Reality Check: Debunking The Wall Street Journal’s “Radiation Reality Check”

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—– Crestone, Colorado – April 12, 2014 – 8500 ft.

'Willow Park' from around 10,000 ft, up the hill from Crestone, Colorado.  In the background: Challenger Point, 14,087 ft (4,294 m), which was named in memory of the 7 astronauts who died when the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated shortly after liftoff in January 1986, prophetically symbolic for the modern technological juggernaut... ... ... Photo by © Michaël Van Broekhoven, 2014 - All Rights Reserved.

On a hike the other day:  ‘Willow Park’ from around 10,000 ft, up the hill from Crestone, Colorado. In the background: Challenger Point, 14,087 ft (4,294 m), which was named in memory of the 7 astronauts who died when the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated shortly after liftoff in January 1986, prophetically symbolic for the modern technological juggernaut… … …
Photo by © Michaël Van Broekhoven, 2014 – All Rights Reserved.

500th Blog Post…  Shotlink:

I just stumbled upon this Pro-Nuclear Propaganda piece, “A Radiation Reality Check –  From bananas to bricks, radioactivity is everywhere—but it’s nothing to be afraid of,” By CRAIG NELSON  (The Wall Street Journal,  April 11, 2014).  It’s so ‘almost funny’ I feel like sharing some thoughts about it.   (You may need to use a search engine (seach for the title, one of the quotes below, or so), Google cache, to get around the log-in.)

Published 10 days too late...

A money-obsessed business paper showing its true oblivion colors?  /   Published 10 days too late…

[!-> PS:  Not sure if there’s a connection, but after I sent a link to this blog post to the WSJ author (which was not replied to), they took the online version of the article down. ]

Starting right off the bat in its headline…  When nuclear apologists serve their usual banana comparison bullshit, I get curious how many more distortions, omissions and outright lies they bring to their manipulation game.  (Mixed with some great valid points, of course, no public relations campaign can function well without some truths included.)   This article made me smile. It’s yet another piece of nicely packaged classic propaganda, reminiscent of the deception marathon disinfomercial, ‘Pandora’s Promise‘.   The essay seems to have missed its publication date by 10 days.   

The interesting thing about pro-nuclear articles is how they try to sway people their way, clearly not caring about accuracy or important nuances.  It’s kind of fascinating to watch.  Are these nuclear propagandists outright evil, or are they just ignorant stupid hacks?  (I have no idea.  Just baffled by what makes it into newspapers sometimes…)   

Here, they started out by throwing very different things together just because they have something in common: Potassium, Thorium, Radium, and Americium, for example, all emit radiation, but they are all very different. We eat some of them, use them, or even benefit from their household use.  The point made is just that: radioactivity is all around us.  Thát is a valid point. And it’s relatively safe? Hm, well, usually, and true for the cited specific examples, but that paints a very incomplete picture.

I’ve gone over this before, (WSJ peeps don’t read my blog? :) ) : the harm that radiation from potassium-rich foods (such as bananas, spinach, beans, kelp, etc.) would theoretically do, due to its inherent naturally radioactive potassium-40 content, is dwarfed by potassium’s role in metabolic health and cell-repair; so much so that the net effect of a potassium-rich diet is cancer-preventative, not cancer-causing.  (The dose concept is supposed to be helpful to assess cancer risks.  Not accounting for biochemical function, it is useless in regards to potassium in the real world.)  See my January 22, 2014 blogpost, ‘Why 150 Bq Cs-137 is health-hazardous, while 150 Bq* K-40 is RECOMMENDED for health.’  

Bricks, granite counter tops, and high elevation fall under ‘external radiation sources’:  the radiation-emitting particle is not inhaled or ingested.  Part of what makes ‘the dose concept’ so nifty for the purpose of manipulation is that dosimetry is an incredibly complex field of study, one that continues (very slowly) to adjust its fabricated models as epidemiological evidence continues not to match its attempted predictions.  Putting aside its more complex issues, consider there’s a difference between internal and external radiation:  holding a carton of highly Iodine-131-contaminated radioactive milk is very different from drinking it.  And then there’s actually more than one type of ‘dose’: there’s ‘absorbed dose’, ‘equivalent dose’, and ‘effective (biological) dose’, and they get simplistically mixed and compared without this ever being pointed out.  If you wonder, ‘How so?’, I suggest my Nov 24, 2013 blogpost, “The Dose Deception – Why 0.20 µSv/hr (from fallout) can be far more dangerous than 2.00 µSv/hr (from cosmic rays).  The inverse square law for ionizing radiation illustrated.”

The bananas are radioactive from their potassium, the Brazil nuts have a thousand times more radium than any other food item, and your dried herbs and spices were irradiated to counter bacteria, germination and spoilage. There’s thorium in your microwave oven and americium in your smoke detector.”

  • Potassium in bananas:  Harmless, see already-mentioned link To be fair, if you going to bring up the Potassium-40 content of foods, you must also mention the biochemical function of potassium and how mere dosimetrics don’t tell its whole story. 
  • Radium in Brasil nuts:  Yup, true, Brasil nuts  contain 1,000 to 7,000 pCi/kg of radium-226, as well as a at least 5,000 pCi/kg of potassium-40. (data link). Converted to SI units:  1,000 to 7,000 pCi/kg  = 37 to 259 Bq/kg Ra-226.   Radium-226 is a carcinogen by itself, but Brasil nuts are also among the most potassium-rich foods, right up there with the best of kelp seaweeds, often with well over 200 Bq/kg of Potassium-40.  Not mentioned, of course, is that Brasil nuts are perhaps the richest dietary source of selenium (USDA data), the intake of which is correlated with a reduced risk of both breast cancer and prostate cancer (see here and here).  If you talk about the Radium content of Brasil nuts, you also have to also mention its potassium, selenium, vitamin E, etc. content.  (Note: Radium is different from Radon.   Radon, a radioactive gas which can accumulate in badly ventilated basements, is the #1 concern for naturally occurring radioisotopes: in the US alone, 20,000 lung cancers are estimated to be caused by radon inhalation (US EPA Citizen’s Guide to Radon).)
  • Food irradiation for food safety:  Ridiculous to list this among examples of mainly internal radiation from natural sources, or light external sources.  The external dose killed bacteria before it was sold. (UV light does the same topically).  There’s nothing radioactive added to the food.
  • Thorium in microwave oven:  Yes, there is a tiny bit of naturally radioactive thorium, used for its negative electrode inside, but it is essentially harmless.  (It’s used as a source of electrons; see ‘How a microwave oven works.‘  And microwaves are a quite different radiation, by the way.)  I guess I would have to take the microwave oven apart if I want to detect where exactly the Thorium in it might be, as it doesn’t even affect a (quite sensitive) Medcom Inspector Geiger Counter outside of it.  It’s a timely inclusion, though, as Thorium Fuel Nuclear Reactors are being heavily promoted lately in an attempt to safe the nuclear industry.  While significant and long-term internal exposure to it may cause harm (US EPA on ThoriumStudies have shown that inhaling thorium dust causes an increased risk of developing lung cancer, and cancer of the pancreas. Bone cancer risk is also increased because thorium may be stored in bone.”), it is highly unlikely to be ingested or inhaled as it is used in a microwave oven. In that form and quantity, it only adds a tiny external dose to its immediate surroundings and as such is essentially harmless too.  
  • Americium in smoke detectors:  There’s usually 37,000 Bq of Americium-241 inside.  Unlike the natural radioisotopes in food, Am-241 is made in nuclear reactors.  It is a radioactive decay product of plutonium-241.  Am-241 is extremely dangerous, yet in its oxide form and encapsulated inside a smoke detector it only adds a tiny external ‘absorbed dose’ to your living environment.  At arm’s length or further, it’s much less than the natural background radiation from cosmic rays and naturally occurring radioisotopes in air, soil and rocks.   Play around with the ‘activity to dose’ part of the ‘Rad Pro Calculator’ on my Radiation Units and Conversions page for additional insights.

The opening point, that ‘radioactivity is everywhere’, is valid, but it’s part of the lie the author is setting up from the start, namely that it is all just a matter of “dose” or “overdose.”  For that apparent purpose, he omits the nuances and intricacies, such as that it’s also very much a matter of exposure context (the cancer risk of a radioisotope by itself is not per se comparable as presented if it’s as part of a much more complex nutritional source, for example), or whether the radiation source is inhaled/ingested/absorbed (internal) or not (external).  Anyways, enough about that.

The author and Wall STreet Journal editors let some obvious errors slip by:

“An overdose of gamma rays is like a vicious sunburn, with skin damage and elevated cancer risks, but those particles are too big to penetrate our skin, meaning that they need to be swallowed or inhaled to wreak damage.”

He’s actually describing Beta radiation.  Gamma radiation goes through through our body and requires heavy mass shielding to be stopped (such as thick lead plates).  I’m not an expert by a long shot, but I know enough to spot cluelessness.  In case ‘radioactivity’ is new to you, there’s Alpha, Beta and Gamma ionizing radiation, you can read more about it here.   My links on ‘Some Pointers to See Through Nuclear Deceptions‘ might be helpful too.

Now, where I get semi-amused with this nuclear propaganda is how it tries to belittle fallout dangers from nuclear accidents, while also citing (very conservative) official estimates of cancer caused by US nuclear tests in Nevada, and the questionable data of the infamous UN cover-up in the wake of the Chernobyl accident, with some estimates for how little harm Fukushima might cause…  (It would be more funny if thousands of people weren’t going through hell because of nuclear fallout though…)  :-/

“In 1997, the National Cancer Institute reported that the Cold War detonations at the Nevada Test Site had polluted nearly the whole of the country with drifting airborne radioactive iodine, creating somewhere between 10,000 and 75,000 cases of childhood thyroid cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that of the nearly 600,000 Americans dying of cancer every year, 11,000 will be because of those tests.”

Cancer mortality is one thing, and statistics about it appear to be used to cover up how many people actually suffer through the whole ordeal (many of whom recover, or still die more than 5 years after treatment, which makes them unaccounted for).  But the cited “10,000 to 75,000 cases of childhood thyroid cancer” due to domestic nuclear bomb tests alone can be used to make a rough estimate…

The median of 10,000 to 75,000 childhood thyroid cancers caused by the nuclear bomb tests at the Nevada Test Site alone… (averages to some 42,500.)   The CDC defines a ‘child’ as ‘under age 18’.  Most thyroid cancers don’t show up until 5 or more years after exposure to radioactive Iodine (here and HERE).   Remember: Iodine-131’s half-life is only 8 days.  It decays into stable Xe-131, and thus within less than 4 months more than 99.9% of its initial radioactivity is completely gone.  (See the Decay Calculator on my Radiation Units & Conversions page).  Iodine (both stable (I-127) and radioactive (I-129, I-131, I-132,…) concentrates in the thyroid gland.  In the aftermath of a nuclear accident, the resulting concentrated internal dose to the thyroid gland thus only happens for a relatively very short period.  The consequences, however, usually don’t show up until decades later. See also observations in this NY Times article, ‘In Throats of Émigrés, Doctors Find a Legacy of Chernobyl‘ (April 20, 2006), and data below.

Have a look at the actual thyroid cancer incidence in the US alone (by age & sex, US 2007 data) and ponder how many ADULT thyroid cancers those bomb tests may have caused and continue to cause… It is obviously many times the childhood thyroid cancer incidence…

Thyroid cancer, like leukemia, is one of the few cancers making the lives of children miserable, but only talking about childhood thyroid cancer is quite the feat of omission...

Thyroid cancer, like leukemia, is one of the few cancers making the lives of children miserable, but only talking about childhood thyroid cancer is quite the feat of omission…

Other bomb tests, as well as the large nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl (and Fukushima more recently) undoubtedly are part of what’s causing increasing incidence of various cancers, not just thyroid cancers.  It is officially estimated and admitted, however, that the Nevada Test Site (NTS) released some whopping 5,500 PetaBecquerels of I-131 over its decades of operation madness. (I’m not even looking at the longer-living radioisotopes such as Cs-137 and Sr-90, which contribute to leukemia and various other afflictions.)  In terms of I-131, it compares roughly to 3 times Chernobyl’s 1986 nuclear disaster estimated I-131 release of about 1,800 PBq (in a week).   I-131 released by the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear disaster (March 2011 release only; there’s evidence of additional releases long after spring 2011) was originally estimated by TEPCO at 511 PBq (let’s say about 1/10th of NTS), which may have been a gross underestimation:

Radioiodine release by Fukushima may be double that of Chernobyl when taking I-129 and other radioiodines into account as well.   To see original with sources and additional  (including Three Mile Island) data, click image.

Radioiodine release by Fukushima may be double that of Chernobyl when taking I-129 and other radioiodines into account as well.
To see original with sources and additional (including Three Mile Island) data, click image.

SO, if Fukushima lies somewhere between “only 10%”  and “65% of NTS’s I-131 release”, and Cesium-124/137, Strontium-90, Cobalt-60, Americium-241, Plutonium, etc. releases were similar or far worse than NTS’s… then… undoubtedly many tens of thousands of people in Japan and affected communities in and around the Pacific Ocean will, over time, get cancer due to the Fukushima meltdown’s fallout and cumulative exposure to seafood contamination (which might increase).

For the United States map of the average dose delivered due to Iodine-131 contamination from NTS bombings,  see National Geographic, 2002.  The available data was far more limited than that maps suggests, and most was arrived at through calculations.  The study that includes the I-131 data can be found at   (+ More thyroid cancer data here.)  From that document, the estimated total I-131 US fallout due to bomb tests in Nevada:

Data: SI units added for easier comparing

Data: SI units added for easier comparing

For comparisson:  Parts of greater Tokyo received similar or more I-131 fallout in 2011 from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011 than the pink- to red-colored areas on the above US bomb tests I-131 fallout map, and much of the Fukushima Prefecture saw depositions over 1,000,000 Bq/m^2, even over 10,000,000 Bq/m^2 in the worst fallout deposition hotspots.  (See my May 26, 2011 IODINE-131 a basic map comparison: Fukushima versus Chernobyl‘), off the scale compared to the combined I131 fallout of the Nevada Test Site that is (officially no less!) claimed to have caused 10,000 to 75,000 (averages to some 42,500) childhood thyroid cancers.  To make a case for to-be-expected Japanese thyroid cancers, population densities and diet would have to be considered as well.  That would get too labor intensive for this “quick commentary on a bullshit WSJ essay”…/   So, check it out:

C0mpare the above NTS I131 fallout map (totals) to Fukushima-Daiichi Iodine-131 (March 2011 release only, later releases (see HERE) not included.):

Click image for more info.

Note the LOGARITHMIC SCALE.  Click image for more info.

I hope pointing this out can add some sensibility to that WSJ piece.

When The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that of the nearly 600,000 Americans dying of cancer every year, 11,000 will be because of those tests at the Nevada Test Site… they’re

  • downplaying the suffering by only counting those who died  (Over 95% of thyroid cancer is cured (not fatal), for instance.); and
  • not mentioning how much higher the number would be if  they presented the fatalities “due to nuclear industry activities,” which would have to include consequences of 
    • not only those nuclear bomb tests done in Nevada, but all worldwide nuclear tests (over 2,050, including Castle Bravo, France’s destruction of Mururoa, etc.)
    • every nuclear disaster and accidental radiation release (Three Mile Island, KyshtymChernobyl, Sellafield, Rocky FlatsFukushima, Hanford, WIPP, Dounreay, Humboldt Bayetc.)
    • standard allowed nuclear releases by nuclear power plants and waste facilities,
    • long-term effects on uranium miners
    • medical malpractice, accidents and unforeseen side-effects in nuclear medicine.

It might not look “so good” for the “harmless fallout” picture Mr Nelson is trying to fabricate…

Additionally, here’s a map from my Fallout Map Comparison, ‘Fukushima versus Chernobyl’ (For Cesium, not Iodine ! ):

You can look up population density maps yourself and ponder what this all means…

After much reading up on this over the past three years, it’s left me with the impression that the UN’s UNSCEAR is part of a massive cover-up.   Yablokov’s book about Chernobyl (Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environmenta translation of a 2007 Russian publication by Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko, edited by Janette D. Sherman-Nevinger, and originally published by the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009 in their Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences series.), may be much closer to the truth.  It presents an analysis of scientific literature and concludes that medical records between the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and 2004 reflect 985,000 premature deaths worldwide as a result of the radioactivity released by the Chernobyl accident.  

Which brings me back to the WSJ…,

We’re not dropping dead en masse from radiation poisoning or its ensuing cancers on a daily basis because, like all poisons, it isn’t the particular atom that will get you. It’s the dose.  And damage from radioactivity requires a much greater dose than any of us would have believed.”

True, we’re not dying on a daily basis.  I’m not.  I don’t know anyone who dies daily.  And the ones that once did… well, they’re not part of the conventional mainstream idea of “we” anymore, are they?   Damage to health from radioactivity depends on a lot of factors, dose clearly seems to be one of ’em.  Not daily dose, but cumulative, and there’s a lot of unanswered questions in dosimetry too.  Still, the admittance of 11,000 deaths per year in the US from the Nevada Test Site alone hints that the number of deaths due to manmade radioactive fallout worldwide is likely many times that, perhaps even 5-25 times, or more.  If the independent Chernobyl Consequences study on the consequences of Chernobyl is any indication, then Chernobyl has been killing some 50,000 people per year in its first 18 years. (For contrast, this 2006 NIH / SEER pdf. document includes lots more US statistics, but downplays nuclear fallout’s role, mainly through omission.)  The one thing I’d agree with is that most of us are fine and most alive on Earth are likely to live normal healthy lives and die of old age (reportedly that’s still the case for 2/3rd of world and 90% in pre-2002 industrialized world (wiki)).  But, seriously, apply some common sense logic and do the math with the above data…

Does the Wall Street Journal really think thát little of the equivalent of “a city of 100,000 people” being annihilated by the nuclear industry every year?   That may very well be close to the actual reality!

Anyways… I have no idea how to convey a ‘reality check’ to pro-nuclear propagandists.  I’ve pondered this before, and concluded it’s pointless, they’re insane

Here’s are some more examples of denial:

On Chernobyl: In short, the most terrifying nuclear disaster in human history, which spread a cloud the size of 400 Hiroshimas across the whole of Europe, killed 75 people.”

On Fukushima: “For the Fukushima disaster of 2011, the consensus estimate is […] an undetectable increase [of cancer] for the plant’s neighbors. […]”  

On Nuclear Disasters in general:  “Here’s the truth about you and radiation: There’s no reason to worry about power-plant meltdowns […]”   

Amazing, not?   Fukushima spewed more radioactive material into the environment than than Chernobyl (See here, HERE, here, here, and here), with, in many off-site locations, more significant radioIodine contamination than the Nevada Test Site, and possibly more radioIodines than Chernobyl, and left more densely populated areas with worse contamination (see above, and hotspots even as far south as near Tokyo: here and here); radioCesium deposition hotspots of over 550,000 Bq/m^2 in un-evacuated cities (already mentioned here and here), with groundwater increasingly contaminated by Cesium-137, Cobalt-60, Strontium-90 and a soup of other manmade radioactive stuff,… you get the idea.  And yet… somehow this pro-nuclear clown estimates, excluding plant workers, that all this will merely result in “an undetectable increase of cancer” ???  Nevermind that thyroid cancer has already increased significantly among teens in the Fukushima Prefecture (Japan Times, Nov 13, 2013: “Thyroid cancers up in Fukushima” / Compare the findings to pre-Fukushima data: and reread Craig Nelson’s  propaganda.  He’s spewing complete bullshit.  

The essay isn’t that long, but I could go on.  Some nonsense could even have been avoided by him using a dictionary…


Here’s a winner paragraph for the cognitive dissonance category:

The truly fearful event in a nuclear accident, then, isn’t fallout but meltdown, where the core burns through the floor and suffuses the water table.  There it causes agricultural mayhem and radioactive dust that you better not breathe.”

‘Radioactive dust that you better not breathe,’ of course, IS ‘fallout’, by definition.  The guy’s off his rocker…   Three complete reactor cores are believed to have melted down and are STILL actively contaminating the groundwater in Fukushima, and leaking unabated into the Pacific Ocean…  As groundwater Strontium-90 levels increase ,and the whole mess suffuses into the Pacific Ocean, the “agricultural mayhem” we should be “truly fearful” of… might be precisely what is already occuring at the Fukushima-Dai-ichi Nuclear Disaster Site.   It is only a matter of time for it to work its way to the dinner table…

(See also my blogpost from July 31, 2014: “Red Alert – Fukushima-Daiichi NPP Crisis: EXTREME Radioactive Water Leaking into Ground; Unprecedented Radioactive Contamination of Pacific Ocean.“)



And for that reason I return to this awful topic.

You might also be interested in:

– Peace.

[Last edited: April 14, 2014]

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4 Responses to Reality Check: Debunking The Wall Street Journal’s “Radiation Reality Check”

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  3. Pingback: UCLA: “California Thyroid Cancer Incidence Well Above National Average”. Fukushima Fallout, the Near-Certain Cause, Being Ignored… | Allegedly Apparent Blog

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