Tag Archives: cancer

The (Nuclear) Power of Art Activism

After seeing the phenomenal documentary Racing Extinction, and hearing George Pakenham speak and screen his film “Idle Threat”, I began looking at my own role in art activism. I’m in film school to tell the stories I’m most interested in; this means climate change should be a theme in my work. I reflected on all of my previous blog posts to get inspiration for a short film I could make in my spare time. In the end I chose to further explore my blog post “Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy” through stop motion photography. As I brainstormed ideas, I thought about my favorite scenery in and around New York. I immediately thought of Rockaway Beach, where I spend many of my summer days, and Bear Mountain, where I go to escape the city and work up a sweat hiking. I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose toxins and contaminates with the beauty of nature. Clearly I wouldn’t be using real nuclear waste in my film, so I thought Holi powder would be an interesting visual stand-in for toxins. I began shooting stills on Rockaway Beach and Bear Mountain with these powders.

Bear Mountain
Bear Mountain
Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach

I focused on hands at first to play with the concept of a foreign, toxic substance in direct contact with the human body. I went on to take photographs of faces and entire bodies covered in these saturated hues.

 

 

 

I’m still working on finishing and uploading my film online. I want to make it easily accessible to spread awareness about the harm of exposure to nuclear toxins. As I mentioned in my blog post “Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy,” scientists think that people who were children during the period of atomic bomb testing (1940s-1960s) are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancer (National Cancer Institute).

This issue extends beyond the 1960s, because nuclear power is still widely used all over the world, and nuclear weapons are being manufactured by powerful governments. Once nuclear energy is created, we are left to deal with the disposal of the waste. There is no proven way of disposing of this waste without eventually harming living organisms. So, if we don’t have a solution to deal with this toxic waste, why are we relying on nuclear energy for our power and nuclear weapons for defense?

Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach

 

Projection of Nuclear Bomb Test
Projection of Nuclear Bomb Test

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please look out for next blog post, in which I will link my short experimental documentary! I would really appreciate if you shared my film so it can gain some attention before Earth Day on April 22nd!

Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy

I began thinking about all the waste we produce and where it all ends up. You can imagine that the answer is really obvious– landfills, sewer systems, the ocean, etc. Then I started questioning which kinds of waste aren’t necessarily visible to the average consumer. One of these less tangible pollutants to affect our land is the nuclear bomb test. That’s right! According to nuclearweaponarchive.org, “between 16 July 1945 and 23 September 1992 the United States of America conducted (by official count) 1054 nuclear tests, and two nuclear attacks. The number of actual nuclear devices (aka “bombs”) tested, and nuclear explosions is larger than this, but harder to establish precisely.”

Bikini Atoll, July 25, 1946
Nuclear Bomb Test

So, we know from the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end WWII with the Pacific, that nuclear weapon radiation exposure is extremely lethal and still affects the land and people living off of it for generations. But can underground bomb tests affect our soil, and eventually us? Of course it can, and it has. The National Cancer Institute website posted a study showing the effect nuclear bomb tests have on us. I highly suggest reading the full report for a deeper understanding, but here is an excerpt to sum it up:

 

Fizeau Test, Nevada Test Site, July 1957

“Scientists estimate that the larger amounts of I-131 (radioactive form of iodine–called iodine-131) from the Nevada test site fell over some parts of Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Montana. But I-131 traveled to all states, particularly those in the Midwestern, Eastern, and Northeastern United States. Some of the I-131 collected on pastures and on grasses. Depending on the location, grazing cows and goats sometimes consumed contaminated grasses resulting in I-131 collecting in the animals’ milk. Much of the health risk associated with I-131 occurred among milk-drinkers–usually children. From what is known about thyroid cancer and radiation, scientists think that people who were children during the period of atomic bomb testing (1940s-1960s) are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancer.”                            –National Cancer Institute

Is having the most deadly nuclear weapon in the world worth a spike in childhood cancer? Are these tests absolutely necessary? And will these highly lethal radioactive substances ever decompose in a safe way? I live in a post WWII country, where the U.S. isn’t necessarily trying to grow our nuclear weapon arsenal. It’s been said we’ve actively tried over the last decade or so to decrease our nuclear warfare arsenal. Have we learned that the damage cannot be undone? Generations to come will suffer the consequences of actions taken by scientists in the 40s, 50s, and 60s who poisoned the Earth and all its inhabitants.

School kids drinking milk
School kids drinking milk

Nuclear: a unclear future

Indian point
Indian Point Energy Center

This weekend in Buchanan, New York, there were reports of a spike in radioactivity in the groundwater near Indian Point Energy Center.  Indian Point Energy Center is a nuclear plant 30 miles from New York City that provides electricity of NYC and Westchester County. The plant is 42 years old (NYTimes).

The level of radioactivity in the groundwater jumped 65,000 percentEntergy, the company that owns the plant, reported the spike to the state, but also claimed it posed no danger to the public (statement below).

[“While elevated tritium in the ground on-site is not in accordance with our standards, there is no health or safety consequence to the public, and releases are more than a thousand times below federal permissible limits,” the company said.  “The tritium did not affect any source of drinking water on-site or offsite.”]

After researching the effects of tritium of the health, I was surprised to find that many scientists have deems it not detrimental to human health. In fact, tritium leaks into groundwater are not uncommon.  I am skeptical that a radioactive material in unnaturally high doses is not harmful to human health.  Nevertheless, this leak in radioactive material is indicative of a more widespread problem.

Why nuclear?

I have often questioned the safety of nuclear energy. In my home country, France, more than two thirds of the country’s electricity comes from nuclear.  However, while I lived in Japan, I experienced firsthand the unforgiving consequences of a nuclear accident.

Nuclear fission reactors are advertised as a major clean source of energy.  Proponents of nuclear argue that is cost efficient, clean, and scalable.  However, nuclear power also presents many disadvantages.  Firstly, while it is true that nuclear energy produces cheap electricity, on average 2.1 cents per kilowatt hour, this does not reflect the increasing cost of constructing nuclear power plants.  The cost and time of building new plants has increased dramatically over the years (shown below – from Berthélemya and Rangel). This is because of the increase cost of complying to new safety regulations.

Construction time and cost of nuclear plants over the years.
Construction cost of nuclear plants 1970-2005
Number of years it takes to build a nuclear power plant
Number of years it takes to build a nuclear power plant 1970-2005

 

Secondly, while it is true that nuclear energy is clean to generate, it is not completely clean. Nuclear energy leaves behind nuclear waste, a highly radioactive nuclear fuel rod is damaging to human health and the environment for thousands of years. However, there is no sure and safe  method of storing these waste products as of yet.  Additionally, in the event of an accident, nuclear technology of inflicting extensive and something continuous damage.

And lastly, is nuclear power safe? I am reminded of an apt analogy I heard long ago that explains the risk of nuclear power: Nuclear power is like air travel. The vast majority of times, it is safe and routine. But when something goes wrong, it goes very wrong.

Nuclear energy in the US

Given the rapidly increasing cost of construction,  utilities and plant owners are attempting to prolong the life of old plants in order to maintain their profits and avoid additional costs. This disturbing trend means that the average age of a nuclear plant in the USA is now 35 years (US Energy Information Administration). Thus, the US’ energy demand is being met by dilapidated, outdated nuclear plants; an issue that can endanger thousands of people and ecosystems.

Indian Point, in particular, has hosted numerous dangerous incidents, especially in the past five years. The plant’s original 40 year license has already expired. Entergy applied for a 20-year extension and the plant is currently awaiting license renewal (Nuclear Regulatory Commission).

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the final say in whether the plant’s license will be renewed, or whether it will be shutdown. Ideally, I hope the Commission will base its decision off scientific and professional findings.

It is interesting to note that Indian Point has faced scrutiny over the years, particularly since the Fukushima accident in 2011. Governor Cuomo has long advocated for the shutdown of the plant. However, there is some political opposition. This is unsurprising considering Entergy’s massive lobbying efforts. Between 2005 and 2012, the company spent $31.4 million lobbying the federal government. Within New York State, Entergy has spent $1,666,747 in the 2012 election cycle compared to $706,403 in the 2006. Interestingly, Governor Cuomo has received no money. Former Representative Nan Hayworth, who received $23,200 during the 2012 election cycle, was one of the most vocal advocates for renewing Indian Point’s license (Common Cause, ABC News).