NUCLEAR POWER & US
New York City
I would like to provide an update on some remarkable events that followed Joseph Mangano's epidemiological discovery that closing the Rancho Seco reactor in 1989 was followed by an enormous improvement in infant mortality and childhood cancer [Harvey Wasserman, "No Nukes=Better Health," Jan. 29]. Mangano has now found that mortality rates for all age groups in these areas have, since 1989, improved for all diseases mediated by the immune response, so that San Francisco, for example (only seventy miles from Rancho Seco), had in 1998 the lowest age-adjusted mortality rate of any large US county, with extraordinary declines since 1990 in all cancers, including breast and prostate, and in all infectious diseases. Even AIDS death rates in San Francisco by 1998 had declined to the level of 1979.
As a result of local grassroots dissemination of these facts and a generous grant from the CEO of a large San Francisco company, Mangano may soon be able to offer clinical as well as epidemiological proof of the benefits of closing reactors. As national coordinator of our Tooth Fairy Project, which has been finding ominously high levels of bone-seeking radioactive strontium (Sr90) in the baby teeth of about 2,000 children born in recent years that could not be the result of past superpower above-ground nuclear bomb tests, he may soon be able to ascertain the change, if any, in the ratios of Sr90 to calcium in the baby teeth of children born before and after nuclear reactor closings.
Nation readers can give us invaluable support by collecting baby teeth from anyone born in recent years or even from baby boomers born as far back as the bomb test years of the 1950s, for we have found that they have the same incredibly high levels, after correction for the twenty-nine-year half-life of Sr90, that prompted President Kennedy to terminate such above-ground tests in 1963. Please visit our website, www.radiation.org, and/or call (800) 582-3716 for envelopes for baby teeth.
JAY M. GOULD
Radiation and Public Health Project Inc.
Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Harvey Wasserman has again shown how adept he is at picking out a tidbit of bad science to support his views while ignoring the vast storehouse of real science. He claims nuclear power is causing cancers and other health effects, based on a largely debunked study sponsored by an antinuclear group. Not mentioned is the National Cancer Institute study that examined 90,000 cancer deaths near nuclear power plants spanning thirty-four years and found no connection between the operation of reactors and cancer. This is only one of several highly reputable studies that have come to the same conclusion.
Ironically, The Nation recently published Ross Gelbspan's editorial [Jan. 22] on the seriousness of global warming. Any plan to deal effectively with this potentially devastating problem must contain significant levels of nuclear energy, which produces no greenhouse gases. Even the Clinton Administration's strategy to meet the Kyoto goals required substantial electricity production from nuclear plants.
The fair-minded observer must agree that US nuclear plants have been safe sources of electricity. And as we try to find our way out of increasingly frequent power crises, it will probably be an important component for the foreseeable future.
DR. THEODORE M. BESMANN
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
It's great fun when pro-nukers confirm the realities of global warming, even while denying the devastating health and environmental impacts of their brand of radiation poison. No government- or industry-funded study will admit to the connection between nuclear power and cancer. But hidden in virtually all of them is damning hard evidence to the contrary. The cure for global warming lies in wind, solar and efficiency, not in an economically catastrophic technology that kills people and the planet.
And kudos as always to Jay Gould and the vital work done by him and his colleagues in searching out the health impacts of this failed technology. See-no-evil doesn't cut it when the radiation is being dumped into our bodies--and those of our children.
Regarding Ross Gelbspan's "Cool It, World" [Jan. 22], even the Hague proposals rejected by the United States are insufficient. As Mark Hertsgaard writes in his book Earth Odyssey, the pollution in China and India is so extreme that even if the United States and Europe immediately eliminated all greenhouse-gas emissions, the impact would be negligible if nothing changed in China and India. This fact underscores, as Gelbspan correctly notes, the imperative for large-scale technology transfers.
But Gelbspan errs in thinking the recent collapse in climate talks might "set the stage for a truly transformative initiative" in US policy. EPA chief Christie Whitman, an environmental ignoramus, is joined by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, a protégée of the odious James Watt, whose Mountain States Legal Foundation is currently suing Clinton over his creation of national monuments. Norton is dedicated to the unfettered use of private property, while Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham supports the "pollution credits" derided even by Great Britain.
Gelbspan's tenuous optimism about Paul O'Neill at Treasury is curious, given O'Neill's career with two notorious corporate ecocides: International Paper (ten years) and more recently, Alcoa (eleven years). More than forty-seven Alcoa facilities have been cited for environmental violations since 1987, including an aluminum smelter in Massena, New York, which in 1991 was fined the then-largest criminal penalty ever ($3.75 million) for hazardous-waste violations. Last March Alcoa agreed to an $8.8 million settlement with the EPA over dumping inadequately treated waste into the Ohio River between 1994 and 1999. Alcoa's Rockdale smelter is among the most polluted plants in Texas, emitting 104,000 tons of pollutants a year. It is among hundreds of Texas plants still receiving a grandfather exemption from when air pollution laws went into effect in 1971 (thirty years ago!). According to the Los Angeles Times, a legislative effort to change that exemption was defeated "at the behest of the governor, George W. Bush."
Alcoa hired Texas law firm Vinson & Elkins to represent Alcoa on environmental issues. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the firm "contributed more than $200,000 to George W. Bush's presidential campaign, making it the president-elect's third largest donor. In return, Vinson & Elkins got a loophole in Texas environmental regulations that will allow Alcoa to continue pouring 60,000 tons of sulfur dioxide annually into the air, solidifying Alcoa's position as one of Texas' top polluters."
National governments and international lending organizations have subsidized Alcoa's foreign business and boosted its profits while failing to enforce environmental responsibility or require adequate compensation (if such is possible) to populations uprooted or abused by the company. For example, many of the 20,000 people evicted from the island of Sao Luis on Brazil's Tocantins River for an Alcoa refinery and smelter were never compensated (O'Neill earned $36 million in compensation last year), as reported by Terje Langeland in the Colorado Daily. The Machadinho Dam, currently under construction by Brazil and Alcoa (and expecting World Bank loans), will displace 9,000 people. As Treasury Secretary, O'Neill will significantly determine directors and policy at the World Bank and IMF.
Little or nothing in the careers of any of these people hints at recognition of the need for vigorous government leadership in addressing the threat of global warming. Fortunately, there is substantial historical precedent for far-reaching initiatives. The federal and state governments--through expenditures, tax incentives, laws, research or fiat--facilitated railroads and airports, space exploration, computers and the Internet and the telecommunications revolution. Since the United States already leads the world in alternative-energy and related technologies, many American companies could profit enormously from a conversion. But conversion will most readily and with least disruption occur only if leaders embrace with vision and courage something like an Energy Marshall Plan. There are many potentially viable technical and financial options, but Bush's Cabinet choices belie hope of his Administration pursuing any of them.
KELLEN A. CAREY
FULL OF IT?
Thanks for Christopher Hitchens's humorous column about George W. Bush's frequent use of "heart" language to promote his agenda of "compassionate" conservatism ["Minority Report," Feb. 5]. Hitchens applauds the Washington Post's view that the "heart" will be the throbbing organ most favored by the new Administration (in contrast to the one so clearly favored by Clinton). Hitchens also acknowledges that Bush has used this term quite effectively to position himself within the discourse of conservative Christians, whose rhetoric is full of similar appeals to the "heart." Still, Hitchens missed the funniest irony of all: When Bush and his conservative religious allies speak of the "heart," they assign it a meaning inconsistent with biblical usage.
When the New Testament was being written, people had very different ideas about the functions and symbolism of the body's organs. The heart (kardia) was understood to be the center of physical and mental life. The heart, not the head, was the seat of intellect; therefore, a person who claims to be a biblical literalist cannot rightly link the heart with George W. Bush! (It's hard even to write the words "intellect" and "Bush" in the same sentence.)
Fortunately, there is a bodily organ that can be appropriately and accurately linked to Bush in a biblical context. In New Testament times, feelings/emotions were understood to reside in the bowels (splagchna). Compassion, specifically, is said to originate there (see I John 3:17). Well, this makes a lot of sense! When I think of that which emanates from the bowels (given my modern frame of reference), I can easily associate it with Bush and with all he is dumping on the public--especially when he claims to be compassionate. Furthermore, I know how my gut responds to Bush's rhetoric: When I hear it, I feel I need to run--but whether it's for the loo, for office or for cover, I'm not sure.
It feels odd to use New Testament Greek as a tool of ridicule, but I must agree with Hitchens on a final point. As he noted, when we indulge ourselves in the ridiculous, we often awaken to a valid point.
SOA BY ANY OTHER NAME...
Congressman Joe Moakley says that the new name for the infamous School of the Americas, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is "far more difficult to chant outside the gates" ["In Fact...," Feb. 12]. The name might be--but what a perfect acronym! Whisk Away WHISC! Whisk Away WHISC!
NOT BLESSED IN SALT LAKE CITY
Salt Lake City
The pamphlet Allen Lutins referred to on your January 22 Letters page never received "the blessing" of the Salt Lake City School district. It was published by a parent, acting on his own.
DAPHNE R. WILLIAMS, director
Salt Lake Education Foundation