Three Mile Island, the worst accident in the history of the atomic energy program in the United States, has proven to be a blessing for pro-nuclear propagandists.
Using the phrase “no one died at TMI,” the nuclear power industry has embarked on a nationwide campaign to resell nuclear power to the American public. Slick television commercials and full page ads in magazines and newspapers solicit public and press support for nuclear power.
America’s Electric Energy Companies directed its campaign right at the media with an advertisement in Columbia Journalism Review (March/April 1981) headlined “Three Mile Island has made nuclear power even safer.”
The campaign appears to be working. More than a half dozen nuclear-oriented stories were nominated for “best censored” of 1980. Following are the highlights of some of these stories.
The continuing media cover-up of critical commercial/military nuclear issues qualifies this story for nomination as one of the “best censored” stories of 1980.
“NO ONE DIED AT TMI” — A recent report by the Pennsylvania Health Department was widely publicized under headlines like “No Infant Deaths Caused by TMI.” But a devastating study by Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass which refutes that optimistic finding was unpublicized in the U.S. Dire Sternglass, a protégé of Albert Einstein, holder of several patents in X-ray technology, and a tenured professor of radiation physics at the University of Pittsburgh, has been unsuccessfully trying to warn the American public about the dangers of low-level radiation. Using the government’s own data, and in direct refutation of the “no harm to anyone” claims, Dr. Sternglass laid the blame for a minimum of 430 infant deaths in the United States on Three Mile Island. Dr. Sternglass said his story “received no coverage in the major newspapers or TV network in the U.S., although copies were sent to all major media in June 1980.” However, Harrowsmith, a Canadian magazine, devoted 18 well-documented pages to alert its readers to the true TMI story. Harrowsmith editor, James Lawrence, was surprised to find nothing in his clip files from American media about the story. “Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times had said nothing about such health ramifications among the Harrisburg population,” Lawrence reported.
SOURCES: Harrowsmith, June 1980, ‘”The Silent Toll,” by Thomas Pawlick; San Francisco Chronicle, March 21, 1981, “No Infant Deaths Caused by TMI,” United Press.
URANIUM MINING IN “REMOTE NEW JERSEY” — The health and environmental risks associated with uranium mining are so well established that even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) — not known for its alarmist position on radiation exposure — has recommended that facilities for mining and milling uranium be confined to “remote areas.” There are no remote areas in New Jersey, the state with the highest population density and the highest cancer rate in the U.S., which already has several pollution and water-supply problems. There is, however, a rich vein of high-grade uranium in a formation called the Reading Prong that runs through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. Exxon and Standard Oil of New Jersey have begun exploratory drilling for uranium in an area of northern New Jersey from which four cities and six towns — with a combined population of close to one million — now derive their water supplies.
SOURCE: In These Times, Nov. 19-25, 1980, “Uranium rush threatens New Jersey,” by Ann Spanel.
THE HIDDEN U.S. NUCLEAR WAR — Some 235 nuclear bombs have been detonated in the hidden 17-year nuclear war the U.S. has fought against itself. Although few Americans realize it, an atomic weapon is detonated underground nearly every three and one-half weeks at the U.S. nuclear test site in Nevada. Now evidence supplied by a former high-ranking Air Force official and other sources indicates that radiation from these tests may be seeping into the atmosphere as well as poisoning the scarce water supply of the arid region. Colonel Raymond F. Brim, the Air Force official in charge of monitoring fall out from the tests from 1966 to 1975, said that clouds of radiation in the atmosphere have been traced as far as Canada. The failure of the media to cover ongoing. nuclear testing was highlighted in December, 1980 when some Americans learned of Operation Wigwam, a deepwater nuclear test conducted in the ocean southwest of San Diego. That test, which involved 6,500 Americans and a nuclear force of more than twice that of the Hiroshima bomb, was held on May 15, 1955, but it wasn’t until late 1980 when the Center for Investigative Reporting in Oakland, California, revealed the story to New West readers.
SOURCES: Pacific News Service, July 2, 1980, “Underground Tests Every Three Weeks,” by Norman Solomon; New West, Dec. 1, 1980, “Operation Wigwam,” by Dan Noyes, Maureen O’Neill, and David Weir of the Center for Investigative Reporting.
A DANGER-LADEN PIT ON THREE MILE ISLAND — Cooling water contaminated with cesium-137 is being continually pumped out of the damaged nuclear plant at Three Mile Island and stored in a pit on the ground on the island. “An island in the middle of a large river hardly seems an ideal storage depot for tens of thousands of curies of biologically active material for a decade or more,” stated Peter Montague, Director, National Campaign for Radioactive Waste Safety. Nureg-0591, a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report, refers to the cesium waste as “low-level” waste suitable for disposal in shallow trenches at an existing “low-level” burying ground. However, upon inspection of this document, Montague discovered that the cesium content of these wastes is “hundreds of times higher than the NRC’s own proposed upper limit for cesium content of wastes defined as “low-level.” Montague, who saw no coverage on this alarming aspect of TMI, tried to alert some people through a letter to the New York Times.
SOURCE: New York Times, June 21, 1980, “A Danger-Laden Pit on Three Mile Island,” Letter to the Editor by Peter Montague, Director, National Campaign for Radioactive Waste Safety, Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
THE PERILS OF INTERNATIONAL NUCLEAR SHIPPING — An incredible nuclear odyssey, spanning 30,000 miles by land an open sea, circled the globe in 1980 … exposing millions of people to potential nuclear threat who were ignorant of the danger. The uncovered nuclear saga began in Canada where uranium ore was mined, ground, processed, and converted to uranium hexaflouride. It was then shipped to Russia where it was enriched in an old Soviet nuclear weapons plant. The materials subsequently left Riga, Russia, in eleven steel cylinders weighing three tons each aboard a French steamer. At Le Havre, France, the cylinders were transferred to a German steamer and shipped to the Port of Seattle, Washington. Seattle officials, unprepared for the international shipment, inadvertently allowed the materials to sit on the waterfront for three weeks. Neither the Seattle fire marshal nor the Seattle residents were aware of the hazardous cargo which sat just four blocks from the main downtown district. When the Russian and German shipping documents were finally translated, the cylinders were released to Exxon’s Richland, Washington, plant for conversion into uranium dioxide fuel pellets. The pellets were subsequently shipped back to Europe, where at another Exxon facility in Lingen, Germany, they would be assembled into fuel rods. These rods would finally be sent to the West German town of Biblis for insertion into the core of one of the largest nuclear reactors in the world. The extraordinary story of this international traffic of hazardous nuclear materials, between Western and communist countries without regard for political fences, but with risks every step of the way, was not reported by the major U.S. news media.
SOURCE: New West, January 1981, “A Nuclear Odyssey,” by Bruce MacGregor.
HISTORY’S GREATEST PUBLIC HEALTH THREAT — The Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), a national organization of 3,000 physicians, charges that the consequences of nuclear war is an issue largely ignored by the media. PSR states that nuclear war is the most serious potential public health hazard in history. Dr. Helen Caldicott, president of PSR, believes that within 30 days after a nuclear exchange, which would take 20 minutes, some 90% of all Americans and Russians would be dead. Dr. Howard Hiatt, Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health and a PSR member, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “Talking about civil defense, I think raises hopes inappropriately. It is counterproductive. The only answer is prevention, and so we should not distract ourselves with Civil Defense …”. Dr. Hiatt pointed out that a nuclear war could cause as many as 25 million burn cases, and that two hundred burn cases would saturate all existing facilities in the U.S. This would happen at a time when three-quarters of the doctors would be dead or severely wounded and half the hospital facilities would be destroyed. While PSR symposiums on the dangers of nuclear war have been happening across the U.S., they have received little mass media coverage. Cyrus Vance, shortly after he resigned, spoke at one in New York at which some of the top doctors in the country also spoke. This symposium occurred just before the election and after the New York Times had published seven full-page articles on the arms race — stressing how far America was behind Russia. However, the New York Times failed to mention the PSR symposium.
Journal of the American Medical Association, November 1980, by Dr. Howard Hiatt; Washington Post, Nov. 21, 1980, “In Event of Nuclear War, Health Prognosis is Hopeless, Doctors Say,” by Philip, J. Hilts; The Sierra Club Yodeler, January 1980, “An Interview With Dr. Helen Caldicott.”
2,300 NUCLEAR PLANT “INCIDENTS” IN 1979 — On July 14, 1980, Critical Mass, an antinuclear group affiliated with Ralph Nader, announced that more than 2,300 incidents, including operational errors and mechanical failures, were reported at the nation’s nuclear power plants in 1979. According to Critical Mass director, Richard Pollock, “This data speaks volumes about mismanagement, poor operator training, lax inspection and frequent mechanical breakdowns.” “… taken as a whole these reported events point to a technology pocked with serious operational defects,” he concluded. While the Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirmed the number of incidents reported, Carl Michaelson, head of the commission office that analyzes such reports, said “I would attach no significance whatsoever to” the number of reports. The ominous report generated a mere 18 column inches on Page A16 of the New York Times. While the nuclear industry gears itself for expansion in the 80’s, including these problem-plagued reactors, the American public is being fed the soothing “no one died at TMI” message planted by the nuclear industry’s skilled propagandists and distributed by the media.
SOURCE: New York Times, July 14, 1980, “2,300 Incidents Reported At Nuclear Plants in 1979,” Associated Press.