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Dan Hirsch on the continuing hazards of nuclear radiation
- Categorized in: NUCLEAR WASTE
Dr. Caldicott’s guest this week is Dan Hirsch, President of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a non-profit nuclear policy organization founded in 1970 which focuses on issues of nuclear safety, waste disposal, proliferation, and disarmament. He has been active in addressing the contamination at the Santa Susana field laboratory, site of a partial meltdown just north of Los Angeles, shutting down the Hanford nuclear reactor and in stopping U.S. plutonium production, as well as ending the dumping of radioactive waste into the oceans, improving nuclear-plant security against terrorism, and stopping the space nuclear component of the missile defense program. Hirsch also teaches Nuclear Policy at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Dr. Caldicott asks Hirsch how he first became involved in nuclear issues, and he says that during the time of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, his students at the University of California at Santa Cruz uncovered radiation hazards on campus as well as secret information about nuclear accidents in California. Hirsch then describes the partial meltdown of the Santa Susana nuclear plant north of Los Angeles in 1959, which released a large amount of radiation and other toxins, while the seriousness of the accident was kept quiet. See photos of the accident site and check out
a book about the meltdown. Read the articles Santa Susana Meltdown, Marking the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. nuclear meltdown and ‘59 nuclear reactor accident remains vivid for former Santa Susana Field Laboratory worker.
Dan Hirsch (enviroreporter.com)
Hirsh explains how he and his students brought film and other information about the severity of Santa Susana to Los Angeles media, which published and aired their findings. He talks about the high radiation levels at the time of the meltdown and the continuing contamination problem in the vicinity of Santa Susana, now much more heavily populated than in 1959.
Dr. Caldicott asks Hirsh to eluciate the dangers of each of the chemicals in nuclear radiation, including plutonium, the most toxic substance on earth. He refers to the bombing of Nagasaki and radiation levels in that city. See the Emmy Award-winning documentary, White Light Black Rain, which focuses on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the health issues faced by survivors of the bombings. Hirsh runs through the six reasons that plutonium is the most dangerous element in existence. He mentions other substances used at Santa Susana for nuclear missile testing and other functions, such as perchlorates, PCBs and trichloroethylene. Hirsh mentions Admiral Hyman Rickover, the subject of the book Rickover: Father of the Nuclear Navy. Rickover was a proponent of the extremely dangerous sodium-cooled nuclear reactors, which were tested at Santa Susana, and whose design makes them much more susceptible to accidents and more vulnerable to terrorist bombings. Hirsh clarifies why sodium-cooled reactors, like other nuclear plants, should never be considered solutions to global warming. For one thing, it would be impossible to safely store the plants’ highly radioactive waste to prevent it leaking into the environment while it remains radioactive for half a million years.
Hirsch and Dr. Caldicott agree that the present period of history is an incredibly critical moment in the area of both nuclear arms proliferation and global warming, and decisions made now will affect human history for the rest of time, for better or worse. Dr. Caldicott asks Hirsch about the motivations driving the advocates of nuclear power. He describes a friend who represents the mindset of many in the nuclear industry. They look at the financial and psychological factors influencing scientists who decide to endorse nuclear power and ignore its monumental dangers. They also examine members of the Obama administration, such as Steven Chu, John Holdren, William Magwood and President Obama himself, and where they stand on nuclear energy (largely in favor, falsely believing it can reduce global warming). Hirsch laments the lack of progressive voices advising Obama. Read about the Project on Government Oversight’s opposition to the nomination of William Magwood to the NRC. Appropriate to this discussion is Dr. Caldicott’s book Nuclear Power is Not the Answer (to Global Warming or Anything Else). For a better understanding of the realities of a nuclear accident, check out Greenpeace’s No More Chernobyls photo galleries. Hirsch ponders if President Obama will leave the world a legacy of drowning in plutonium and carbon dioxide, or will exert real leadership in eliminating nuclear dangers and reducing global warming. Read April 6, 2010 responses to the Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review from Peace Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. And read Greenpeace’s March 31, 2010 article, Is this Obama’s Clean Energy Plan or Palin’s Drill Baby Drill?. For more about Hirsch’s work, visit the Committee to Bridge the Gap Web page. And be sure to read the article Meltdown, USA: Nuclear Drive Trumps Safety Risks and High Cost.