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IPPNW has been a constant voice against nuclear energy

March 17, 2011

For the past six days, IPPNW doctors in a number of countries have been overwhelmed with requests from journalists hungry for information about the health effects of radiation and the potential health consequences of the crisis at Japan’s nuclear reactors.

The leaders of IPPNW-Germany, many of them experts on radiation and on Chernobyl-related illnesses, happened to be meeting in Frankfurt on the weekend the disaster unfolded, and have worked around the clock ever since analyzing what information is available and putting it into a medical and public health context (see Xanthe Hall’s excellent piece, “Nuclear power — basta!”). In the US, PSR has mobilized its own physician leadership to help reporters (who are openly frustrated with the quality of “official” briefings) understand what is going on. A PSR press briefing conducted by telephone from Washington, DC yesterday drew questions from the country’s leading newspapers not only about the basic science of radiation, but also about how to interpret and evaluate the information coming from official sources.

Physicians in Japan, Switzerland, Australia, India, Greece, France, and other countries are explaining the biological effects of cesium-137, iodine-131, strontium-90, and plutonium-239 (a component of the MOX fuel in one of the Fukushima reactors) to an apprehensive and confused public.

To take just one example, if you google Ira Helfand, a PSR/IPPNW leader whose skill as an emergency physician is obvious in his clear, calm explanations of complex and terrifying facts, you will find so many print, television, and radio interviews since March 11 that one can only wonder when he has slept let alone treated patients since this started. (We’ve put links to interviews with several IPPNW experts, including Ira, in the special section of this blog devoted to the Japan crisis.)

What IPPNW is saying in the midst of crisis, sadly, is no different from what we have been warning for many years. A look back through the historical record shows that PSR issued an appeal to halt nuclear energy development in the US in 1979, mere weeks before the Three Mile Island incident. (A look through my own memory shows that I was helping the editors of Helen Caldicott’s first book, Nuclear Madness: What You Can Do, right around the same time, so I can vouch for the accuracy of this.)

IPPNW-Germany has made it a special part of their mission to study and document the effects of Chernobyl — an understandable response to the large amounts of radioactive fallout from Chernobyl that landed on German soil. They have held major conferences on Chernobyl over the years, and were planning the next one in Frankfurt when reality intruded.

PSR/IPPNW-Switzerland held its own conference, “Rethinking Nuclear Energy and Democracy After September 11, 2001,” in 2003. The conference presentations, some of them calling the whole concept of “nuclear safety” into question, were gathered into a publication that is still worth reading almost a decade later.)

IPPNW’s organizational position on nuclear energy was adopted at the 13th World Congress in Melbourne, in 1998. The vote was not unanimous (the notes from the International Council meeting reflect opposition from the Finnish and Japanese affiliates), but the rejection of nuclear energy approved by a large majority was unambiguous and the reasons given touched on every major concern: the link with nuclear weapons proliferation; the unsolved (to this day) problem of nuclear waste; health and environmental dangers, whether from accidents, terrorist attacks, or “normal” operations; economic costs; and the availability of wiser alternatives.

In the aftermath of Fukushima, the Melbourne resolution sounds even more urgent today than it did some 12 years ago.

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