Over the years British environmental writer George Monbiot has provided readers with thought provoking and insightful arguments. He has been a champion of the climate change movement and a fervent critic of the wars in the Middle East. Yet, since the ground shook and the devastating tsunami crashed on Japanese shores, something inside Monbiot seems to have rattled a few screws loose. He’s now gone nuclear.
Monbiot wasn’t always this way. In fact, he admitted just two weeks ago that he wasn’t sure exactly where he stood on the issue, writing, “I’m misinterpreted for the thousandth time, let me spell out once again what my position is. I have not gone nuclear.”
Five days later he changed his mind. “As a result of the disaster at Fukushima,” wrote Monbiot, “I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.”
One tenet of Monbiot’s misguided argument includes the muddled rationale that if one opposes nuclear power then one would have to support coal incineration as a viable alternative. There is no question that coal kills. In fact, concentrated amounts of coal ash may indeed contain more radiation than nuclear waste. Tens of thousands die of lung and heart disease every year caused by coal. There is also no question that we ought to oppose both as unhealthy energy producing sources.
Monbiot’s position would be laughable if it weren’t so damn tragic. As the Japanese face the world’s largest nuclear accident in a quarter century, here’s one of the leading environmentalists in the UK defending the very technology that caused it. In the past Monbiot has been careful to defend his positions with valid supporting evidence, even chastising others for not holding up to his standards. But in the case of nuclear power Monbiot appears satisfied in cherry picking scientific facts when it comes to the infamous Chernobyl’s 1986 disaster in order to support his stance.
“The Chernobyl meltdown was hideous and traumatic. The official death toll so far appears to be 43: 28 workers in the initial few months and 15 civilians by 2005,” wrote Monbiot, who cited the World Health Organization and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation as his source. However, even the World Health Organization concluded that approximately 4000 people would eventually die as a result of radiation exposure from Chernobyl, a statement Monbiot seemed content with dismissing.
Even so, both the UN and WHO seem to have drastically underestimated the true human cost of the Chernobyl meltdown. The New York Academy of Sciences in 2009 released the most significant and vital English language report on the deaths and environmental devastation caused by Chernobyl. After pouring through thousands of reports and studies conducted in Eastern Europe and Russia, the report’s authors concluded that nearly one million people have died as a result of radiation exposure.
Dr. Janette D. Sherman, who edited the volume, explained the discrepancy between the UN’s assessment and the Academy’s regarding Chernobyl, “[The UN] released a report … and they only included about 350 articles available in the English language, but [the New York Academy of Sciences] looked at well over 5,000 articles … by people who were there and saw what was going on. We are talking about medical doctors, scientists, veterinarians, epidemiologists, who saw what was happening when people in their communities were getting sick and dieing.”
In the Academy’s book that includes the report, titled Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, they argue that the World Health Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which reports to the UN, formed an agreement in 1959 which states one will not release a report without the agreement of the other.
“This is like having Dracula guard the Blood Bank,” attests Dr. Sherman, “because [the World Health Organization] is beholden to IAEA before they can release a report.”
Additionally, the IAEA was set up to promote nuclear power, so any evidence that damages its credibility directly challenges the IAEA’s intentions. In fact massive protests have taken place in Geneva in an effort to stop this agreement, which is still in place.
“This agreement … needs to be stopped,” adds Dr. Sherman.
Back to George Monbiot, whose has opted to side with the IAEA instead of the prestigious and universally regarded New York Academy of Sciences. It’s a shame not only for Monbiot’s credibility but also for the climate change movement in general. Striking a nail in his own coffin, Monbiot even went on Democracy Now! to debate what he deemed the exaggerated perils of nuclear power. There is no telling when his radioactive madness will end.
Here’s to hoping George Monbiot brushes up on his understanding of nuclear fallout and that Fukushima doesn’t end up being Japan’s Chernobyl.
Photo by Paul Fusco. To view more of Fusco’s Chernobyl photos, please visit Slate.