On March 11th , and 12th, the two year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear accident, some 400 people gathered at of the New York Academy of Medicine to hear 20 prestigious speakers discuss the meaning of this event, for Japan, and for the world. The subject was The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident, a project of The Helen Caldicott Foundation, co-sponsored by Physicians for Social Responsibility.
I don't think that there has ever been an international gathering quite like this, with so many highly qualified speakers discussing the meaning of a critical world event.So, I was a bit disappointed to find myself to be the only Australian there.(apart from symposium co-ordinator Dr Helen Caldicott ).
The professionalism of this event was apparent – from the historic venue, to the calibre of the speakers, the organisation of the event, and the seriousness of the 400 or so participants. Yet, amongst the people present, I did not feel the presence of the general scientific and political Establishment. Certainly there was no one in evidence from the nuclear industry, or any pro nuclear group. I suppose that They just might feel uncomfortable, listening to highly competent experts like Dr Alexie Yablokov, who contradicted the official position about "few deaths" from Chernobyl. Or like nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson, with his incisive criticisms of nuclear power safety claims.
Then there's Dr Helen Caldicott herself, with her unanswerable way of combining an encyclopaedic knowledge of nuclear issues, with formidable logic , passion, and even more impressive – plan speaking.
So, the mainstream media didn't show up, either, – except for that brief period at one lunch-time, when two American navy men from the USS Ronald Reagan spoke of their radiation exposure at Fukushima.
Anyway – if they thought that this symposium would be full of flag waving activists, and with anti nuclear pamphlets and books everywhere – they thought wrong. The whole atmosphere of this gathering was serious, and the speakers emphasised the limitations of research, and the need for critical thinking. As epidemiologist Dr Steve Wing pointed out – "Not every study has to find excess cancers".
The content of the symposium kept pretty well to the title. So, participants learned a great deal about the effects of ionising radiation, and also about the complexities and problems in assessing those effects.
Japan's former Prime Minister Naoto Kan opened the symposium, (by Video). The seriousness of the Fukushima situation was explained by Dr Hisaku Sakiyama , diplomat Akio Matsumura , and nuclear engineer Hiroaki Koide The Japanese presence and support for this event was strongly evident. A group of concerned Japanese mothers, spoke at an informal lunch-time meeting.
It is not easy to pick out significant speeches from this field of speakers – covering radiation science, biology, cancer studies, paediatrics, epidemiology ecology, marine environments, oceanography, engineering, nuclear technology, public health, public policy - I thought that they were all significant.
Arnie Gundersen and scientist David Lochbaum elaborated on the design and safety issues of the Fukushima and American nuclear plants, and the needs for future safety design, (and the costs of this)
Medical scientist Dr Steven Starr , and and marine biologist Ken Buesseler addressed environmental issues – the spread of cesium 134 and 137 , and the continuing radiation release into the ocean. Biologist, Professor Tim Mousseau's research into wildlife in Chernobyl, and now Fukushima, is revealing the genetic effects of radiation, on later generations of insects and birds. This has implications for human genetics – and the newly important studies into genomic instability.
On the subject of ionising radiation, Dr Sakiyama gave perhaps the most comprehensive explanation – leading to the conclusion that children and pregnant women are at greatest risk from exposure .