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SILENT SPRING MEETS THE LONG HOT SUMMER: Kim Roberson
- Categorized in: Radiation
Updated 4 August, 2011
Kim Roberson worked for Greenpeace when she was younger. Then she had the opportunity to live and work on an organic farm in California. She is now a nutritionist who had made a choice to become a stay at home mom while her son is young. The accident at Fukushima mobilized her to return to a more active role. She started a food safety & monitoring petition, ending up by meeting with her California Congresspeople.
Here is Kim's story about what Fukushima meant to her. Many share her feelings, but perhaps lack the experience to put it into words. As Kim says, "prove us wrong!"
SILENT SPRING MEETS THE LONG HOT SUMMER
Fukushima Fallout in Our Food and Water
By Kimberly Roberson
Silent Spring (Or 14 Becquerels Per Day)
I'm not a woman who uses clichés unless they are not only ironic but humorous too. And now more than ever because its becoming clear to me that humor and irony help to emotionally deal with chronic, constant awareness of chronic, constant radiation. I’ve come to think of March 11 and 12, 2011 as BF and AF, Before Fukushima and After. My son's third birthday was at the end of February, BF. When pouring over pictures from his jungle themed party I'm struck by a loss of innocence, and amazed at how we never know how good we have it ~ until we don’t.
The silence after the tsunami/earthquake/nuclear meltdown, AF, was deafening and unlike anything I had experienced before. The surreal, Twilight Zone comparisons were hard to avoid. Knowing what I knew, and then seeing those facts be so nearly completely disregarded by the media and elected officials had a nightmarish quality to it. What most certainly intensified the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi for me was because a typical suburban mom doesn't usually list Greenpeace's Radioactive Waste campaign on her resume~ one who then went on to study holistic nutrition and work in that field for ten years before becoming a first time mom. One thing such experience carries is clear: radioactive fallout from nuclear power and food do not mix, and children are especially at risk.
Life teaches many lessons, often "on a crooked line" to quote Emily Saliers. After leaving Greenpeace it was rather fortuitous to be invited to live and work on an idyllic organic farm in northern California. This eventually led to studying holistic nutrition in San Francisco and then working in that field for ten years. Add all that to being an older mom, which alone has its pros and cons: you know more, but then you know more. Everything changed when my husband and I decided to start a family. From then on it was all about our little boy. Parenthood changes everything, another cliche, and I would joke to friends that Planet Me became Planet Son. When Fukushima Daiichi struck it was a logical step to try to do something to help break the silence to protect him and his little friends. That was when a somewhat unique skill set came in handy while writing an online petition calling for monitoring and transparency of an increasingly radiated food and water supply in the US. Even in the era of petition fatigue, this was one way that a stay-at-home mom could spread the word about the need to monitor food and water during and after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis ~ whenever "after" actually will be, we can only guess. Collecting signatures on the Fukushima Fallout Food Safety Petition can as slow as molasses, because most people prefer avoiding such thoughts and believe that their government will do the work for them. They are wrong.
Most mothers don’t give nuclear power a second thought. But I had this history, you see, going back to Greenpeace. I had started in DC working in the photo department filing slides in my 20’s, at an age when most people believe they can change the world if inclined to such things. When a job opened up on their East West Campaign I jumped at the chance to serve in DC as an administrative liaison to the director who was setting up an office in Moscow. This was in 1989, and I still remember opening the letter from the farmer near Chernobyl who had sent us pictures of deformed goats. Those images would later appear in magazines like Time and Newsweek and helped to open the world’s eyes to the largest nuclear disaster to date. Eventually the job transitioned and I decided to go west. As fate would have it, I was working at Greenpeace LA when news broke about plans for the Ward Valley radioactive dumpsite. This was basically a proposal by the nuclear industry to dig unlined dirt trenches directly above a major underground aquifer leading directly to the Colorado River ~ the agricultural and drinking water supply source for much of the western region of the US. Activists working to block the proposed dump learned quickly that there is no such thing as "safe" low-level radiation. We would come to learn that there are vast misconceptions about what actually constitutes “low level” radioactive waste.
Like other moms in my circle, I know more than a few children under the age of three with cancer (four children to be exact), and two of them recently died. One was a precocious little boy whose parents were environmentalists with healthy lifestyles. They did everything they could to provide the best for him, but some things aren't easy to control. My best friend who has practiced yoga for years has breast cancer, and her cousin has colon cancer. Cancer in our industrialized, radiated world has reached epidemic proportions.
Working in the nutrition field offered a chance to become healthier myself, an added bonus. I enjoyed daily connections to the earth that such knowledge provides. Its one of the few ways that we stay connected to nature on a continuous basis if we are mindful. A healthy environment means a healthy diet, and vice versa, they are interdependent. Forget about "saving the planet". Mother Earth will go on for millions of years even if it means shaking humans off her back. It’s more about saving ourselves when the bottom line is truly understood. But try having this conversation around the swings at the neighborhood park, where one can now realistically wonder now how much radioactivity from Fukushima Daiichi has collected from the rainy season in the sandbox. After Fukushima exploded, parents in Japan took matters in their own hands by renting backhoes to shave radioactive topsoil from the playgrounds there. Its tricky telling neighbors downstream here why your child won't be swimming in the community pool when its 100 degrees outside and theirs shouldn't either; that xenon, strontium-90, cesium-137, cesium 147, and hundreds of other dangerous radioactive isotopes could have possibly collected in open swimming pools during an especially long rainy season which continued for three months AF. I've become accustomed to the shocked looks, then the understanding that most people don't want to hear and certainly don't want to believe it could be true. But my resolve to do something was total, even if it meant maybe becoming known as the crazy mother down the block.
BF, worry was something I did pretty much most of the time. Just mindfulness, I would tell my husband, albeit a stressed-out version. This is what happens when your previous profession taught you that toxins from smoke stacks are routinely measured in tons, that fetuses at nine months have over 200 chemicals in their tiny bodies in utero, that roughly 80,000 chemicals have been created for use in our daily life then go unmonitored regardless if they are carcinogenic ~well, it makes mommy fear grow exponentially, and not your usual garden variety of mommy fear at that. Greenpeace offered numerous opportunities for reflection on total toxic body burden. When I was pregnant and considering breastfeeding I wondered if it would be safe for my tiny son. Talk about a burden! A dear friend sent Sandra Steingraber's book "Having Faith, an Ecologists Journey to Motherhood." In it she ponders the health of her unborn daughter Faith and whether the toxins in her own body could harm her. Ms. Steingraber is a biologist who presented at the United Nations as part of international treaties meetings and carried along a vial of Faith’s sustenance to present during her speech on the safety of human breast milk. She declared that she still felt the benefits outweighed the risks, but just barely. It was 2007 when I was pregnant and the autographed copy of her book was dated 11-01-01. Back then it was a stretch, but if it was good enough for her child, hopefully it would still be safe to nurse mine. Hyperawareness continued while carefully avoiding toxins in body lotion, shampoo; avoiding most cosmetics and nail polish and choosing only locally organic and fresh produce and dairy. We ordered a mattress wrapper online from New Zealand to be sure our baby did not inhale possible fumes from his bed which could potentially lead to SIDS. We had only corded phones in our home, and our cell phones were turned off. Bases covered? Had I created as safe nest? One would hope.
But that was BF. Three years Tokyo Electric and Power Co. announced in April 2011 that it will take well into 2012 or beyond to stop the radioactive fallout of the worst nuclear disaster in world history. The very function of "avoiding criticality" requires the continuous release of radiation into the biosphere. Billions of gallons of plutonium water were being dumped into the ocean. Approximately ten days after the disaster struck the well-respected French NGO, CRIIRAD issued a statement that radiation from Fukushima was "no longer negligible" and advised French pregnant and nursing mothers and young children to avoid large leafy vegetables and soft cheeses. China and India had cautioned their citizens to carefully handle or avoid large leafy greens. Chris Busby, Ph.D., Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk published a “Don’t Panic” guide in early April saying that the danger was insignificant, but later changed his position “…since then I have re-thought this advice as the thing is still fissioning and releasing 10 to 14 becquerels a day. This will mean that strontium-90 and uranium and particulates will be building up in the USA and Europe. I will assess this later but for now I think it prudent to stop drinking milk.” A becquerel, in case you don’t know, is a rather substantial unit for measuring radioactivity equal to the activity resulting from the decay of one nucleus of radioactive matter in one second. Translation: very bad news. However here on the west coast in the US and closer downwind of Japan, there was no word from our government other than the radiation was all within “safe range” and "to be expected.” No mention of becquerels, alpha, beta or gamma radiation for that matter. Just rest easy. And all along while reading up on this stuff I kept thinking “Nero Fiddles While Rome Burns”.
Radioactive isotopes are stored cumulatively in the body so it helps to understand what we are up against. Alpha, beta and gamma are all types of radiation that emit energy differently, but all are hazardous when inhaled and/or ingested. Alpha are electrically charged and the least penetrating of the three because they travel between 4 to 7 inches in air and a sheet of paper or the outermost layer of skin that covers the body will stop them. However, if an alpha particle emitting radioactive material is inhaled or ingested, it can be an extremely damaging source of radiation because it can still be concentrated internally. Beta travel faster and penetrate deeper than alpha, at several millimeters through tissue. Like alpha particles, the greatest threat is if beta particle emitting radioactive material is inhaled or ingested. Gamma rays are similar to x-rays, and are a form of electromagnetic radiation. They are the most hazardous type of external radiation, as they can travel long distances and penetrate all types of materials. Gamma rays penetrate more deeply through the body than alpha or beta, and all tissue and organs can be damaged. When considering that these are all produced during nuclear power production, one might wonder how this form of energy became so wide spread.
Meanwhile, “when in Rome”, having the opportunity to start an online petition was akin to a lifeline for a stay-at-home mom. My husband knew about the anti-nuclear campaign work before we met, but how could he or most people for that matter understand what people who worked on such things do? I would tell him that it wouldn't be so worrisome if it weren't for our son because young children especially are still developing and very vulnerable. And what must the parents of Japan be feeling? A beautiful and sacred culture was now horribly stricken by yet another nuclear disaster. Consider the magnificent paradise Hawaii, where we've vacationed several times and always dream of going back again. Hawaii is still part of the United States last time I checked, however virtually no word about the significant radiation spikes and findings there which have lead dairy farmers on the Big Island to spread boron on their land as a protective measure, just as done in Europe after Chernobyl. Grappling with my growing unease and depression was challenging, but working on the petition helped. Being mindful can be tough but so is parenthood in general. Raising awareness on this critical issue in a world already inundated with causes, crisis, and concerns is not only timely but critical, especially for parents. Most of us think that its fine and safe to give our kids milk to drink. But by mid-April one could go online and find that iodine-131 was being detected in cow’s milk in Spokane Washington and as far east as Philadelphia and even Vermont.
How did a form of energy be so dangerous yet so widespread? One can assume that most people haven't heard about the "Atoms for Peace" program of the 1950's where, here in the US, nuclear weapons technology was converted to an energy source, which was promised to be "too cheap to meter". Now, nearly 70 years later we are exacting that price more than ever before, with radioactive fallout hitting home in more ways than the jet stream. The Fukushima Daiichi reactors are the same GE Mark I model as many here in the US. California's two reactors, Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, are built on the Pacific Rim shoreline near major active fault lines. Then you must consider the enormous debris field from the March tsunami headed to the west coast of the US, much of it due for arrival in 2012. One can only imagine how much radioactive metal and waste from Fukushima Daiichi it contains. In the weeks following the TEPCO explosions, we heard quick news bites about the Ft. Calhoun nuclear reactors in Nebraska on the Missouri River, where flooding was threatening to bring a nuclear meltdown to the Heartland. Amid rumors and online searches I learned about Cooperstown, another reactor further upstream on the Missouri where workers there were also fending off floodwaters. And then there were the fires raging at Los Alamos nuclear laboratories in New Mexico. And all the while, Japan continues to experience strong aftershocks which continue to threaten the precarious situation at Fukushima Daiichi. Protecting the fuel pools from exploding is a major concern according to experts such as Arnie Gundersen. He is a former nuclear industry senior vice president with 39 years experience working on nuclear power. During his career he managed and coordinated projects at 70 nuclear reactors in the US. He and his wife Margaret run Fairewinds and its website which is one of the most comprehensive on the realities and dangers of nuclear power. He was one of the first experts to sound the alarm about Fukushima and has asserted that the average Vancouver and Seattle resident was inhaling 8 to 10 hot particles per day by April. The long hot summer indeed.
The idea for starting a petition began to take root a week or so after the earthquake and tsunami. I was under no illusion that food and water could be protected by monitoring alone as called for in the petition, but was rather a place to start, with much work to do. In reality there is no way to completely turn back, the radioactive genie is out of the bottle because future generations will be responsible for care taking radioactive waste for tens of thousands of years. Embracing sustainability, reducing consumption, and phasing out nuclear power such as the Germans, Italians and Swiss are doing (and the Chinese and several other countries seriously considering) is the only truly realistically effective course of action. Then there is the task of finding a way to safely store the millions of pounds of spent fuel. (I've always wondered about the term "spent fuel" because there is nothing spent about it: plutonium and uranium fissionable by-products will remain hazardous for millions of years. What is “spent” about that?) So life as we know it must change. But such awareness is in short supply considering that President Obama has pledged 50 billion dollars for the proposed “nuclear "renaissance". Loans because Wall Street refuses to back a risky proposition such as nuclear power. I had to laugh when first hearing that one. Leave it to the “New Clear” industry to create a “Renaissance”! But thanks to the vigilance of activists for the past few decades, times are changing. According to a recent report, for the first time in history wind and solar power are leading coal and nuclear in production worldwide. However if we commit now to another generation of nuclear reactors, there will be NO turning back. Game over. President Obama's children drink milk. Michelle Obama's prized organic vegetable garden requires clean water to grow. It’s hope against hope that logic will resonate and prevail, even in this uphill battle.
The silence around Fukushima raged on. It broke on rare occasion such as the day Food and Water Watch appeared on a search while frantically looking for any signs of information pertaining to food safety, and this during reports that the reactors were actually melting down (the fuel rods were burning through the cement floor of the reactors). FWW was in the process of a letter writing campaign asking for the monitoring of food and water in the US due to Fukushima Daiichi. Having been out of touch with such issues for many years, their website was like a lifeline. So I wrote the petition using FWW as inspiration and worked several hours a day (early or late hours when my son was sleeping) using it to spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, and mother’s clubs (although a national “holistic” mom’s club told me it was "too political" for them to post on their website). The petition asks for Congress and President Obama for the following actions: First: to monitor all food and water imports from Japan, including the estimated annual 5 million gallons of bottled water, soft drinks and other non-alcoholic beverages containing water. Seafood shipments and other food products must also be monitored immediately. Next, the Environmental Protection Agency must significantly expand the monitoring of air particulates, rainwater, drinking water, and milk and to make the findings readily transparent and immediately available to the public. Last, The United States Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration should receive funding for expanded food and water inspection both here and overseas and to communicate those findings immediately to the public. Congress must rethink our agricultural policies as well as international trade policies as they affect imports from other countries also trading with Japan. Here it is (please take a moment to sign) http://www.nuclearfreeplanet.org/articles/update-fukushima-radioactive-fallout-food-safety-petition.html
Dumbing Down The Masses Won’t “Fly”
Meanwhile, back home there was "breaking news": the continuous and misleading comparison by the Food and Drug Administration of the radioactivity at Fukushima Daiichi was to be comparable to flying cross country on a commercial plane, as though natural sunlight was something that travelers ingested going home for Mother's Day at the end of May. Again, no differentiation of gamma rays to alpha and beta particles was ever mentioned. This only served to placate the masses, and was and still remains a gross and unethical disservice to everyone. If we did hear about any of the hundreds of radioactive isotopes, it was only iodine-131 and cautioning against taking supplemental iodine too soon "before the plume hits". If and when that would be, no one knew. Here in California iodine in oral form was hard to obtain because it was flying off shelves and on back order wherever listed online. Such a dearth of information from officials led to a panic, and then more silence.
Then one day, while flipping channels hoping for a mere mention of the disaster, California Senator Barbara Boxer was on the news grilling the NRC about the safety of the two reactors in her state, the ones both built on the shoreline and either on or near earthquake faults. "You say it couldn’t happen here" she admonished, "and that's exactly what you said about Japan!" Woa, I thought, it was hard to remember hearing her so riled up. Did she have the political will to follow through, could she protect Californians and others from this ongoing radioactive fallout? California produces over 80% of the nation's spinach and lettuce, with the Central Valley long considered to be a major produce and breadbasket for the entire country, not to mention a major dairy producer. Enlisting Senator Boxer's help might prove to be a long shot, but a necessary one nonetheless. This was not only a state issue but also a federal one, as in hoping that President Obama would understand the urgency and act too.
I love the quote by German philosopher and alchemist Goethe, "Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aide". We’ve all felt it: the mystical energy that carries you forward when fighting for something important. Somehow things align and happen, as if somehow effortlessly when you're on the good path. But the petition had stalled at nearly 300 signatures in one month, and it was like pulling teeth to get even a friend to stop what they were doing to sign. And why should they? After all, it was like taking a transcontinental flight, right? But where the hell were the mighty forces, the good kind? And perhaps even more maddening was that so many activist acquaintances seemed distracted, busy with their own pressing issues. One person whom I was sure would at least sign and maybe even circulate the petition wrote back "I can't in good conscience sign this". Why? He wouldn't elaborate, but I suspected it was because he was working on climate change issues as well and was one more person fooled into thinking that nuclear power was somehow better for the environment than coal. But just because you can see it or smell it, don't mean it ain't there.
Thankfully Greenpeace had sent a crew over to Japan in the days following the disaster to take readings in Fukushima City and this information led to officials to increase the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) from a Level 5 to Level 7. They had taken every protective measure possible for their personal safety and they were heroes. My heart went out to them with gratitude the day that CNN reported their findings. Unfortunately, around the same time and apparently unaware of the real dangers, two young reporters traveled to the gates of the crippled reactors, which was also shown on CNN. They had heard that the general public had been notified that TEPCO would close the area in two days, forever. (As in literally forever if such a thing is possible, due to the fact that the half-lives of some of the radioisotopes will last tens of thousands of years.) He and his colleague drove to the gates in street clothes, unprotected, and tried to communicate to workers there who were completely covered in protective gear and masks. “All they would do was quickly motion for us to turn around” and then “after 30 minutes we figured it was time to leave, especially when considering that we received as much exposure the day before when we were here”. “Why did you go there?” the anchorperson asked. “Because that’s where the story is”, he replied. I was shocked, then angry and very sad that these young men had, due to extreme misinformation by the nuclear industry, put themselves in such grave danger. And we didn’t know then, as we do now, that TEPCO had only calculated the radioactive release to be 50% of what it actually was.
The Long Hot Summer Only Hotter
Then came the day out of pure frustration when I slammed my laptop shut to break the silence a bit too loudly, apparently. One week and one new hard drive later, it was back at it but feeling jaded and disillusioned. Enter again Food and Water Watch. Watching Senator Boxer's growing anger directed at the NRC on TV seemed like a ray of hope so I picked up the phone. My son clamored over me while and nothing seemed to distract him. Elanor Starmer, Western Regional Director was in town that day, my first piece of real luck in the whole scenario. She was not only understanding of my son wailing in the background, but appreciative of the call. I was thrilled. Would they want to schedule Senate meetings on this, I asked? "Sure, why don't we do that, and Senator Feinstein too". I was quickly impressed by her thoughtful, professional manner. Then she dropped a bombshell. She had just heard that the Environmental Protection Agency was scaling back random sampling/monitoring of rainwater and milk from weekly, then to bi weekly, and now to quarterly. "As in four times a year?". Four times a year. The largest nuclear disaster in world history, and the only monitoring (we were hearing about anyway) was of rainwater, groundwater, and milk and only four times per year. Something was definitely fishy. And speaking of seafood, the FDA had already announced that they did not plan to test north Pacific seafood for radioactivity whatsoever, even as TEPCO was releasing millions of tons of plutonium laced water into the sea. But this gave us even more resolve for the meetings. I mentioned some of the groups I had been fortunate to work in coalition with in the past to block the proposed Ward Valley dump in Southern California. "Sure", she said, "Go ahead and put together some people for the meeting and keep me posted". She was working on a number of projects already, and I was very pleased that she would lend her expertise and 3,700 signed letters from Food and Water Watch supporters asking for increased monitoring.
So I took to my trusty laptop to reach out to others who might be interested in the meeting. In some ways what was happening in Japan reminded me of working to block radioactive waste dumps in the US: in this case, however, the entire country was turning into a dump via air particulates from one radioactive origin colliding with a late and long rainy season. According to numerous reports online radiation detectors at existing nuclear power plants throughout the country were picking up readings of radiation from Fukushima Daiichi. Physicians for Social Responsibility was of the many groups, along with Greenpeace, who had opposed plans for Ward Valley. US Ecology, the company licensed to dig the dump, had been sited in every state in which they had operated, even leaving the keys in the gate at Sheffield, Ill. when it was discovered that radioactive tritium had migrated to tree leaves hundreds of yards offsite. Several years later the dump had been defeated after motivated citizens made it abundantly clear that California taxpayers would be expected to pick up the tab just as taxpayers in all the other states had been. It didn't help matters (or did, depending on how you look at it) that the land for the dump was also habitat for the endangered desert tortoise, an animal that is, ironically, millions of years old. Ironic because if radioactive waste was dumped there, it too would have remained for millions of years and destroyed a species which had managed to survive and thrive longer than most. And last but definitely not least, ancestral land for Shoshone and Fort Mojave Indians would also be affected. A coalition of tribes was crucial in helping to defeat the dump, and I was very proud to say that they trusted us to be part of the coalition. After leaving Greenpeace I moved to northern California to a small town to continue working in coalition to block the dump. Part of that work entailed traveling to DC to lobby on behalf of our coalition to block bills containing language to dig the Ward Valley ditches.
Then there was the Yankee Rowe campaign. At Rowe, Massachusetts a nuclear reactor was being unceremoniously decommissioned and its radioactive components deemed “low level” were readied to be hauled via 18 wheelers down Interstate 95, the major east coast corridor, and then dumped in at Barnwell, South Carolina. By now I was working with Nuclear Democracy Network (a group committed to working on safe energy issues for nearly 30 years and now the Ecological Options Network). With their help I initiated a campaign involving Greenpeace and several small local Massachusetts groups for an educational bus tour to Barnwell. We followed the trucks carrying the reactors at a relatively safe distance, armed with Geiger counters. Still, we were never comfortable with the exposures. Our efforts brought national attention to the fact that the Yankee Rowe decommissioned reactor was being buried in a dump similar to the one planned for Ward Valley. Up to this point we had only heard about claims from the nuclear lobby that Ward Valley was intended for booties and gloves from nuclear medicine. At Barnwell people learned the truth. Ward Valley was intended for decommissioned nuclear reactors categorized "low level" radioactive waste. The same category as those booties and gloves, with significantly higher levels of radioactivity involved. I still remember opening the New York Times A Section to the photo that accompanied our action: finally people were learning the real story. It took several days to make the bus trip down I-95 and we met many concerned parents along the way. These were the people who opened up their homes to our exhausted, yet exhilarated crew. We felt we were making an important contribution and there is a real feeling of satisfaction which goes along with such undertakings.
During both campaigns I became an admirer of Dr. Helen Caldicott. Talk about a voice in the wilderness! And here was a physician, ahead of her time, who was staking her reputation on the fact that there were no safe levels of radiation, whatsoever, from nuclear power production. Physicians for Social Responsibility, Nuclear Information and Resource Center, Union of Concerned Scientists and more experts also strongly believe that low-level radiation causes cancer. Their knowledge inspired a generation of anti-nuclear and safe energy activists and currently a new generation is emerging. Some experts now believe that chronic, continuous low-level radioactive exposures are even more dangerous than short, strong bursts of radiation. The very type of chronic low level releases being witnessed now from Fukushima Daiichi. Luckily, some of the experts from these groups were willing to participate in the upcoming Senate meetings.
Are Protective Measures Possible?
As mentioned earlier, California was experiencing a prolonged rainy season well into June. This meant that US crops were being doused with cesium-137, strontium-80, xenon, and iodine-131 (and there are, literally, hundreds more). A few were being reported by the UC Berkeley's School of Nuclear Engineering, where students are collecting samples from their class rooftop in Berkeley as well as random sampling around the region. Cesium-137 with a half-life of 30 years had been detected in organic cow's milk in Sonoma California. Iodine-131 is being detected in spinach and lettuce. Startling, too, is that UCBSNE states on their website that potatoes may concentrate as much as 17 times the radiation as leafy greens. “So, let me get this straight”, I told myself, “No milk, no french fries, and no mac and cheese. That just about covers most young children’s diets if they are picky eaters and most are picky eaters in their younger years.
Nevermind organic, or GMO's ~ now the question for me was “what was no longer contaminated by radiation?” Tap water was definitely out of the question, as was the over the counter water pitcher filter we had been using, It took weeks to search for bottled water dated pre mid-March, while simultaneously looking for an affordable water filtration system. My plan was to place a sort of protective berm around my family (in a sense how workers were trying to protect Ft. Calhoun from the rising flood waters). Only one hot particle lodged in the lungs will produce lung cancer, only one in the thyroid can incite cancer there. So in addition to stocking up on frozen berries, mushrooms, and other vegetables from the 2010 harvest, I created an extra pantry for tetra packed miso soup, rice, hemp and almond milks and an assortment of canned beans, legumes and vegetables. Bags of rice, beans and legumes were also bought in bulk. For once it didn't seem to matter quite as much if they were organic, because buying that in bulk would have eventually been cost prohibitive. In any case maybe this was just a false sense of security, but at least for now "organic" didn't seem important. Just relatively safe compared to radiated could suffice just fine, so potatoes were off the shopping list for the immediate future. Maybe the months immediately following the explosions and first plumes were the worst, and prayers would be answered that food would somehow be safer next year. Hopefully the radiated fuel pools wouldn’t explode and make the initial explosions seem mild in comparison.
Our little boy played indoors during most of rains, or carefully covered by his big hood. Jumping in puddles? Absolutely out of the question, even in rain boots. "Silent Spring on steroids," I grimaced. "What would Rachel Carson say now?" Then I learned about a “radiation protection” workshop given by a local holistic health practitioner. A mutual friend, and former Nevada Test Site protestor from “the old days”, (a different Rachel but who has been working on anti nuclear issues for decades) told me about the workshop and how she came away feeling empowered and optimistic. She had heard about a type of water pitcher which, when used with drops of a special formulated version of zeolite, would help to improve water quality. Zeolite minerals work to capture chemical toxins and heavy metals in a unique molecular cage whereby removing them from the body via the urinary tract. Still, we tell ourselves that even something like zeolite is not a panacea. Nothing known to humankind can completely rid our environment of excessive radiation, but I’m open to being hopeful that it may be possible to minimize risk by taking some protective measures. The real solution is to keep fighting the good fight. If using caution where possible when choosing foods and taking supplements that I believe will help decrease exposure to my family will decrease my anxiety, well then I’ll stay open to exploring possibilities. Consider the amazing and true story of Dr. Tatsuichiro Akizuki, director of the Department of Internal Medicine at St. Francis Hospital in Nagasaki, and how he quite literally prevented radiation sickness at the hospital after the atomic bomb was dropped there in 1945. He accomplished this by using select foods. That’s right, food. He instructed cooks at the hospital to prepare a strict macrobiotic diet for his staff and patients that was also completely devoid of sugar. No one in his hospital succumbed to radiation sickness, even while survivors farther away died from radiation exposure. Miso soup, unrefined brown rice, and seaweed such as kombu and nori are the cornerstones of the macrobiobic diet. The concept of food as medicine has never proved more powerful.
The Wellness Pitcher arrived one week after Zeolite NCD drops, and they provided some semblance of hope. But I was skeptical, even amid stories of children around Chernobyl being fed zeolite cookies to fight radiation sickness in the 80's. Then I read that powdered zeolite had been used at the Chernobyl site along with boron to lower radiation levels, at Three Mile Island in Harrisburg Pennsylvania and at the Hanford reactor in Washington. Upon further check it appeared affective and non-toxic, the only side affect being possible dehydration during detoxification so it is necessary to stay well hydrated while using zeolite.
Other supplements emerged as possible protective measures. Kelp, chlorella, blue green alga and spirulina all help proper pH levels and assist in cleansing and detoxification, and there are numerous studies that indicate they help to protect cancer patients from the negative effects of radiation treatments. Rosemary extract contains Carnosol that has been proven to have anti-carcinogenic and inflammatory properties specifically for mammary tumors. Agari Gold mushroom capsules, and Eleuthro Ginseng have also been studied with positive results to help fight radiation sickness and can all be ordered online or in store (always remembering that dated pre March is best. Seaweeds need to be properly sourced and those sources will become fewer and far between as Fukushima Daiichi continues to dump plutonium laced seawater into the ocean). Mushrooms have long been known to hold valuable medicinal properties, and they too are under threat because they absorb nutrients via both the soil and the atmosphere. Eggs, arguably the richest source of animal protein, are now also suspect. They are germinative in nature, meaning that they are like seeds and concentrate not only nutrients (which is why organic eggs are considered to be the most important protein staple in a ovo-vegetarian diet) but toxins as well. However all animals coming in contact with radioactive fallout will concentrate these toxins, which are then passed up the food chain to humans. Eating low on the food chain is more important now than ever.
Suffice to say that just standing in my kitchen prepping a meal had become mind-boggling. What the heck was safe to eat and drink anymore? From a nutritionist’s perspective, crazymaking. From the mom's perspective, worrisome. From a former radioactive waste activist's perspective: scary as hell. The three-headed beast was born. So many questions such as "what is truly organic anymore"? Gone are the days when GMOs were the most important threat to organic standards. After much thought I’ve decided to stop using organic butter and instead coconut butter and oil (which has added benefit of supporting healthy thyroid function). However, oils in general concentrate toxins so this alternative will only be relatively “safe” temporarily. Taking a high quality multi-vitamin including iodine is essential, because the thyroid will seek out iodine even radioactive iodine 131 if the healthy kind is unavailable.
Reducing exposures in general seems like a good idea. Arnie Gundersen from Fairewinds has said that the indoors becomes more radioactive than outdoors due to concentrations of contaminants accumulating inside. He recommends ~ for those of us living in Japan and on the west coast but hey, why not everyone I say ~to keep windows closed during summer, change air conditioning filters in homes and cars regularly and use Hepa floor filters continuously. He also recommends wet dusting and mopping, as opposed to dry dusting, to avoid spreading possible hot particulates. Taking shoes off at the door and then leaving them helps to avoid bringing the outdoors inside (more irony, as the Japanese have observed this practice for centuries). For water, there are reverse osmosis and carbon filtration water systems available and using a combination of both has been said to be the best way to purify water, although it is widely debatable how much radiation such filtration will actually remove. Again, without testing, how do we know? Reverse osmosis is fine under normal circumstances for the short term, however RO water has been de-mineralized, much like distilled. Drinking this indefinitely would mean that valuable minerals would be depleted from the body. Taking a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement would help to replenish. Carbon filters are fine for bathroom sinks, bathtubs and showers but are not regarded as the best for drinking water.
Nuclear Disasters and Lessons Learned
We hear that upon average there is one nuclear power disaster per 20 years: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima. But that is not considering the problem that exists in between disasters. Fukushima Daiichi serves to highlight the fact that there are 104 nuclear reactors in the US, many of them nearly 50 years old and approaching re-licensure. Radioactive spent fuel pools are on all of these sites. The NRC expanded the evacuation zone near Fukushima Daiichi for Americans from 10 kilometers to 50, however one must wonder how it would be possible to adhere to that guideline here in the US. Most reactors are in heavily populated areas. The steam that we see from their stacks is not completely benign, radioactive releases are inherent to the function of nuclear power. Hundreds of accidents at these plants occur annually. When do we say “enough”? When will Atoms for Peace finally end? They certainly weren’t thinking peace of mind.
One of the lessons of Chernobyl is that many of the foods we know to ordinarily be the healthiest are in fact those which attract some of the highest levels of radiation from nuclear fallout: seaweed, obviously, and especially in the north Pacific where it is at risk for radiation contamination. Mushrooms, spinach, kale, lettuces, berries of all kinds, cheeses, and fresh cow and goat milk are also at risk because we know from Chernobyl that they attract some of the highest levels of radiation. University of Berkeley School of Nuclear Engineering, as mentioned earlier, is one of the only organizations sampling an array of produce, along with milk and rainwater which are have been found beginning in late March to contain levels of iodine-131, xenon, cesium-137, and strontium-90. All are listed with the caveat that levels are "to be expected", "within safe ranges" and "comparable to taking a cross country flight". http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/node/2525. Herein is where much dissention exits between the nuclear industry versus a growing body of scientists, physicians and nuclear experts such as Dr. Caldicott, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Union of Concerned Scientists, Fairewinds and many more. The former includes the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, International Atomic Energy Commission and the powerfully enmeshed and entrenched nuclear industry (dating back to Atoms for Peace). They state that all levels found are "to be expected". Expected according to what? When have we had an ongoing nuclear disaster with releases extending for an unknown period of time? Is Level 7 even relevant any more? Will the level system be raised to 8 or higher now that we know these disasters can roil for months, possibly years? Scientists in the know emphatically state that there is no such thing as safe low-level radiation from nuclear power. Period. In 2006 National Academies of Sciences stated in a report "..there is a linear dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of solid cancers in humans. It is unlikely that there is a threshold below which cancers are not induced". Clearly the time for monitoring, as stated in my petition, is now, as in yesterday.
Senate Meetings: "Prove Us Wrong!"
I did something heretofore unusual for our family and arranged child care for June 2 and 8th, the dates set for meetings with Senator Boxer and Feinstein's aides, respectively. For the first time I could appreciate how parents who work outside the home entrust their children for several hours to someone else. Luckily these were people we knew well and it would be possible to concentrate on the task at hand: traveling 30 miles by cabs and train in rush hour to make the meeting in downtown San Francisco in time to organize our group beforehand. My son got to see mommy all dressed up and carrying a briefcase. He wanted to go to the meeting too, but once I explained that there wouldn't be any toys his enthusiasm waned considerably. "All in good time, son", I thought. "Plenty of battles to come for your future, too, unfortunately." A somber thought. On the one hand, how fortunate to be a part of something that might impact an important issue in the larger, positive sense. On the other I couldn’t help but grumble a bit, "Why isn't our government doing this already?"
It was a blessing all the same, and this is when I realized that the mighty forces had indeed arrived! Leaders from Food and Water Watch, Citizens for Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Greenpeace and other individuals attended over both days. One gentleman, representing as a citizen and grandfather, drove several hours to say that he was planning on starting up his own radiation monitoring center if the government wasn't going to test food and water. A concerned housewife, still breastfeeding her youngest child, bravely accompanied our group and contributed much to the discussion. I couldn't imagine how this all seemed to her. This was all somewhat old hat for me and yet still anxiety provoking, but what must she be feeling, knowing that her breast milk could be more at risk than ever? And then there was the nutrition student who wanted to know what was safe to tell people to eat now that so much of our food supply was at risk, and that until they monitor, how will we know its safe to eat? There were many questions, and we tried to achieve a mood that was one of collaboration: how could the Senators, also being Californians, help us keep our children safe? Food and Water Watch presented their letters along with my petition and together there were close to 6,000 signatures. Nothing to sneeze at. Besides the top regional Senate aides in the room, we also had a representative on speakerphone to Senator Feinstein's DC office, so that like it increased our chances of the Senator hearing our concerns. In addition to the “asks” in the petition, we asked for full congressional hearings into the matter. There were too many questions to be answered, so many in fact that it seemed like a guagmire. Senator Boxer is the Chairwoman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, so she is perfectly positioned to hold such hearings; and Senator Feinstein Chairs the Appropriations Committee with Food and Drug Administration oversight ~ so we asked that they hold hearings and provide adequate funding for food safety inspections by United States Department of Agriculture and FDA. If the radiation isn't there, we need to know. "Prove us wrong." And one important observation by several of us is that it flies in the face of reason to think that between EPA, FDA, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association), the US military~ that among all these powerful groups only EPA is testing water and milk samples and merely four times a year? Is it even necessary to ask for funding? We asked the Senators to write letters to EPA, FDA and NOAA directing them to get on the same page and release findings they most likely already have collected. Even if the news is bad, we as citizens have a right to know. Again, prove us wrong. As it turns out, asking for a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) could take months to procure, with results very likely blacked out and impossible to discern so instead we asked for reports from the General Accounting Office (GAO) and Congressional Research Service (CRS) which would help to provide a foundation for the hearings.
One notable highlight of the Boxer meeting was when Dr. Robert Gould with Physicians for Social Responsibility raised the issue of the Senator proposing an immediate phase out of nuclear power such as the Germans and Swiss were doing (and the Italians are now joining them). Given what we now know about wind and solar alternatives to nuclear and coal gaining in momentum, this would seem logical and necessary. So what really came out of the meetings? All is yet to be revealed. On one hand we felt heard and supported, on another, we were all just cynical enough to feel that they attempted to placate us with reassurances. A coin toss for sure. There was a sense that our representatives want to help us, yet on the other hand the nuclear behemoth is one tough nut to crack. I felt truly and deeply honored to be in the company of so many smart people while launching our campaign for food and water monitoring. We continue to work together as a fledgling coalition of groups ~ name still to be determined ~firmly committed to strategizing the next step.
Activists these days have it so much easier than 20 years ago before the Internet. The differences are enormous, and for myself this experience has had a time traveler quality. Back then there were reams and piles of files and paper, desks loaded with index cards, file cabinets stuffed to capacity. Now in the cyberworld, communication means not having to wait for returned answering machine calls, with ideas and information flowing at lightening speed. Fact checking is spontaneous and efficient. New information is always emerging and capable of being transmitted world wide via Facebook and other networks. Consider that on August 1st, Professor Tatsuhiko Kodama, head of the Radioisotope Center at University of Tokyo, testified before the Committee on Welfare and Labor in Japan. He unequivocally stated “When we research the radiation injury/sickness, we look at the total amount of radioactive materials. But there is no definite report from TEPCO or the Japanese government as to exactly how much radioactive materials have been released from Fukushima.“So, using our knowledge base at the Radioisotope Center, we calculated. Based on the thermal output, it is 29.6 times the amount released by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima. In uranium equivalent, it is 20 Hiroshima bombs.“What is more frightening”, he continued, “is that whereas the radiation from a nuclear bomb will decrease to one-thousandth in one year, the radiation from a nuclear power plant will only decrease to one-tenth.” This is important information of staggering dimensions that governments cannot block anymore thanks to the Internet. Why not be a part of history yourself and use it to help protect your family and future generations?
One valuable trick recently learned is that it’s extremely easy to set up conference calls for a large group of people. Just do an online search for a free phone conferencing service. So even as the long hot summer burns, we continue the good fight. A small group of highly motivated citizens in northern California are beginning to organize a system for independently monitoring the radioactive fallout from Fukushima Daiichi in air, food and water. One of them promised to come over and test our community swimming pool once he gets the equipment and sampling materials together. "Prove me wrong", I repeated. He agreed. Never in our lives have we wanted more to be wrong about anything.
If you’ve read this far I’m hoping you will be inspired to action. Radioactive waste is everywhere now, in our air, food and water. Something must be done immediately. When Fukushima Daiichi's radioactive fallout hit the west coast of the US as estimated on March 18, my little family was at an outdoor barbeque fundraiser in Monterey for our friend's baby son who had just been released from Stanford Hospital in recovery from leukemia. A few months before, a routine post delivery doctor's visit found that “something didn't look right". This led to a medic helicopter whisking Matthew's mom, dazed and confused, toward Stanford with her infant son in her arms. It was only upon landing that she learned that his white cell count was over 30,000, where a normal count would have been 30-100. Mom and dad lived a nightmare most of us pray will never happen to our family but which we hear about more and more: week upon week meant more medical disclaimers to sign as little Matthew's battle for survival became a winding path of experimental medical experiments, oxygen tents and sleepless nights. With only hours to spare his precious life had been saved, and now seven years of chemo are recommended as further treatment. So we were all in a celebratory mood that day, March 18, when our friends stood in a light drizzle listening to live music while Matthew's dad cooked hot dogs on a big outdoor grill. My son danced in the light rain as his hood kept falling back. He looked skyward to catch the mist on his face. The news didn't come for several weeks that that was actually the very day that radioactive fallout from Fukushima hit the west coast and there we were, partying in the rain in Monterey. When I look at pictures from that celebration it is a haunting memory: the timing, the irony and the questions, "How much cesium 137 fell on our children that day? Strontium-90, iodine-131 or the hundreds of other fissionable by products from Fukushima Daiichi? How much landed in their drinks, food, and clothing? Hopefully nothing, most likely the plume was still up in Alaska on that particular day before heading south to Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland. But its cold comfort thinking that someone else's kid was getting doused instead of mine. One thing is for certain if you choose to recognize history: cases of cancer in all forms will increase after Fukushima, all across Japan and the western region of the US and very likely further inland. Europeans saw it with the Soviet Union's Chernobyl, and now we in the US will see it with Japan's disaster. Radioactive fallout knows no bounds. While the elderly and young children are at particular risk, we all will be affected globally for generations to come. But unlike Chernobyl, we don't know how or when the fallout from Fukushima will stop. But one thing is clear in that we can control the future of nuclear power: we are at a crossroads. We can and should oppose the loan guarantees our President has promised the nuclear industry. We can and should reduce consumption and embrace sustainability. Our long hot summer will lead to fall and what then? What of our winter?
We all have our own history, our own unique resumes. One doesn't need experience working on nuclear issues to get up to speed and make change happen now. We now have a choice that won’t come again in our lifetimes, or even that of our children’s lifetimes. Picture a fork in the road where, on one side we see the next generation of nuclear reactors and the deadly waste, cancers and other illnesses they will create for millions of years ~ or on the other side picture wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass which all are available, safe, sustainable energy sources. Environmentalists have been calling for this transition for over 30 years, and its hopefully not too late. But collective denial won’t work. I humbly suggest that you start and sign petitions, get out and holler, start a fundraiser for a favorite group working on this issue, contact your elected officials for meetings (I'm assured that they want to hear from regular citizens even more than they do experts), write letters to the editor, use Youtube to research atmospheric testing websites and share your concerns. Then call your local Greenpeace office or one of the other amazing organizations mentioned above for assistance if needed. We must demand monitoring of our food and water and put an end to nuclear power.
In the famous words of poet Khalil Gibran, “Our children come through us, but are not of us”. It was my decision to bring a child into this world. Much like paying the rent or mortgage for a home there is an obligation to pay for our time on this planet, and to provide a safe future for our kids. Even in this age of questioning all sorts of puppet authority and power, we are not ourselves powerless. In many ways we are more powerful than ever before. Another favorite quote, this by the late anthropologist Margaret Mead, has the potential to become cliche one day but that's ok, its beautiful all the same and maybe the most important one of all: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can chance the world, indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." And one more thing ~ please remember to sign the petition and pass it along to everyone possible, and thank you!
As of early August Kim and the newly formed coalition of groups now known as the Fukushima Fallout Awareness Network (FFAN) have received word from Senator Barbara Boxer’s office that their concerns will be sent to the Environment and Public Works Committee, of which Senator Boxer is Chairwoman. The coalition continues to press for congressional hearings. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office has responded that are aware of coalition concerns of cutting food inspection funding in the 2012 budget and that an increase is needed.