focused on the effects of poor nutrition in utero, but now many researchers look at the effects of toxins on fetuses and how these exposures condemn an individual to poor health in adulthood. Toxicity can no longer be understood by just the effects of chemicals on adults. The really destructive impact on health has been the exposure of millions of people in utero. A fetus is much more sensitive to toxic chemicals and radiation, and exposure during early development is irreversible. Even the eggs inside the fetus (thus the mother’s grandchildren) can be affected.
Cancer is not the only disease caused by fetal poisoning. Every physiological system is affected, and the outcomes are plain to see. This is not some future nightmare. The nightmare happened, and we are living with the results: more allergies and asthma, more liver and kidney failure, higher rates of obesity, diabetes, autism, attention deficit, depression, infertility, cardiovascular diseases and immune disorders. All of these have been traced to fetal exposure to toxins. Other factors are involved, but a lot of people were inactive over-eaters in the past too. In the 1960s when I was a child, everyone watched hours of television every day, ate lots of candy and drank gallons of soft drinks, but childhood obesity was pretty rare. Something else is needed to explain why the incidences of these diseases have increased.
Unfortunately, there is a limit to what can be done for the people already born with ailments caused by fetal poisoning. Whatever can be done for them has to be balanced with a moral response to future generations. What Philip Zimbardo said about individual psychology can be said about collective psychology: the optimal temporal mix includes a consideration of future consequences. But if that consideration is only for the future of the self, and not for future generations, it is as selfish and immoral as the present-focused hedonism of a drug addict.
I’ll give the last word to the radioman of the Lucky Dragon, the Japanese tuna boat that was showered in the fallout of a nuclear weapon test in 1954. He died of radiation poisoning shortly afterwards, and his dying wish was not that there would someday be a cure for radiation sickness. His wish was that he would be the last victim of atomic weapons.

Sources and Further Reading

The Cancer Prevention Coalition

Our Stolen Future: Are We Threatening Our Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival?--A Scientific Detective Story

Last Call at the Oasis
"[Brokovich] was receiving up to 50,000 emails per month from people reporting health issues in their communities, writing concerns such as: 'We think it's odd that we have 18 people on our street with Hodgkins; We think it's odd that we have 15 kids on our street with leukemia; We think it's odd that we have 20 people in the community with glioblastoma brain tumors.'"

Book summary: We are all shaped by our genetic inheritance and by the environment we live in. Indeed, the argument about which of these two forces, nature or nurture, predominates has been raging for decades. But what about our very first environment--the prenatal world where we exist for nine months between conception and birth and where we are more vulnerable than at any other point in our lives?
In More Than Genes, Dan Agin marshals new scientific evidence to argue that the fetal environment can be just as crucial as genetic hard-wiring or even later environment in determining our intelligence and behavior. Stress during pregnancy, for example, puts women at far greater risk of bearing children prone to anxiety disorders. Nutritional deprivation during early fetal development may elevate the risk of late onset schizophrenia. And exposure to a whole host of environmental toxins--methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, pesticides, ionizing radiation, and most especially lead--as well as maternal use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, or cocaine can have impacts ranging from mild cognitive impairment to ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders. Agin argues as well that differences in IQ among racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups are far more attributable to higher levels of stress and chemical toxicity in inner cities--which seep into the prenatal environment and compromise the health of the fetus--than to genetic inheritance.