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The Fallout

Posted by Charlotte Tucker, APHA on November 1, 2011

A nuclear disaster in a plant near Chicago would force the evacuation of 7 million people and could deliver fatal doses of radiation to 20,000 people, said a speaker at an APHA session on "In the Wake of Fukushima: Is Nuclear Energy Healthy for Communities?" this afternoon.

Furthermore, said Andrew Kanter, president-elect of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the nuclear fallout plume would be so large that many local emergency responders would not be permitted to go near the scene to help because of the danger.

The dangers of nuclear power are well-known, particularly after the Fukushima disaster in Japan earlier this year, said speakers during the scientific session. They argued that America should seek other methods of alternative energy.

While the Three-Mile Island near-meltdown in 1986 had “put a major crimp in the expansion of nuclear power in America,” those seeking alternative energy sources have backed it as a cleaner alternative, said Robert Gould, president of the San Francisco-Bay Area chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The session highlighted the risks of a nuclear disaster and noted that in addition to the Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island and Fukushima crises, there have been other near-misses that could put the public’s health at risk.

Kanter noted that the vast majority of the fallout from the Fukushima disaster went over the ocean rather than toward Japan’s most populous cities. Despite that, radiation hotspots were found in Tokyo and elsewhere.

Dangers he listed during his talk included possible releases from active plants, releases resulting from the unsafe storage of nuclear waste and the many potential dangers of a terrorist attack at a nuclear energy plant.

He highlighted another scenario, in which the Indian Point nuclear reactor near New York City has a meltdown. That scenario would cause 3,500-44,000 immediate deaths, 100,000-500,000 long-term deaths from cancer and other diseases, and $1.1 trillion-$2.1 trillion in economic damage.

In her presentation, Jacqueline Patterson, environment and climate director of the NAACP, said nuclear power plants are disproportionately located near low-income communities. Furthermore, she said, uranium mining disproportionately affects American Indian and indigenous communities.

All three speakers pointed to a greater need for research into alternative fuel sources and an examination of the true potential fallout of a serious nuclear incident on American soil.

(Cross-posted from the APHA Annual Meeting blog.)

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