Fear is the Real Enemy:
No Health Impacts Seen for Nuclear Workers in the Phase-out of Nuclear Power
A joint research project of environmental NPOs has just released a comprehensive study of the health impacts on nuclear workers of recent shutdowns of aging nuclear reactors and cancellation of future nuclear projects.
Lucille van Pelt, spokesperson for Green Peas International, claimed that the study was the most comprehensive survey ever done on this topic. Environmental groups have long suspected that the main cause of health impacts was the fear and anxiety of nuclear workers felt about the closure of nuclear power plants. “They overlook the fact that no one has ever died because of the closure of a nuclear power plant. They have a visceral, emotional response to the issue, which makes it impossible to have a rational discussion about the true risks involved. I hate to say it, but it is mostly men who are affected. I’ll be accused of maternalism, but it is what it is.”
All of Japan’s nuclear reactors were shut down after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011. Recently, several power plants in the US have been shut down because of the prohibitive cost of repairs and upgrades, or the price competition from other forms of energy. Germany made a decision to get out of nuclear entirely, while in other parts of the world various projects are on hold or are suffering severe cost overruns.
Ms. van Pelt added, “The results of the study suggest we may have been far too conservative in the pace of the nuclear phase-out. The economic impacts are likely to be minimal and temporary as we shift to investments in renewable energy. Nuclear workers are no different than other members of the workforce. They can adjust to new technologies and new circumstances, if we give them sympathetic support and counseling. They talk about the economic benefits of 100,000 jobs in their sector, but the same can be said of gambling, drug dealing, and prostitution.”
In past studies of nuclear plant closures, some workers were found to be suffering from mental and physical health issues after losing their jobs. Some even faced the trauma of relocation. They blame public opposition and the changed energy policy for their conditions, and they say the causal relation is clear. Their ailments were extremely rare in the past when they had their stable jobs and homes.
Ms. van Pelt responded to this criticism by saying it was a classic case of the nocebo effect. The belief that something will cause harm actually does cause real symptoms. “It can be extremely difficult to untangle causes and effects in such a situation,” she says, “but it’s not like there’s some invisible energy force attacking their bodies and causing the ailments. It is more likely that the true cause of the suffering is the passive dependency of nuclear workers who expect to be compensated for their losses, or to have a job guaranteed for them. They are really suffering from what we could call phase-outphobia.”
The research paper concludes that this condition involves many symptoms of common psychological illnesses. While the nuclear industry has been built by the world’s richest governments and multinational corporations, it has been opposed by infinitely smaller non-profit organizations supported by small donations. Nonetheless, sufferers often have the delusion that their industry is the persecuted underdog. Once this idea becomes rooted, they look only at information that confirms their bias. It’s a vicious circle, according to observers of the phenomenon.
Ms. van Pelt added, “What has happened to these people is unfortunate, but lessons have been learned. These people deserve to have support and counseling to help them make the transition to a new life. Before that can happen they will have to put on their big boy pants and suck it up. The world has changed. The public no longer wants to live with the risks of nuclear, and the market has spoken. The private financial capital for nuclear projects just isn’t there anymore.”
The controversy continues.
No Health Impacts Seen for Nuclear Workers in the Phase-out of Nuclear Power
What follows below is a bit of satire that shows a news report that the evacuees in Fukushima could only dream of seeing for real. The truth is that most people have too much heart to make callous dismissals of people being deprived of their homes and livelihoods, but this is what it would look like if we could turn the tables on the arguments that have dismissed worries about the impacts of the Fukushima meltdowns:
References and inspiration for this article:
No one died because of the meltdowns?
“Last week, the police in the Futaba-gun region of Fukushima, which includes the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station and the town of Namie, confirmed that a handful of tsunami survivors who were trapped in the rubble probably starved to death as rescuers fled the scene for fear of radiation. A month passed before rescuers were able to venture back into the exclusion zone set up in a 12-mile radius around the nuclear plant; the bodies of Mr. Yokoyama’s parents were not discovered until the summer.”
Hiroko Tabuchi, “An Anniversary of ‘Heartbreaking Grief’ in Japan,” The New York Times, March 11, 2012.
“Given the readiness in which the medical profession accepts the cytokine mediated radiation fatigue response as being a biochemical fact, it appears extremely cruel of world nuclear authorities, including its associated medicos (if you can call them that) to quickly pull out their copies of DSM IV and ascribe a mental condition to civilian victims of nuclear disaster, whereas in hospitals around the world treating doctors are thoroughly familiar with this aspect of the radiation response.” Paul Langley’s Nuclear History Blog, June 23, 2013.
“A farmer who grew organic vegetables in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, hanged himself just 13 days after the onset of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”
“Shameful selective memory regarding nuclear power issue,” The Asahi Shimbun, June 19, 2013.
“… official actions largely protected the public, and most continuing fears of health risks from radiation have little basis in fact…. Citizens of Japan are understandably traumatized by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. But to make intelligent decisions about radiation, it’s best to rely on facts -- and not let emotional or illogical fears get in the way.”
Robert Peter Gale and Peter Lax. “Fukushima Radiation Proves Less Deadly Than Feared,” Bloomberg, March 11, 2013.
“The primary health effect of Chernobyl has been widespread psychological distress in liquidators (workers brought in for cleanup), evacuees, residents of contaminated areas, and residents of adjacent non-contaminated areas. Several psycho-neurological syndromes characterized by multiple unexplained physical symptoms including fatigue, sleep and mood disturbances, impaired memory and concentration, and muscle and/or joint pain have been reported in the Russian literature. These syndromes, which resemble chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, are probably not due to direct effects of radiation because they do not appear to be dose related to radiation exposure and because they occur in areas of both high and low contamination.
Pastel, Ross H. “Radiophobia: Long-term Psychological Consequences of Chernobyl.” Military Medicine 167, no. 2 Suppl (February 2002): 134–136.
“The people are suffering, not only because of the earthquake and the tsunami, but also from severe radiation anxiety, real radiophobia.”
Shunichi Yamashita, former chief of the Fukushima Health Survey.
“Speaking at a March 12 symposium hosted by the Defense Strategies Institute, Paul Kudarauskas, of the EPA Consequence Management Advisory Team, said events like Fukushima would cause a ‘fundamental shift’ to cleanup. U.S. residents are used to having ‘cleanup to perfection,’ but will have to abandon their ‘not in my backyard’ mentality in such cases, Kudarauskas said. ‘People are going to have to put their big boy pants on and suck it up.’”
Douglas P. Guarino, “White House Supports Rollback of Cleanup Standards for Nuclear Incidents, GSN, NTI.” NTI: Nuclear Threat Initiative. March 25, 2013.