In the News, October 2015

Update on San Onofre

The NRC has killed the cancer streak study which would have been carried out in the 31 mile area surrounding San Onofre.  The National Academy of Sciences has been working on this for 5 years, but on Sept. 8 the NRC terminated the study just as it was about to begin collecting data.  Read about it here: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/nuclear-682289-nrc-cancer.html  or see what yours truly wrote about it in the Oct. 8 issue of the San Clemente Times.  The link is not yet on line but below is the text:
Guest Opinion, San Clemente Times,  Oct. 8-14, 2015

Does Living Near San Onofre Increase Cancer Risks?

Roger Johnson, PhD

Cancer is a serious health issue everywhere, and this is especially true in San Clemente where we all live near a nuclear power plant.  Is living near a nuclear power plant (NPP) increase the risk of cancer?  We may never know because on Sept. 8 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission terminated research designed to answer this question.

The National Academy of Sciences has been working on this for 5 years.  Last December, they released a report entitled Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities (http://www.nap.edu/download.php?record_id=18968).  The study would have been conducted near 6 NPP including our own San Onofre.  If you lived within 31 miles of San Onofre, you would be in the study.  The research would have focused on children who (along with woman and the human fetus) are far more vulnerable to radiation.

Studying this issue is difficult because there are many sources of radiation and many causes of cancer.  We do know that radiation effects are cumulative and the National Academy of Sciences has reported that even low levels of radiation can be harmful.  Edison has been regularly discharging low-level radiation into the ocean and into our air since 1968.  Recent studies in Europe have reported that just living near a NPP can double the risks of cancer in children.

The current study was proposed because the nuclear industry has been relying on an old and discredited study by the National Cancer Institute done a quarter of a century ago.  The NRC likes this study because it was unable to find cancer streaks. But this study examined cancer deaths, not cancer incidence, and it studied where people died rather than where they lived or worked.  Even worse, it averaged people who lived near a NPP with those who lived far away.  No wonder it failed to find an effect.  Scientists know that failure to find an effect is never proof that there is no effect.  Nevertheless, the nuclear industry has used this study to mislead the public and suggest that radiation is harmless.  Trivializing radiation dangers is a common PR tactic for the industry.

According to the California Dept. of Public Health, 1.3 million Californians today have a history of cancer.  In 2013, there were 144,800 new cases and 55,485 cancer deaths.  About one out of four deaths in CA are caused by cancer (about 152 per day) and cancer is the leading cause of death in children.

Cancer is not one disease but rather a large group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells.  Cancer-causing radiation can easily penetrate living tissue which is why technicians hide behind lead shielding every time you get an Xray.  Radiation is known to adversely affect cell DNA, but exact causation is difficult to prove because health effects are sometimes not manifested for years or even decades.  In Japan, thousands of people continue to die every year, not from old age, but from medical complications caused by the radiation they received as children in August of 1945 when they lived near Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

The NRC sets standards on what is allowable based on estimates of risk to the average adult male.  They state what is permissible, not what is safe.  San Onofre’s environmental emissions continue even after reactors were shut down in January of 2012.   For example, in 2012 (after shutdown), there were 335.1 hours of liquid effluent release of radionuclides. The longest one went on continuously for 28 hours discharging 1.03 billion gallons into the ocean.  Were you in the ocean that day?  You will never know because discharge days are secret.

The public should be outraged that the nuclear industry has blocked cancer research.
Anyone concerned should contact their representatives in Congress and demand that the study be rescued by the EPA or some other government agency. For more background, read http://www.ocregister.com/articles/nuclear-682289-nrc-cancer.html  Everyone should be concerned, especially since the current plan is to store thousands of tons of uranium and plutonium indefinitely a few miles from here.  There is no known technology for storing this material safely for decades or centuries.  It represents a major threat not only to San Clemente but to all of Southern California.

The author is a retired neuroscience professor living in San Clemente.

The Coastal Commission approves constructing a nuclear waste dump at San Onofre.   In a shocking unanimous vote on Oct. 6, the CA Coastal Commission gave Edison the go-ahead to start building a huge nuclear storage facility next to the beach in San Onofre.  The nuclear industry likes to call this “spent fuel” but that euphemism only means that the profitability is spent.  The thousands of tons of uranium and plutonium will remain lethal for hundreds of thousands of years.  This waste has the same radioactive potential as thousands of nuclear weapons.

The nuclear waste storage facility is officially located in San Clemente (where Edison has a mailbox).  Edison would like everyone to believe that the Dept. of Energy will remove the waste in 2049 but this is unlikely to happen.  There is no plan to move it, and it is likely to remain here for the rest of the century or perhaps many centuries.  The thin canisters in which the waste will be stored are fragile and deteriorate over time.  There are safer canisters available, but Edison refuses to consider them. The salt water environment causes corrosion and cracking and they are guaranteed for only 10 years.  Decades from now they may become too fragile to move even if there is a repository.   With current technology there is no way to inspect internally for leaks and no way to fix leaks if they are detected.  For more details,  see SanOnofreSafety.Org and see an excellent letter by Mike Aguire in the current issue of San Clemente Times.  If you are concerned about this,  immediately write to your representatives in Congress and demand that Congress supports the National Academy of Sciences cancer study.  Demand that the EPA rescue the study. As for the nuclear waste dump, write to CA officials at all levels from Jerry Brown to your city council members.

Corporate Misconduct 

Corporate behavior is like weather: everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it.  Maybe it is like airplane crashes: it happens regularly and goes unreported until there is a big story and then the media pile on.  Many see disturbing trends from irresponsibility to downright criminal behavior.  Some corporate behavior as the root cause of income inequality  (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/opinion/sunday/capitalists-arise-we-need-to-deal-with-income-inequality.html). The productivity of American workers has increased by 80% in the last 4 decades but real wages continue to be flat except for the very rich. Most gains go to shareholders and top management,  not to workers. Top executives focus on short-term profits which benefit themselves. Making America great again has come to mean transferring more money to the rich at the expense of everyone else.

While income of top executives continues to skyrocket, so does corporate irresponsibility.  Let’s start with the big one: Volkswagen/Audi admitted that they deliberately rigged millions of cars with electronic defeat devices to pollute the planet except when the engines were being tested for emissions.  CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned of course, but with a smile on his face because he walks away rewarded with a $67 million golden parachute.  It remains to be seen if other automakers did the same thing or something else illegal to defy safety regulations.  One analyst said that the death toll is about the same as that caused by the ignition defect that GM lied about for years (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/upshot/how-many-deaths-did-volkswagens-deception-cause-in-us.html).  Another described how it is common practice for the industry cheat on safety regulations (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/world/europe/volkswagen-scandal-highlights-european-stalling-on-new-emissions-tests.html). Meanwhile, VW spent $165 million advertising its diesel cars as clean and fun to drive.  And the Senate Finance Committee is now investigating millions in tax credits VW asked for because it claimed fuel-efficient cars.  As for GM, there was not a single indictment of a GM employee. Top Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara explained that is it very difficult to prosecute industry executives for what their companies do that harms the public.  Could this have anything to do with the top two priorities of one particular political party? (Tax breaks for the rich and cutting government regulations, in case you didn’t guess.)

True, a peanut farmer in Georgia was sentenced to 28 years in jail for salmonella poisoning (see Revenge of the Jetta by Peter Conniff, NYT Sept. 27 or Of Peanuts and Prosecutions the day before by Joe Nocera).  But what about all the other cases?  On Sept. 25, Paul Krugman commented on how the political class and their lobbyists have declared war on regulations.  The argument is that business can do no wrong and that government has no role in limiting corporate misbehavior. His column was called Dewey, Cheatem & Howe and he is not talking about the Car Talk guys (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/25/opinion/dewey-cheatem-howe.html).  He mentions Turing Pharmaceuticals which bought rights to a drug for treating parasitic infections.  They promptly jacked up the price from $13 to $750 a tablet.  You probably heard about the new class of cholesterol drugs that work far better than statins but have no side effects.  The only problem is that the drug companies charge $14,000/year.

When Hillary Clinton released a plan to limit drug prices, Republicans promptly launched into a knee-jerk opposition to all regulations.  Jeb Bush wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal last week denouncing “creativity-crushing” and “job-killing” government regulations. Bush wants to eliminate regulations on coal ash which is full of deadly mercury. He doesn’t want any regulations on internet providers (in Europe, internet providers are regulated and the result is cheaper and faster service).  Bush goes on calling for a rollback of financial regulations which could allow banks to run wild again.

Speaking of corruption in banking, how about the six brokers who rigged the Libor rates (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/07/business/dealbook/trial-opens-for-6-brokers-accused-of-rigging-libor.html?_r=0).  They gave themselves colorful names like “Lord Libor” and “Big Nose.”  They succeeded in manipulating the Libor, an index which determines many mortgage rates. The Libor rate  affects  trillions of dollars in borrow costs.

What about the hypocrisy of Bush when it is big corporations who are some of the biggest job killers.  One of the most unprincipled acts of corporations is to misuse the H1B visa program to fire American workers.  This has been going on for some time but the NYT decided to make it a front page story Sept. 30:  Special visas help copycats take US jobs:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/30/us/toys-r-us-brings-temporary-foreign-workers-to-us-to-move-jobs-overseas.html?_r=0    The program was supposed to bring in highly skilled technical workers from abroad (meaning India) to help corporations that are stuck with less qualified Americans.  In practice it is just the opposite.  The corporations (ToysRUs, Disney, etc.) bring in unskilled novices from India, have the highly-skilled Americans train them to do their own jobs, then they fire the Americans. It is demeaning and insulting to have American tech people train their own replacement, but they are forced to do so (and have to sign non-disclosure agreements) or they will lose their severance package.

How about the old paragon of corporate decency, Johnson & Johnson? They got caught lying about the serious medical consequences of their off-label drug Risperdol.  Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece called When Crime Pays.  He found that the man behind the drug promotion was none other than CEO Alex Gorsky whose salary is $25 million.   (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/17/opinion/nicholas-kristof-when-crime-pays-jjs-drug-risperdal.html).  Or read what Huffington Post calls America’s Most Admired Lawbreaker    (http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/miracleindustry/americas-most-admired-lawbreaker/).  J & J brushed off the billions it is costing them to settle 4,200 lawsuits.  “Just the cost of doing business,” quipped one J&J lawyer.  A cost of course built into the price of every J&J product you buy.

And what about Coca-Cola? Turns out that have a program to lavishly fund any scientist who is willing to shift focus away from soda as a major factor in obesity.  Even the American Academy of Pediatrics got sucked into this and praised Coca Cola for its commitment to the cause of children’s health.  Let’s see, a can of coke has over 9 teaspoons of sugar in it and a 20 oz. Coke contains about 16 tsp.  At least it no longer contains cocaine.

Moving closer to home, how about the California utilities who are very annoyed that people are turning to clean and green solar power.  They see it as a threat to their profits and they are now heavily lobbying the Public Utilities Commission for new fees to discourage people from turning to solar power (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-solar-net-metering-20150927-story.html).
New Book about the Clintons

Remember back in 1998 when the First Lady went public in defense of Bill by claiming that there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to bring down the Clintons?  The issue keeps resurfacing and it now appears that Hillary was right.  On Fox News, the new Speaker of the House-to-be Kevin McCarthy blundered into admitting that the purpose of the Benghazi hearings was not to clarify what happened in Benghazi but rather to get Clinton and lower her poll ratings.  A few days earlier on CNN, husband Bill defended Hillary and said that the Email issue was part of the same attacks that go way back to the phony Whitewater charges of 1992.

Now there is a new book out Killing the Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary and Hijack Your Government.  It was written by none other than David Brock who used to be part of the conspiracy but switched sides and now does a tell-all about how the movement to destroy the Clintons has matured into a well-funded conglomerate not only by the Republican establishment but also by FOX News and various command headquarters on K Street.  Here is a review:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/books/review/david-brocks-killing-the-messenger.html

New Movie

            Like all Shakespeare plays, one has to end with an uplifting note no matter how grim things are.  Go see He Named Me Malala about the teenage high school girl from Pakistan who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen trying to prevent girls from becoming educated. Perhaps you saw Jon Stewart devote an entire program to a conversation with her.  She is intelligent, articulate, and outspoken. Recently she scolded the world by observing that a few days of military spending could pay for the education of all kids in the world.  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-malala-yousafzais-fight-continues.html   By the way, if you want an entertaining movie, go see A Walk in the Woods about two old farts (Robert Redford and Nick Nolte) who find meaning in life by hiking the Appalachian Trail.

 

 

 

 

 

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