Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A brief history of opposition to Atomic Power

These are the speaking notes for an address that I delivered at the Happy Yess Club in Darwin 14 July 2011 at an event entitled "Radioactive Intervention", a fund raiser for ANNT (Anti-nuclear Northern Territory Collective) in connection with the proposal for a nuclear waste dump at Muckaty in Australias Northern Territory.

The movement against atomic energy really began as a movement concerned with protecting all life on Earth from genetic mutations caused by industrial processes and products.  It began in 1927 when Herman J. Muller published an account of his discovery of the abundant production of gene mutations and chromosome changes by X-Rays.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for that work in 1946.  I think that we could say that the cat was out of the bag in 1927, and that the award of the Nobel Prize in 1946 was intended to remind people of his work : in the age that began when an atomic bomb was exploded over Hiroshima.

Muller had made two points in 1927.

Firstly that the genetic damage caused by the X-Rays was directly proportional to the dose rate - and that there was no dose so small as to cause no damage.

Secondly that the non-lethal mutations, as they are passed on into the future, would accumulate in the gene pool.  He saw this accumulation as a very grave threat to the welfare of all life on this planet.

In the years immediately following the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings the cold-war and the threat of nuclear warfare attracted the attention of people away from Herman Muller's warnings.  There was a fixation on the imminent possibility of thermonuclear obliteration.  An arms race was in progress, and the weapons had to be tested.

We have only recently learned that the fallout plume from one of the British bomb tests in South Australia passed directly over Darwin.  Somewhere about 1964 very radioactive rain fell in Darwin from a Hydrogen Bomb test in China.

In the USA a man called Sternglass took an interest in the health of children living downwind from bomb tests.  He discovered serious health impacts that were attributable to those tests.

Soon after this John Gofman and Arthur Tamplin blew the whistle on the downwind consequences of the peaceful use of nuclear power in electric power generation.  This discovery came as a very great suprise to many people.

Gofman and Tamplin warned that the accumulated mutations caused by low level radioactivity had the potential to increase the US public health bill by an amount equal to the entire US gross domestic product some generations into the future, if the whole of the US population should be exposed to the radiation doses that were then permitted at the boundary fence around a nuclear reactor in the USA.

In August of 1972 I was the first person to publicise Gofman and Tamplin's findings in Australia.  I did so as a candidate contesting the 1972 federal election.  And, I did so in connection with the proposal to mine the Ranger Uranium deposit in the Northern Territory.

In the years since 1972 there have been two very serious nuclear accidents.  The one at Chernobyl, and the one at Fukushima.  The truth about the medical consequences of Chernobyl is only coming out now.  It seems that the accident has already killed about one million people.

The reactor core material released into the atmosphere at Fukushima was 50 times the quantity released at Chernobyl.  So as a rough approximation we can expect the accident to kill about 50 million people in the next 30 to 40 years.  This is rather more people than were killed in both the first and the second world wars, I think.

Do not let these deaths distract you from the most important outcome of these accidents.  The most important outcome of these accidents is the sub-lethal genetic mutations caused by them.

The latest development in the evolution of the anti-nuclear-movement in Darwin is the formation of the ANNT Collective.  ANNT stand for "Anti-nuclear Northern Territory"  It is a Darwin based group that focuses on nuclear developments here in the Northern Territory.

I am very happy to be at this fund raiser tonight.  I do feel a little as if the reinforcements have begun to arrive.

I do hope that this collective will grow in numbers and get the financial support from the community that it both needs and deserves.  I wish the collective well.  I would like to thank you all for coming here tonight.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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