Can nuclear power ever be ‘green’, ‘safe’ or separated from the military’s nuclear weapons obsession?
The same design in China was on for a year then found unsafe, had to be switched off –
Courtesy of the UK Low Level Radiation Campaign – George’s articles are linked from this page
(page first posted 27th July 2011; updated in February 2017)
- In May 2011 George Monbiot toured the UK “taking on all comers”. The Guardian promoted these Left Hook events in the language of a boxing impressario, and puffed Monbiot as “the Guardian’s unbeaten intellectual heavyweight champion of free speech, one of the UK’s foremost thinkers and environmentalists, and polemicist supreme”.
Shortly afterwards LLRC received a sound recording of one of the lectures. Recorded by an independent film-maker, it had taken place in Liverpool on May 10th 2011. George spoke about how the Fukushima disaster has converted him to Nuclearism, the dogma that new nuclear power stations can help to deliver us from Global Warming.
- Earlier, he had argued on a Guardian blog that releases of radioactivity, even from disasters like Chernobyl and Fukushima, have no observable impact on health.
- A member of the audience asked him how radioactive discharges from Sellafield had affected wildlife in the Irish Sea. He answered with a gratuitous and explicit attack on Professor Chris Busby although Busby’s two decades of research into the health effects of radioactive pollution have been exclusively concerned with people, not wildlife.
After briefly dismissing the idea that Sellafield could have affected sea-life, Monbiot said:
“Now one of my greatest sources of concern and disenchantment I suppose is that one um er er self-styled nuclear researcher in particular, a man called Chris Busby who lives very close to where I do, who has been writing all that stuff about the Irish Sea and about leukaemia clusters and the rest of it for many years um , looking into his work and looking into what scientists say about his work – work which in the past I blithely accepted – I find that it is no better grounded than the work of the climate change deniers such as Lord Monkton and Ian Plimer and Christopher Booker and the rest of it that I have been confronting for all these years. In fact um his statistical mistakes were so profound that in order to demonstrate that there was the leukaemia rate he said there was, which is not backed up by any medical records anywhere, he actually had to create a negative rate for all other cancers in Wales. In other words every year there is minus a certain number of cancers taking place in Wales, which is a rather hard proposition to support scientifically. I am glad you raised it because it’s indicative of of of exactly the problems we are up against. And it was a s-s-s-s-source of sadness to me to discover that that was happening.”
- This must have puzzled Monbiot’s audience but the person who sent the recording realised that he was trying to shoot the detective in a long-running investigation into how radioactivity in the Irish Sea migrates onto the land and causes cancer. The quest began in 1994 when the Wales Cancer Registry (WCR) drew attention to high levels of cancer in children. In 1995 and 1996 we obtained two separate copies of all the detailed data held by WCR. In fact, LLRC is now the only organisation that possesses the data since in 1996 WCR was closed down and its computers were, allegedly, wiped.
- Examining the data we quickly saw that the highest risks were along the shores of the Irish Sea; all age groups were affected.
Gwynedd, the Menai and Anglesey: Intertidal sediment (yellow) and Plutonium (Becquerels/Kg)
The highest levels by far are within a kilometer of the Irish Sea. So what we saw in the WCR data supported our hypothesis that low concentrations of some forms of radioactivity are far more dangerous than Government officials and the nuclear industry want you to believe. Inhalation is almost certainly the most hazardous vector.
Plutonium in sheep droppings (mBq/Kg) by distance eastward (km) from St. Bees Head, CumbriaWe published our findings. There was national (UK) news coverage and BBC Wales made a TV documentary, Sea of Troubles. This was Wales’ own rerun of Windscale, The Nuclear Laundry, the Yorkshire TV programme which in 1983 had revealed the existence of a 12-fold excess rate of child leukaemia in Seascale, a village near Sellafield (as the Windscale nuclear site was subsequently relabelled).
The Welsh Assembly and Westminster governments both referred our information to COMARE, the advisory Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment, set up after the Seascale scandal.
The only school photograph of Gemma D’Arcy, one of the leukaemia victims in the Cumbrian cluster. She died before her seventh birthday.John A Steward, director of WCISU from 1997 COMARE took a kangaroo court approach, hearing evidence from the new cancer registry, the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit (WCISU), but not from us. WCISU’s director, Dr John A Steward, claimed that he had repeated our methods using WCISU data. He found no extra cases on the coast and concluded that the WCR data were corrupt. COMARE member Dr. Gerald Draper, head of the Childhood Cancer Research Group, backed him up although in 1995 WCR had told us Draper himself had validated the Welsh data and that the high risks on the coast were real. But of course we weren’t there to tell COMARE this. They and Welsh Assembly officials condemned our findings and demanded we recant.
- We did not recant. Instead we refuted Steward’s claim to have repeated our analysis. He had used population data from a different census, he had diluted the high risks we found in a narrow band next to the sea by using a wider band, and he had taken 182 of the sick children off the WCR database and 50 off his own much more recent data. He still found a higher risk near the sea but it was no longer statistically significant.
- Using her knowledge of north Wales, Linda eventually identified 40 children diagnosed with leukaemia and cancer between 2000 and 2003. In the seaside towns of Caernarfon, Bangor and Colwyn Bay, where all the population lives within a mile of the sea, rates of leukaemia in children younger than 4 years were up to 20 times the national average. Rates of other cancers were also elevated. We looked separately at the more extensive rural areas nearby, where the population is not concentrated as close to the sea as in the towns. The rural population showed an 8-fold excess of child leukaemia, confirming the significance of the high urban rates. HTV used this analysis for a Welsh language documentary Cancr i Plant. We reported the findings to the 2004 international conference of the charity Children With Leukaemia in London and reported in Radioactive Times.
- This was a problem for Dr. Steward because we had the children’s names, ages, and home addresses, so he couldn’t remove any more cases from database. It is very unlikely that Linda had located all the possible cases, but Steward had no idea which she had found and which she hadn’t. WCISU admitted that the figures were high but they still denied their significance. They used two arguments. They said that if the disease were caused by radioactivity there would be a long-term trend, and they claimed there was no such trend. In fact, validated data from Wales Cancer Registry for 1982 to 1990 show there is a long-term trend. In the 1980s in the three worst affected towns, Caernarfon, Bangor and Colwyn Bay, children younger than 4 had eight times the national average rate of leukaemia.
- Second, through using wrong documentation, they overestimated populations in north Wales. They thought the population of Bangor, for example, was more than three times as big as it really is. Accurate numbers for populations are essential, since they give epidemiologists the numbers of cases of a disease can be expected normally. WCISU are professional epidemiologists and their cock-up is barely credible especially since, in 2001, we had already warned Steward that he’d made exactly the same mistake in a separate study of cancer somewhere else. This has been published in the Journal of Public Health and Steward has offered no defence. The detail is in this report with more discussion here.
- Faced with our analysis, COMARE admitted that Steward had made a mistake with the populations. Busby has discussed these matters at length in Wolves of Water. The relevant part is here.
- So that’s the real story. Monbiot could hardly have got it more wrong. We wrote to him offering to talk him through the evidence but he was rudely defiant.
(The slogan There’s No Debate You’re Chicken George was first deployed against George W Bush in the 1992 US Presidential election campaign, when Bush was refusing to meet Bill Clinton in front of the cameras.)
We leafletted a queue of people waiting to hear George Monbiot (this is Richard Bramhall doing his share).
Two men angrily thrust the leaflets back. They claimed that Busby had slandered their friend Dr. John Steward – the Director of the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit.
One of these men is in the next two frames – the photographer didn’t catch the other.
They said they knew Steward because they worked for the Welsh Assembly. Bramhall explained that Steward had made a mistake with the leukaemia data, inflating the populations of the study areas by 300%, thus underestimating the risk by 300%. He pointed out that this had been published in the scientific literature and that Steward hadn’t answered. That seemed to slow them down a bit but one still said he preferred to believe in his friend, while the other (pictured) said there was no mechanism for the low levels of radioactivity on the coast to cause leukaemia.
Bramhall said “If that’s what you think, you’re relying on a concept of dose that is known to be meaningless, so let’s have the debate – my contact details are on the leaflet.” Like Monbiot, they haven’t taken up the offer of a civilised discussion.
- Why is George so sure he’s right? Well, he’s read a blog by his friends Chris Goodall and Mark Lynas (
- – that is the Fukushima crisis). Goodall and Lynas have read Radiation and Reason: The Impact of Science on a Culture of Fear, by a professor of physics, Wade Allison. Bramhall has
- Radiation and Reason
- showing that Allison has torpedoed his own project by altogether ignoring microdosimetry. See
- which explains the vital importance of microdosimetry – it means Allison has made a massive averaging error, which is like believing that a stab in the back is no worse than a pat on the back.
- Don’t take our word for it; here are damning reviews of Radiation and Reason from two senior figures in the conventional radiation protection community – Professor Keith Baverstock formerly of WHO and
- Mike Thorne, a former Scientific Secretary to the International Commission on Radiological Protection
- to say nothing of avowedly anti-nuclear Peace News
- And finally, here is Malcolm Grimston who graduated from Cambridge University in 1979 having read natural sciences, specialising in psychology. In 1987 he went to work at the UK Atomic Energy Agency and he is well known as a ruthless and intimidating pro-nuclear propagandist. LLRC has met him many times and he appeared frequently on TV after Fukushima, playing down the gravity of the disaster.
- So what is Malcolm doing here? Well, between leaving university and going to UKAEA he taught chemistry at Stowe School where one of his pupils was little George Monbiot. Funny world isn’t it?
The Guardian, November 2011
- In November 2011 The Guardian published two articles in which Monbiot repeated what he had said about childhood leukaemia during his Left Hook lecture tour earlier in the year. He also launched a fresh attack on Professor Chris Busby and the advice he was giving to people in Japan to protect themselves from radioactive discharges from Fukushima. He accused Busby of exploiting people’s fears for personal profit.
- Guardian 21st November
- Guardian 22nd November.
- In preparing these articles he bullied Busby and ignored information supplied by LLRC, as Richard Bramhall reports here.
- Monbiot was mentored by nuclear enthusiast Professor Geraldine Thomas of Imperial College, London (pictured left). She criticised Busby’s advice on precautions against radioactivity from Fukushima, saying:
- radioactive elements do not bind to DNA which shows how little [Professor Busby] understands about basic radiobiology
- Professor Busby’s assertion that Caesium causes heart disease was ludicrous
- administering stable Calcium and Strontium is useless (in fact it’s standard medical advice).
- Wrong, wrong and wrong. See here for the science and watch why low levels of radio-Caesium damage children’s hearts.
- We wrote to Professor Thomas. She replied I stand by the comments I made to George Monbiot during his research for this article.
- More bizarre views from Professor Thomas — on Chernobyl, Fukushima, and stable Uranium.
- In the same article Monbiot suggested that Professor Busby was seeking to profit financially from the distress of people in Japan by selling goods and services at inflated prices. This is far from the truth. No payments had been made to the bank account Monbiot referred to. The Foundation was quickly blocked by legal moves in Japan and imports of the products were banned, so there were no sales. Even if these obstacles had not been created, the formal non-profit agreement between Busby and the businessman who wanted to create the Foundation was that any profits would be ploughed back into further research. Rebuttal from Professor Busby.
- In the same article (21 Nov.’11) Monbiot expressed his faith in the effectiveness of the Japanese government’s precautions at Fukushima. People in Japan criticised him in an email to The Guardian. Here is their message, which they copied to LLRC.
- The Lord Mayor of Oxford invited Busby and Monbiot to debate the science in a public meeting in Oxford Town Hall on 3rd November 2011 (in the hall pictured, left). Monbiot declined. The meeting went ahead without him. See the video here, part 1 and part 2 here.
- Monbiot repeated his opinions in the Guardian on 5th December.
- Alan Rusbridger – Editor in Chief at the Guardian until 2015 (pictured left) – never allowed Busby space to respond. So much for the paper’s stance as a champion of liberal values.
- Richard Bramhall: 27th November 2011. Updated February 2017