tv Earth Focus LINKTV July 29, 2013 7:30am-8:01am PDT
>> surgeons opened up the capsule that contains the cataract. >> we can create some space between the cataract and the capsule itself and fish it out of the eye. it is. that is the cataract. >> the cataract pops out. it is almost 1 centimeter long. it is this thick, dark build up that was blocking the site. the permit a plastic lens is not implanted in her eye to restore her vision. a few stitches and it is over. >> we are almost done. >> the surgery takes less than an hour. the team conducts over 300 cataract surgeries during this mission. next morning, the doctor checks her progress. to test youroing
vision now. >> i can see things over there. >> good. [speaking spanish] >> and something like. >> very good. this is a patch i want you to use to protect your eyes. >> procedures like this could improve the site of millions. >> fantastic. no doubt, those kinds of life- changing medical missions will be needed for many years to come for countries like guatemala. in the next program, the story of another very unusual type of hospital built entirely out of shipping containers. it is plugging some of the gaps in care caused by the devastating the earthquake in haiti in january 2010. that is all for this program. see you next time. goodbye.
>> today on "earth focus," nuclear power: the downside. miles benson reports on where nuclear insurance falls short, and dr. helen caldicott on the health effects of nuclear radiation. coming up, on "earth focus." >> an earthquake and tsunami struck japan's fukushima nuclear power plant. three reactors suffered a meltdown. >> the japanese government has raised the crisis level at the fukushima daiichi nuclear power plant from 5 to 7. >> the confirmed death toll continues to climb. >> hundreds of thousands fled
the radiation. many are still unable to return home. property damages and cleanup costs may run over $250 billion. >> the operator of the disabled fukushima daiichi nuclear power plant has agreed to make provisional damage payments to residents living around the plant. >> what if it happened in the united states? who would pay? a catastrophe like fukushima could erase all existing insurance protection under federal law. it makes the u.s. liability compensation system look grossly inadequate. there are 104 nuclear power plants in the u.s. spread across 31 states. they produce 20% of our electrical power. they all carry some insurance against a nuclear accident, but the combined total coverage is only $12.6 billion. beyond that, americans would be uninsured...
or as the insurance industry puts it, naked. >> if you have to evacuate a very large city, or tens or hundreds of thousands of people are displaced and that there are very large areas of land that are rendered uninhabitable for tens to hundreds of years, the-- it gets to the point where it-- you know, the estimation of the damages and the costs to the government become inestimable, incalculable. >> nuclear accidents are costly. some experts say an extreme event here could cost as much as $500 billion or more. >> my colleagues and i did a number of estimates based on the spent fuel catching fire
at reactors, and some of these estimates went into the hundreds of billions of dollars. >> so why is the liability cap for insurance only $12.6 billion if the actual cost of a disaster could be far greater? >> now, clearly after fukushima, $12 billion doesn't look like nearly enough. >> raising the cap would be costly. the nuclear industry says $12.6 billion is enough because nuclear power is safe and the probably of a major accident low. >> i think that the amount of coverage is adequate. we have seen that the three mile island accident, the amount was far below the amount of coverage provided. we have no other experience in the united states of an accident that would reach the level of $12.6 billion, and none is expected, given the strong safety standards enforced
by the u.s. nuclear regulatory commission. >> we have a very strong regulatory process, a set of regulations. we do inspections. we have a strong enforcement process to handle when regulations aren't being followed, and those things all combine--you know, help to give us continued assurance that nuclear power is safe. >> after fukushima, steps were taken to review safety at u.s. nuclear plants. >> right now we are a little bit more than 2/3rds of the way through a 90-day review that we're doing to see if there are any immediate short-term issues that need to be addressed to deal with the events at fukushima. >> fukushima reinvigorated this discussion of how n.r.c. considers land contamination, economic consequences within its regulatory framework and also if the n.r.c. would like to do anything differently in the future. >> we're always looking for ways to improve the regulatory process and how we regulate the civilian uses of nuclear
materials. >> but some experts are concerned about safety and regulations. today, u.s. nuclear power plants are aging. built to last 40 years, more than half are at least 30 years old. >> if we're going to have nuclear power, then we believe it has to be as safe and secure as possible. and we've been long concerned that neither in the united states or other countries is the regulatory infrastructure adequate to make sure nuclear plants are safe. >> i think that there is reasonable assurance that we're never going to have a catastrophic accident of the magnitude of what happened in japan. >> but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen. >> you know, it can be the black swan event: low probability of occurrence but high impact. >> today, 6 million americans live within 10 miles of a nuclear plant and 120 million live within 50 miles. but nobody can buy private insurance against damage to their property
because of a radiation leak or other consequences of a nuclear accident. [majestic music playing] the nuclear industry was born in the 1950s when the u.s. government was determined to promote the civilian use of nuclear energy. president dwight d. eisenhower had a dream: he called it "atoms for peace." >> so my country's purpose is to help us move out of the dark chamber of horrors into the light, to find a way by which the minds of men, the hopes of men, the souls of men everywhere can move forward toward peace and happiness and well-being. it is not enough to take this weapon out of the hands of the soldiers. it must be put into the hands of those who will know how to strip its military casing and adapt it to the arts of peace.
>> nuclear power was to benefit mankind, but the free-market insurance industry was unwilling to cover nuclear accident risk because it was immeasurable, and potential economic damages were incalculable. so to encourage and protect investment in nuclear power, congress passed the price anderson act in 1957, which created an insurance pool and capped the amount of liability a commercial nuclear power plant would face should a disaster occur. >> well, the thinking that went into the creation of the price anderson act back in the fifties was that in the event of a catastrophic accident, no single utility would be able, from a financial standpoint, to withstand that kind of a loss. but it was always designed primarily with the view that the accident would probably be the destruction of the physical facility itself, and it wasn't ever thought about, you know,
a catastrophic accident that went far beyond the plant's geographic borders and into the surrounding community. >> when price anderson was first adopted, there was $60 million of insurance and $500 million of united states government indemnity. the act was later amended to provide that all of the money would come from private sources. at the present time, the first tier is composed of insurance of $375 million. if that were not adequate, then each operator of the 104 nuclear power plants would be assessed about $111 million. this totals about 12.6 billion. >> anything beyond that would-- is not covered by insurance, and it would be up to congress to decide whether they wanted to appropriate the--the funds. >> if we start talking about $400 or $500 billion, there is
no way that any politician is going to vote for the public to take on that kind of liability. >> you cannot tell congress that in the future at some time, they're gonna have to pass a law to provide many, many more billions of dollars in case of a nuclear accident. that's a fairy tale. >> i think we have a $16 trillion deficit right now. it would obviously probably have to be into some kind of deficit financing with major implications for the economy and for maybe even the value of the dollar in the worst case of scenario in the world economy. >> the way it works is that many of these reactors are now owned by multi-tiered holding companies that have layers and layers of what they call limited liability corporations beneath them, and each l.l.c. basically represents a reactor and has no other assets. the whole concept
of a limited liability corporation by virtue of its definition is to shield the parent corporation from liability. what happens under these corporate structures is that if such an accident of such great magnitude were to occur, these limited liability corporations could probably declare bankruptcy and shield the parent corporation that leaves the taxpayer holding the bag to pay for the liability. >> only congress with the president's approval can raise the mandated level of insurance coverage against nuclear accidents. there's been no sign they intend to do so, and the nuclear industry is quite happy with that. >> it's sort of short-term greed, that what drives the industry more than anything is making as much money as quickly as possible and as long as possible without incurring any large expenses that would cut
into their profits. it's that simple. >> two years after fukushima, costs continue to pile up. it will probably be decades before the full scope of the expenses is known. japanese government officials admit that the overall consequences are too broad to fix an accurate price on the disaster. cleanup and property damage claims by homeowners, businesses, including 80,000 farms, are already running 5 to 10 times higher than initial expectations. tepco, the tokyo corporation that operated the nuclear plant, is now virtually bankrupt. japan's leaders are struggling to continue payouts to tens of thousands of their citizens who may never be able to return to homes contaminated by radiation. adding to the financial burden now are collapsing property values in contaminated areas and
related increases nationally in the costs of alternative coal, gas, and oil. and then there is another human dimension: the slow future unfolding of cancer cases in those exposed to contaminants, particularly children. in february, 2013, a world health organization report said that radiation from fukushima posed minimal health risk to the general population of japan. but the w.h.o. acknowledged that emergency workers at the plant who inhaled high doses of radioactive iodine face an increased risk of developing thyroid cancer, and that children exposed as infants in areas closest to the power plant have a slightly elevated risk of contracting leukemia, breast, or thyroid cancer in their lifetimes. critics say that the health impacts of fukushima are far from insignificant and will increasingly be evident over
time. one of the harshest of these critics is longtime antinuclear activist dr. helen caldicott, a pediatrician and author. she offered a far more dire view of fukushima's health impact soon after the disaster. dr. caldicott, fukushima--is it possible to forecast the health consequences to the japanese people, and on what scale are they likely to materialize? >> well, it's a guess, really, but i have been following it extremely closely every day since the thing started. and i must say that two days after it began, i got this horrifying, horrifying vision and feeling that this was like descending into hell, and that there's nothing anyone could do about it or will be able to do about it, and the results are irreversible. i thought hundreds of thousands would die as a
result of fukushima with cancer or leukemia, and--but it will also affect future generations down the timescale, both from the fact that the food and the ground in large areas of japan is heavily contaminated with isotopes that last for hundreds of years. so they re-concentrate back in the food chain continuously, so you never get rid of the things. the other thing is that once you've got some cesium-137 in your brain or your muscle or your ovary or your testicle or any of the other several hundred elements, they stay in a little place in your body irradiating a few cells with a high dose. so you don't get a low dose; those cells get a high dose. so from two perspectives, the accident kind of never ends. it doesn't end in your body--maybe one day you might excrete these elements, but you might not-- and that the food chain remains contaminated for hundreds or thousands of years. and we'll
start seeing lung cancer and leukemia i think 2 to 5 years from now, and then solid cancers will start appearing 15 to 16, 17 years later. so the ace up the sleeve is--of the nuclear industry is the incubation time for cancer. it takes a long time for cancers to develop once you have inhaled or been exposed to these radioactive elements, and no cancer identifies its origin. and so there is already a level of cancer in society, but it's going to increase dramatically. >> what do people need to know about nuclear power in the united states that they are not being told? >> everything. it just makes me feel nauseated to think that the industry is spending hundreds of millions of dollars saying that nuclear power is clean, green, sustainable, and cheap, and all of those are lies. and i-- you know, i get very sick of scientists or people who lie about science. if i lied about
medicine, i would be deregistered. i would be damaging my patients. it is totally inappropriate and immoral to lie about science. nuclear power, a, produces large quantities of global warming gas because it relies on a massive industrial infrastructure. there's mining, enriching, two huge coal-fired plants to enrich your uranium, building huge reactors, knocking them down in 30, 40 years, storing radioactive wastes for half a million years. i mean, none of that is taken into account, so nuclear power adds substantially to global warming. that's lie number one. two, it's not cheap because it's all paid for by tax dollars...except when the reactor's built, and even then the utilities don't pay any insurance. if there's an accident, you taxpayers pick it up. the utilities make money by selling electricity. that's all. they don't have to build the reactors; it's all subsidized and paid for. i mean, no other industry has that sort of subsidization, and do you know
why? because it's the prodigal son of the weapons industry. and when nuclear power was begun by eisenhower in the fifties, "atoms for peace," the weapons industry said, "we require nuclear power as a sort of trojan horse, camouflaged to hide behind," and then everyone said it was safe. the japanese didn't want nuclear power after nagasaki and hiroshima, but they were talked into it. so it's a really wicked, wicked industry. and any country that has a reactor, be it syria, saudi arabia--you name it, they have a bomb factory. because each reactor makes 500 pounds of plutonium a year, plutonium lasts for half a million years, and all you need is 5 pounds to make yourself a nuclear weapon. so by selling nuclear power abroad, which america is heavily into, it is causing proliferation of nuclear weapons--which it says it's not,
but it is--and that could trigger a global holocaust between russia and america who still target each other with thousands of nuclear weapons. >> does the average doctor understand the full risks involved with radiation and nuclear power plants? >> no. we're not taught about the medical implications of nuclear power in medical schools. we did get some curricula going--physicians for social responsibility in the eighties in medical schools-- about nuclear war, but also nuclear power. it's a very, very interesting subject but one about which most doctors are fairly ignorant. i would suggest, though, that all doctors obtain a copy from the new york academy of sciences on chernobyl that was published last year, and there they translated 5,000 articles from slavic, from russian, into english that were published in the russian medical and scientific literature. over a
million people now have already died as a result of chernobyl-- it's only 25 years old. over a million, and that has been covered up by the blasted u.n., by the international atomic energy agency--how dare they-- and the world health organization. this is the biggest cover-up in the history of medicine. i have never read anything like this in my life, and i've been a doctor since i was 23. >> the nuclear regulatory commission has asked the national academy of sciences to do some research on incidents of cancer in the vicinity of nuclear plants all over the united states. is that going to be a helpful study, do you think? >> yes and no. the national academy of sciences has conducted for 7 consecutive occasions a thing called the biological effects of ionizing radiation, and they put out a report recently, number vii, and it was a good report and it said no radiation is safe, radiation
is cumulative, and, yes, i trust them. there's a huge push by the industry to prevent really decent research being done, but in a way, it's unnecessary because the german government-- and the germans are very precise with their data-- examined, i think, 16 old reactors and looked at children under the age of 5 who lived within 5k of the reactors, and they had more than double the incidents of leukemia--children are 10 to 20 times more radiosensitive than adults--more than double the incidents of leukemia and a high incidence of solid cancers. and the closer they lived to the reactor, the higher the incidence of malignancy. now, that study is absolutely classical--you can't find any holes in it at all--and in a way, it doesn't need to be repeated. the data's there. >> it's not just cancer, it's deformed children as well, isn't it? >> if a fetus, a normal,
genetically chromosomally normal fetus is exposed to a tiny bit of plutonium that lodges in its brain, developing brain, it can kill the cell that's gonna form the right half of the brain or the left arm. that's called teratogenesis, damage of a normal fetus, and that's what that drug thalidomide did when women took it for morning sickness and their babies were born with no arms or no legs. it does that. it also--plutonium in particular, which is highly mutagenic--lodges in the testicles. so it has a predilection for testicles, and it lodges next to the spermatogonia, the cells that form the sperm, the precursors, and it's an alpha emitter, highly mutagenic. so it can mutate genes in the sperm to induce genetic mutations and genetic disease down the generations. now, there are two sorts of mutations, dominant-- so if you have a baby with a dominant mutation like brown eyes, the baby will have brown
eyes, or dwarfism-- achondroplastic dwarfism is dominant--but most mutations are recessive like blue eyes. you have to have two genes to have blue eyes. because if you have a brown-eye gene and a blue-eye gene, you're going to get brown eyes. or cystic fibrosis is recessive, or diabetes or many, and it takes up to 20 generations for recessive mutations to express themselves. so we're talking about eons of time for expression of genetic disease--that's the second thing. the third thing is if the man's got plutonium in his testicles--and every male in the northern hemisphere has a tiny load in his gonad--it's from weapons testing days, and plutonium is still falling out. and the man is cremated, the smoke goes up the chimney with the plutonium, so you can breathe it in, another man can, and it's ad infinitum because plutonium has a half-life of 24,400 years and lasts for a long time. but the other thing is that the body thinks
plutonium is iron--it's an iron analogue--so it's stored in the liver, where it causes liver cancer. it's stored in the bone marrow to cause--to produce hemoglobin in the red blood cells, but it causes leukemia or bone cancer. it crosses the placenta into the developing embryo--which lets nothing through it, incidentally, except plutonium and a few other nasties. it's stored in the testicle, too. so it's a ubiquitous, really dangerous isotope, and from the time they discovered it in the manhattan project, they knew its dangers. >> does plutonium come only from nuclear weapons testing, or is there a risk of it escaping from nuclear power plants as well? >> it's not emitted by power plants routinely. routinely, power plants emit radioactive elements all the time. tritium-- they cannot prevent tritium escaping--highly carcinogenic. it's--hydrogen--radioactive
hydrogen, h3, highly carcinogenic. that's probably what's causing the cancer in the kids living around the reactors in germany. carbon-14, highly carcinogenic. xenon, krypton, argon are all emitted, and they say, "oh, it's just routine," like i could say, "oh, you've just got a routine cancer, don't worry about it." that sort of thing. plutonium doesn't escape until there is an accident like a meltdown or an explosion like fukushima or chernobyl. three mile island had a meltdown. i remember when i first read a book about nuclear power and it was called "poisoned power" by dr. gofman and tamplin, my hair nearly fell out on the desk. i'd never read anything so dangerous...and i still got along with it. i can't tell you how indignant as a physician i feel about that, having helped so many children die of cystic fibrosis, the commonest fatal genetic disease of childhood, which will be increased by
plutonium, having helped children die of leukemia. what are we talking about? how precious is life? we going to kill people? >> so going forward, dr. caldicott, what would you like to see done? >> i want an informed democracy. that's what jefferson said, "an informed democracy will behave in a responsible fashion," and it's like i have to inform a patient. say i have to tell you you've got pancreatic cancer. i have to tell you what it means, where your pancreas is, how it operates, where the cancer could metastasize, what sort of treatment you might need, the side effects of that, what your prognosis is. you must be educated--that's the practice of medicine. now, the earth is in the intensive care unit, acutely clinically ill, and we all must understand what is happening, what the pathology is, the pathogenesis, because we all are, in fact, physicians to a dying planet.