Fallout at Shippingport
THE STUDIES of Lave and DeGroot provided independent evidence that infant mortality was correlated with low-level radioactivity from nuclear-weapons fallout and reactor releases, but a number of puzzling questions remained unanswered. It was understandable in the light of Dr. Stewart's latest findings, published in 1970, that infant mortality might go up significantly as a result of early intrauterine exposure due to the hundredfold greater sensitivity of the fetus in the first three months of development as compared to the adult. It was difficult to understand, however, how total mortality rates, dominated by the older age groups rather than by the small number of newborn infants, could possibly be affected as strongly as Lave's study had shown.
Still another puzzle was the finding by DeGroot that although infant mortality rates in Beaver County, where the Shippingport reactor was located, did not decline as rapidly as for the state of Pennsylvania as a whole, there was no correlation between the abnormally high infant mortality rates and the officially announced small releases from the plant.
Both of these puzzles were destined to find their solution in a most unexpected manner within a year after DeGroot's and Lave's studies had been completed. Late in 1972, a notice in the Pittsburgh newspapers announced that hearings would shortly be held by the Atomic Energy Commission to grant an operating license for the Beaver Valley Unit I reactor, which was then nearing completion. This power station was being built right next to the original Shippingport reactor on the Ohio River, some 25 miles downstream and to the west of Pittsburgh. According to the newspaper story, it would be of the same pressurized-water type that had been pioneered in Pittsburgh by Westinghouse, under Admiral Rickover's direction, except that it would be some ten times larger.
Knowing that it was a naval type of reactor with a double cooling loop to minimize the amount of gas that would have to be discharged into the atmosphere caused me to feel little concern, especially in view of the fact that the AEC had only recently announced that it was proposing to tighten up the standards for permissible emissions. (These new standards had been issued following hearings in Washington at which I had been asked to testify in behalf of various environmental groups on the need to lower permissible doses.) Also, Westinghouse had just announced that it had been possible to operate Shippingport with "zero" gaseous releases in 1971, so that I felt certain that this much more advanced new power station only a short distance upwind from Westinghouse headquarters and the Bettis Nuclear Laboratories, where the first submarine reactors had been built, would surely be provided with the very latest in the available equipment for containing all radioactive gases.
Thus, when some of my students asked me whether I planned to attend the hearings I expressed no great concern, saying only that I might take a look at the Safety Analysis Report being kept in the public library of the nearby town of Beaver, a few miles from Shippingport, to make sure that the planned emissions were indeed as low as I expected them to be.
A few weeks later, an opportunity presented itself to check on the proposed releases. I had to go to the nearby Pittsburgh airport to pick up my mother, and since the Beaver County Library was only a few miles from the airport, I left a few hours early to check the figures.
Since I had examined similar reports for the Davis-Besse and other plants within the past year, it did not take me long to find the information I was looking for. But what I found shocked me profoundly. Instead of gaseous releases of only a small fraction of a curie, such as had been reported for Shippingport in recent years, the more advanced commercial plant about to go into operation was apparently designed to release some 60,000 curies of fission gases per year into the already heavily polluted air of the Ohio River valley. This was millions of times more than was claimed to have been discharged annually from the old Shippingport plant in recent years, even though the power output would be only ten times greater.
In fact the summary of past releases from nuclear facilities published by the Bureau of Radiological Health had listed only 0.35 curies of fission gases at the time of the highest reported discharges back in 1963, for which the calculated dose was 0.87 percent of the maximum permissible of 500 millirems to someone living near the plant. This meant that the estimated radiation dose produced by 0.35 curies was only about 4 millirems. Yet even at these relatively low calculated external doses (due to gas releases), there seemed to be a disturbing rise in infant mortality in surrounding Beaver County and especially the nearby town of Aliquippa, some 10 miles to the east in the Ohio valley.
There were thus only two possibilities. If the reported figures on the likely magnitude of gaseous releases from the new large reactor were correct, there would very likely be a major increase in infant mortality and other detrimental health effects unless vastly more efficient means of trapping the gases were installed to bring them down to the levels reported for the existing reactor.
The other possibility was that the actual releases from the Shippingport plant had somehow been much larger than the amounts officially reported. And this would of course explain why DeGroot did not find a relationship between the tabulated releases and the yearly changes in infant mortality for the Shippingport plant.
Deeply troubled by these findings, I decided to contact the utility lawyer for the City of Pittsburgh, Albert Brandon, who had long been battling the Duquesne Light Company's growing requests for rate increases needed to finance the escalating cost of the Beaver Valley nuclear plant. My hope was to persuade the city to intervene in the upcoming license hearings in order to get to the bottom of the disturbing discrepancy between the annual claim for "zero-release" nuclear plants and the actually planned emissions. Even though it was too late to stop the plant from going into operation, perhaps it would still be possible to force the utility to install the latest equipment for trapping the radioactive gases so as to reduce to a minimum the health risk to the people living in the area.
Concerned by these facts, Brandon promised to discuss the matter with the mayor, Pete Flaherty. A few days later, a meeting was arranged, and after a brief discussion, Flaherty agreed to have the City of Pittsburgh become an intervenor in the upcoming license hearings, together with a group of local environmentalists to whom I had previously outlined my findings.
Shortly after the public announcement that the City of Pittsburgh would intervene in the hearings for the new plant, I received a telephone call from a man who identified himself as the manager of the new power station being built at the Shippingport site. He said that great efforts were being made to assure the safety of the people in the area, and that he would be glad to send me the detailed plans for the environmental monitoring that would be done to assure that no harmful amounts of radioactivity could reach the public.
Within a day, a large manila envelope was delivered to my office at the university from the Duquesne Light Company. As I leafed through its contents, I noticed a series of documents entitled "Pre-Operational Environmental Radioactivity Monitoring Program at the Beaver Valley Power Station" in the form of quarterly reports for the years 1971 and 1972. The documents had been prepared by the N.U.S. Corporation of Rockville, Maryland. These were apparently part of the Environmental Report for the Beaver Valley Power Station Unit II Construction Permit Application, submitted to the AEC in November 1972 as required by the new National Environmental Protection Act, which had just come into effect. Thus, the data were gathered to establish the radiation levels existing at the site prior to the operation of the new plant, providing a baseline for comparison with later measurements that would be gathered once the plant had gone into operation.
As I began to look through the tables with their long lists of numbers, I noticed that there were some very high measurements for the external gamma doses in early 1971, measured in microrems per hour. When I worked it out in the more familiar units of millirems per year, I could hardly believe the result: In March the rate was 370 millirems per year for Station No. 10, located in the town of Shippingport, compared to the normal values for the area of 70 to 90 millirems per year. There were a few more readings at this location in the range of 300 to 350 millirems per year by June, and not until January of 1972 did the numbers return to the normal rate of 86 millirems per year.
Other locations showed comparable peaks of gamma radiation, but the highest were in the town of Shippingport closest to the site or on the site itself. Could it be that these extremely high radiation dose rates were produced by the old Shippingport plant, for which the official reports had shown almost no gaseous releases at all?
Turning to the tabulations of strontium 90 in the milk, I saw immediately that the levels measured in the farms around Shippingport were much higher than in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Cincinnati, and Buffalo as reported in Radiation Health Data and Reports for the early part of 1971. The fact that the extremely high readings were confined to the Shippingport area made it unlikely that they were due to worldwide fallout from high-altitude atmospheric bomb testing.
To check this further, I plotted the concentrations of strontium 90 in the soil and found that it dropped off sharply with distance away from the plant both east to west and north to south. In April of 1971, the levels within three-quarters of a mile were fifty times greater than the typical levels produced by worldwide fallout, and by early in 1972, the rains had apparently washed most of the activity into the Ohio River, the measured levels having gone down from their peak of 6000 picocuries per kilogram to less than 100.
Clearly, such a highly localized concentration of strontium 90 in the soil centered on the Shippingport plant could not be explained by worldwide fallout, which is more or less uniformly distributed around the globe as the rains bring down the fine particles circulating in the upper atmosphere.
Still further confirmation of the localized nature of the radioactive contamination came from the measurements of short-lived iodine 131 in the milk. Beginning in December of 1971 and peaking in February 1972, the levels of iodine for the six dairies within a 10-mile radius started to rise above 10 picocuries per liter, the Range I reporting level set by the Federal Radiation Council for continuous consumption, reaching as high as 120 picocuries per liter. This was well above the 100 picocurie-per-liter limit of Range II, and it equaled the kind of values reached in the eastern United States during the height of nuclear-bomb testing.
Yet when I looked up the monthly iodine 131 levels for other locations in Pennsylvania (such as Erie, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia) in Radiation Health Data and Reports, they were all listed with "zero" values, or below the limit of detection. Clearly, it was extremely unlikely that any Chinese fallout would somehow concentrate radioactive iodine 131 over the Shippingport site, leaving the nearby areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania without any detectable increases of radiation in the milk.
As a final check, I compared the monthly values of strontium 90 in the milk within a 10-mile radius of Shippingport with the monthly electrical power output in kilowatt-hours published in Nucleonics Week. Both strontium 90 and power output peaked in January 1971 and again in April, moving up and down together until the plant was closed for repairs later in the summer. After the plant was shut down, both the local and the Pittsburgh milk showed a sharp reduction in strontium 90 levels, from a peak of 27 picocuries per liter nearest the plant in early 1971 down to 7 picocuries per liter measured in Harrisburg that summer. As I learned later from an analysis of the milk-marketing reports, the city of Pittsburgh obtained about a third of its milk from an area within 25 miles of the Shippingport plant. This finding was consistent with the fact that the Pittsburgh milk showed strontium 90 concentrations some 30 percent higher than the Cincinnati and Philadelphia milk in early 1971.
Yet during the time of the sharp peaks in radiation levels in the air, the soil, and the milk that occurred between January and June of 1971 near Shippingport, there were no nuclear-weapons tests carried out in the atmosphere by any nation as reported in the monthly issues of Radiation Health Data and Reports.
After weeks of graphing and analyzing the data with the help of colleagues, volunteers from local environmental organizations, and students at the university, there could be no doubt about the result: The data collected by the Duquesne Light Company's own hired team of experienced health physicists clearly indicated that the Shippingport plant must have been the source of radioactivity in the environment many thousands of times as great as had been claimed in the official reports to state and federal agencies. Instead of annual radiation doses of less than 0.5 millirems claimed by the utility, the combination of external radiation (measured by the dosimeters) and internal radiation (from the gases that were inhaled or ingested with the milk, the water, and the local meat and vegetables) was many hundreds of millirems per year. Indeed, this dosage exceeded the level of radiation that was received by the people of this area during the height of nuclear-weapons testing. Moreover, the scientists who had carried out these measurements had clearly failed to warn either the utility officials who had hired them, the public-health officials at the state or federal level, or the public, whose health and safety were being endangered by the secret fallout from the plant.
Faced with these disturbing discoveries, the leaders of the local environmental groups in Beaver County decided to hold a public meeting at which both the Duquesne Light Company and spokesmen for a Pittsburgh environmental group would be able to present their views to the people of the area. The meeting took place early in January of 1973 at a shopping mall in the town of Monaca, just a few miles from the Shippingport plant. After the superintendent of the Shippingport plant explained that the new power station would be "the Cadillac of the industry" -- with a waste-disposal system that would permit only "minimal" amounts of radioactivity to escape -- the head of Environment Pittsburgh, David Marshall, and I presented the data gathered by the Duquesne Light Company's own consultants. Slide after slide showed the localized concentrations of radioactivity in the milk, the soil, and the river sediments rising to many times their normal value, together with the peaks during the months when there was no nuclear-weapons testing. Obviously, the findings in our presentation were completely at variance with what the utility had told the local people over the years.
The Duquesne Light officials were unprepared for this damaging evidence and could only lamely repeat their assurances that the new plant would have negligible impact on the health of the public. It took them a few days to prepare an advertisement for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in which they claimed that they had operated their Shippingport facility safely -- without releasing more than a small percentage of the releases allowed by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and therefore without injuring any member of the public. But the people who had attended the meeting were no longer so certain that this was the case, and there was a demand for an independent investigation of these disturbing findings by the various environmental groups in Pittsburgh and Beaver County before a new and still larger reactor would be given a license. This demand was supported by the mayor of Pittsburgh, Pete Flaherty, and his utility lawyer, Albert Brandon.
Confronted with the evidence of very high levels of strontium 90, cesium 137, and iodine 131 in the area in 1971, while "zero" release had been officially reported, I began to wonder about earlier releases. The plant had been in operation since 1958, so in light of the unreliable claims by the company, I wondered if there might indeed have been long-term exposure to the people of Beaver County and nearby Allegheny County, in which the city of Pittsburgh was located. In particular, enough time had elapsed for leukemia and cancer to develop, so that one might for the first time be able to determine whether the operation of commercial nuclear plants did or did not lead to the same kind of cancer increases that I had begun to see following the start of nuclear-weapons tests in Nevada, the Pacific, and Siberia.
My students and I started to examine the annual vital statistics reports for Beaver County, Allegheny County, and the major towns at different distances from Shippingport up and down the Ohio River. Within a few days the first results were tabulated, and the figures were startling. In the town of Midland, just a mile downstream from Shippingport, the people drank the Ohio River water. The cancer death rate in this town had risen from a low of 149.6 per hundred thousand population in 1958, when the plant started to operate, to a peak of 426.3 by 1970. This was an increase of 184 percent in only twelve years.
For Beaver County as a whole, surrounding the plant, the rate had risen from 147.7 to 204.7 in the ten years from the time the plant had gone on line with so much hope for a cleaner and healthier environment. This was a rise of close to 40 percent during a time when the state of Pennsylvania as a whole showed an increase of only 10 percent and the U.S. cancer mortality rose by only 8 percent. From a low of 293 cancer deaths in Beaver County in 1958, the number had risen to 418 by 1968, an increase of 115 cancer deaths per year, when there should have been no more than an additional 30 if the county had continued to follow the average pattern for the state.
Likewise, the Pittsburgh cancer death rate had climbed by 31 percent between 1958 and 1968, despite the steady cleanup of ordinary air and water pollution that had begun right after World War II, when the burning of soft coal in the city was ended and a major effort was begun to clean up the air and water.
Similarly, in the towns along the Ohio River downstream from Shippingport and Midland, cancer rates had climbed sharply, the more so the closer they were to the plant. For East Liverpool, just across the border in Ohio and some 10 miles downstream, the cancer death rate had risen 40 percent by 1968 and 67 percent by 1971. In Steubenville, some 30 miles downstream, the cancer mortality rate was up 25 percent by 1968, and even as far away as Cincinnati, some 300 miles down the Ohio River, the cancer deaths had climbed 24 percent, while they increased only 6 percent for Ohio as a whole.
Further evidence suggested that the releases from Shippingport had added heavily to all the other sources of carcinogens, from bomb tests to chemical plants. The city of Columbus, Ohio, which did not use the Ohio River for its drinking-water supply, actually experienced a 10 percent decline in its cancer rate during the same period, even though it suffered from all the other likely sources of carcinogens, including automobile exhaust, cigarettes, food additives, hair dyes, artificial sweeteners, and so on.
But if Shippingport was responsible for these striking cancer rises in the towns using the Ohio River for their water supply, then the discharges into the river would have had to be vastly greater than the amounts for which the plant had been licensed. Was there any evidence that the activity in the water had been much greater downstream than upstream of the plant? After all, it was clear that it could not be the milk that was responsible for transmitting the radioactivity all the way to Steubenville and Cincinnati.
Fortunately, there was a way to check this. For many years, the Pennsylvania State Department of Environmental Resources in Harrisburg had been making quarterly measurements of the radioactivity in all the major streams of the state at various points along each river. When the students had collected the data for the Ohio and other streams in western Pennsylvania, the answer began to emerge. There was a large peak in the Ohio River radioactivity in late 1970 and early 1971, exactly the time when the N.U.S. data had shown a large peak of radioactivity in soil, milk, river sediment, and fish. At Midland, just a little over a mile below the Shippingport plant, the gross beta activity had climbed from a low of only 3 picocuries per liter to a high of 18. But for the two rivers that joined in Pittsburgh to form the Ohio, the Allegheny and the Monongahela, measured at locations more than 30 miles away, upstream to the east the rise was no greater than 5 of these units.
Thus, the rise in river radioactivity could not have been due to fallout, which would have affected the more distant upstream areas just as strongly. But it was consistent with high, unreported gaseous releases that would settle on the land and then be washed into the Ohio River with the rain and melting snow. In fact, the rapid disappearance of the high values of long-lived strontium 90 in the soil around the Shippingport plant between early 1971 and 1972 could be explained only by the action of rain carrying the radioactivity from gaseous releases into the local streams and rivers. This possibility was further supported by the fact that the two nearest small rivers that joined the Ohio just a few miles upstream from Shippingport, the Beaver River and Raccoon Creek, both showed even larger rises in activity, reaching peaks of 20 picocuries per liter during the same quarter.
It was apparently not any direct liquid discharges that were involved, which by the terms of the original license were to be held to less than 0.56 curies. Rather, the radioactivity must have originated from airborne releases that settled on the surrounding land as far upstream as 20 to 30 miles. Only releases into the air could also explain the large increases in milk activity all around the farms surrounding the Ohio River in Beaver County.
This would make it possible to understand the paradoxical finding that even "upstream" locations and tributaries of the Ohio within 20 to 30 miles, showed peaks in radioactivity when the local milk rose in strontium 90, cesium 137, and iodine 131. And it would explain why cancer rates in cities as far away as Pittsburgh, upstream by 25 miles, could have their water supplies contaminated. The wind was blowing the radioactive gases up the Ohio Valley to the streams that filled the reservoirs serving Pittsburgh, just as the fallout from the "Simon" shot in Nevada had contaminated the reservoirs of Albany and Troy back in the spring of 1953.
Clearly, if such releases were taking place but were somehow not reported, even cities using tributaries of the Ohio entering the river 10 to 30 miles upstream from Shippingport, as well as communities far downstream, could have their drinking water affected and their cancer rates increased by the invisible, tasteless, and odorless radioactive fallout secretly discharged into the ambient air.
By looking up the amount of water carried by the Ohio per second at Midland for each month of the year, it was possible to calculate how many curies had been carried downstream from the airborne releases in late 1970 above and beyond the amounts in the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers that joined to form the Ohio some 25 miles upstream from the plant. The total worked out to 183 more curies in the Ohio below the plant in a year than were carried by the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, which combined to form the Ohio. This was 300 times more than the original permit had allowed for direct discharges into the Ohio River from the Shippingport plant, and 2500 times more than the 0.07 curies that the Duquesne Light Company had officially reported for liquid discharges in 1970 to the state and federal health agencies.
There were apparently hundreds to thousands of times as many curies of highly toxic radioactivity in the Ohio River than were allowed by state and federal limits, designed to protect the health of the people using the Ohio for their drinking water. The radioactivity did not come from the direct liquid discharges, however, but through the run-off of unreported gaseous releases that had settled on the land.
Here, then, was at least one piece in the puzzle as to why not only infant mortality but mortality at all ages had been affected so strongly, despite the relatively small external radiation doses from gamma rays on the ground that irradiate the whole body uniformly. It was the airborne gaseous activity and the run-off into the rivers serving as drinking-water supplies that had apparently carried the more damaging short-lived beta-ray-emitting chemicals rapidly into the critical organs of the people, in addition to the other pathways via the milk, the vegetables, the fruits, the fish, and the meat that were most important for the long-lived strontium 90 and cesium 137. And although adults were more resistant to the biological damage than the developing fetus, they received the doses steadily over many years rather than just for a few months, by continuously drinking the water, inhaling the gases, and eating the food that was contaminated first by the fallout from the bomb tests, and then by the secret gaseous releases from the peaceful nuclear reactors along the rivers of the nation.
Of equal significance were the implications for one of the most important questions DeGroot was unable to answer: Why had he not found a correlation between the changes in infant mortality in Beaver County and the published radioactive releases in the case of the Shippingport reactor, while he had discovered such a correlation for the other three nuclear reactors he had studied? Clearly, if there existed such large unreported releases as the data gathered by the N.U.S. Corporation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the State of Pennsylvania seemed to indicate, then one could not possibly expect to find a direct relationship between the announced annual releases and the changes in mortality rates.
Now a new and most disturbing question had arisen: How was it possible for large quantities of radioactive gases to escape from the Shippingport plant without being officially reported as required by the existing regulations? Not until many months later was this riddle destined to be solved in a most unexpected manner.
In the meantime, there was a growing public debate over the abnormally high levels of radioactivity around the Shippingport plant and the sharp rise in infant mortality in such nearby towns as Aliquippa. I documented my findings in a report and sent it to the governor of Pennsylvania, Milton Shapp, in January of 1973. Early in the spring, Governor Shapp announced his intention to appoint a special fact-finding commission of independent scientists and public health experts who would hold hearings on the question and issue their own report within a few months.
The latest numbers for infant mortality in Aliquippa, some 10 miles downwind and to the east of the plant, were indeed alarming. For the years 1970 and 1971, the years of high levels of radioactivity, Aliquippa's infant mortality rate climbed to a twenty-year high of 44.2 and 39.7 per 1000 live births. These were more than double the overall state rates of 19.9 and 18.2. Yet back in 1949 and 1952, when ordinary air pollution from the steel mills was much greater, but before Shippingport had started, Aliquippa's infant mortality rates had been as low as 16.0 per 1000 births.
This could not be simply explained by a change in the composition of the population, which had remained essentially constant, the nonwhite population representing 21 percent of the total in 1960 and 22 percent in 1970. And for the State of Pennsylvania and the United States as a whole, infant mortality had resumed its previous decline after the end of atmospheric bomb tests by the United States and the Soviet Union for both the white and nonwhite population.
News of the controversy had reached the cities along the Ohio below Shippingport, and in April I was asked to present my findings at a public lecture at the University of Cincinnati by a local environmental group and university professors concerned about the construction of the Zimmer nuclear power station upstream from the city's water intake. At the end of my presentation, members of the university's Department of Chemical and Nuclear Engineering attacked my findings, charging that numerous state and federal government health agencies, including those of the State of Pennsylvania, had found no substance to my allegations in the past and that I had been repudiated especially by such prestigious organizations as the Health Physics Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Academy of Science, the Atomic Energy Commission, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
As Dr. Bernd Kohn, director of the Radio Chemistry and Nuclear Engineering Research Center put it: "In each case, an epidemiologist has refuted his claim by the same data." But Dr. Kohn and the other engineers present were unable to point out how else to explain the startlingly high localized values of strontium 90, cesium 137, and iodine 131 in the environment around Shippingport, other than that it was likely to be Chinese fallout.
However, when I showed the data to the mayor of Cincinnati, Theodore M. Barry, he wrote a letter to Governor John J. Gilligan of Ohio, requesting an investigation by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. Also, the chairman of the energy conservation committee of the Cincinnati Environmental Task Force, after seeing the data on radioactivity and cancer mortality changes around Shippingport and the other reactors that had been studied by DeGroot and me, announced that he would recommend that the City of Cincinnati become an intervenor in the public hearings on an operating license for the Zimmer plant.
The next day, the Cincinnati Inquirer carried the following two headlined stories on its front page: "Mitchell Denies Knowledge of Plans to Bug Watergate" and, just below, "AEC Denies Radiation Damage to Ohio River."
In the light of the enormous discrepancy between the official claims of "zero releases" and the N.U.S. findings of much larger than normal amounts of strontium 90 in the soil, the milk, and the river sediment around Shippingport, the coincidental juxtaposition of these two stories took on an ominous ring. The facts that had emerged so far were hardly consonant with the AEC's claim in the Inquirer story that "the release of effluents from the Shippingport Atomic Power Station is carefully controlled and monitored so as not to endanger the public."
The story went on to say that "the radiation levels in these effluents are so extremely low that they pose no threat to the people in the cities mentioned by Dr. Sternglass." It all sounded exactly like the old reassurances that had been issued by the AEC at the time of the nuclear tests in Nevada, and the denial by former Attorney General John M. Mitchell before a federal grand jury that he had any prior knowledge of the Watergate case and always vetoed any bugging plans that were suggested while he was President Nixon's campaign manager.
There would soon be another kind of grand jury appointed to hear the differing claims of government officials and independent scientists who had stumbled upon information that was not meant to reach the ordinary citizen of our country.
Newspaper stories in the Pittsburgh area repeating the denial of large discharges from Shippingport and blaming the high readings either on fallout or on errors in the measurements were clearly indications of deep concern by the AEC, Duquesne Light, and N.U.S. All three organizations now knew that before long they would be facing hearings by an independent body of knowledgeable scientists. The bureaucrats and scientists in the AEC knew that this time the hearings would not be under their control, unlike the case of the usual licensing hearings, where both the hearing officers and the staff were appointed by the agency whose mandated task it was both to promote and regulate the safety of the nuclear industry.
But the full extent of the behind-the-scenes efforts to make the public believe that nothing had happened at Shippingport did not emerge until long after the hearings of the fact-finding commission had taken place at the end of July. The story was pieced together later in an article by a free-lance investigative writer, Joel Griffiths, and published in an article in the Beaver County Times on June 7, 1974, after the AEC had issued licenses for the operation and construction of the Beaver Valley Power Station Units I and II.
Quite unexpectedly, the story came to light as the result of a routine request submitted by the attorney for the City of Pittsburgh, Albert Brandon, in connection with the discovery procedures preceding the licensing hearings for the new reactors at Shippingport. (This was a few months after the Shapp Commission hearings in Aliquippa had taken place.) Brandon had asked for copies of all correspondence and internal memoranda connected with the Shippingport controversy in the files of the AEC. And then, one day in the fall of 1973, not long before the licensing hearings were scheduled to begin, a large envelope arrived at Brandon's office with a devastating series of internal memoranda, letters, and other documents revealing what had taken place behind the scenes.
As Griffiths described it in his article, early in 1973 the AEC's Earth Science Branch had conducted an in-depth investigation of the situation and concluded that "it is highly unlikely that the radioactivity was of Chinese origin. Most likely it was either of local origin, or the result of inadequate sampling procedures." Griffiths wrote that this was a crucial finding. "Local origin" was a euphemism for Shippingport, since there was nothing else in the vicinity that could have produced that amount of radioactivity. Thus, if the radioactivity had in fact been there, Shippingport was clearly implicated. The only other possibility was that maybe the radioactivity had really not been there in the first place.
As Griffiths put it:
This was where "inadequate sampling procedures" came in. The idea was that N.U.S. might have bungled procedures it had used to measure the radioactivity in the samples of soil, milk, and other items from Beaver Valley and somehow produced hundreds of erroneous readings, and all of them too high. This, however, was synonymous with the conclusion that N.U.S. was incompetent.
There was only one way this question could be settled in a conclusive manner. Some of the radioactivity in the samples that N.U.S. scientists had collected in 1970 and 1971 was long lasting. If N.U.S. could turn up some of the original samples that had shown the high levels, they could be reanalyzed to see if the radioactivity had really been there.
According to the records, N.U.S. conducted a search in February 1973 at its Rockville headquarters to see if any of the original high samples were still around. Unfortunately, it was the company's stated policy not to retain samples for more than a year after analysis, and none could be located.
Griffiths went on to relate an interesting development:
By this time, a sharp divergence of opinion had grown between N.U.S. on the one hand and the AEC and health agencies on the other. Faced with a choice between attributing the radioactivity to Shippingport or to N.U.S.'s incompetence, the AEC and others picked incompetence and began leveling various technical charges against the N.U.S. reports. This placed N.U.S. in a delicate position. If their reputation was to be salvaged without crucifying their employer, the Duquesne Light Company and the AEC, N.U.S. had somehow to prove that the radioactivity had been there but had not come from Shippingport. So despite all the evidence, N.U.S. picked fallout.
In March, 1973, N.U.S. completed a draft report on the Shippingport situation, defending the accuracy of its original high readings but attempting to prove that they were not particularly unusual and were probably due largely to Chinese bomb tests.
This draft report was sent to Dr. John Harley, director of the AEC's Health and Safety Laboratory. Dr. Harley had been playing a leading role in the AEC's investigation of the Shippingport affair, and he was well aware that the high radiation levels could not be explained by fallout.
In fact, I knew that he had worked in this field for years and had previously been involved with minimizing the health impact of the fallout from the "Simon" test that had rained over Albany and Troy back in 1953. He had also played a major role in trying to discredit the findings I had made that showed a connection between the upward changes in infant mortality from the atmospheric tests in the Pacific and Nevada and the levels of fallout in the milk and diet through the use of the misleading "gummed film" data, which falsely showed high strontium 90 levels in the dusty, dry areas where the milk levels were actually quite low.
As Griffiths's story indicated:
The memoranda in the AEC files showed very clearly that Dr. Harley was not happy with N.U.S.'s draft report.
In comments for the AEC's files, dated March 8, 1973, Harley fumed: "This draft proves to my satisfaction that the work of this organization is incompetent. . . . It is obvious that their staff is not familiar with the field and is not competent to evaluate their data or those of others."
Harley went on to list several examples of N.U.S.'s incompetence in their attempt to prove the fallout theory and in other aspects of their report, remarking that "Investigation would certainly turn up gross calculation errors or even that some doctoring of the numbers had occurred."
He signed off: "I believe the situation is very serious."
Serious indeed. Could Dr. Harley have been referring to that team of "outstanding scientists" who, according to Duquesne's ads, were engaged in the vital work of making people aware that their large nuclear plant was to be "absolutely safe to the public health"?
Yes, he was.
More serious was that N.U.S. had already performed extensive safety studies for some thirty-four other nuclear power plants, many of which had already started operating.
If they were bunglers . . . .
Dr. Harley's accusations of incompetence were more incongruous in view of the apparent excellent credentials of the N.U.S. staff, including the two members who prepared the draft report.
One, the vice-president in charge of all N.U.S. nuclear safety work, Dr. Morton Goldman, had spent ten years as a nuclear safety expert with the U.S. Public Health Service (now the Environmental Protection Agency) and was a consultant to state and federal health agencies.
The other, Joseph DiNunno, the scientist directly responsible for the Beaver Valley survey, had received all his training and experience in the AEC's own reactor safety branch.
Why, N.U.S. almost was the AEC and EPA. Incompetence? Doctoring of figures?
Nevertheless, a couple of months after Dr. Harley's outburst, the AEC issued a definitive report stating that the high radiation levels had been due to N.U.S. bungling. The report was hand carried to the Pittsburgh newspapers before N.U.S. even got a chance to look at it.
Shortly thereafter, on June 7, 1973, according to AEC documents, the president of N.U.S., Charles Jones, called the AEC. Jones maintained stoutly that the radioactivity really had been there and that there was nothing wrong with N.U.S.'s methodology.
The AEC representative to whom he spoke, Dr. Martin B. Biles, director of the Division of Operational Safety, disagreed. Jones then complained that the unfavorable publicity was damaging his company and something must be done. Dr. Biles suggested a meeting.
On June 20, 1973, a meeting was held between Dr. Goldman and DiNunno of N.U.S., Dr. Harley and Dr. Phil Krey of the AEC, and a Duquesne Light Co. attorney.
According to Dr. Harley's subsequent memo to the AEC's files [dated June 22] it was a fruitful meeting.
Goldman and DiNunno began by admitting [in a separate memorandum for the files] that someone in N.U.S. had indeed doctored up figures to support the company's position [in past work for the AEC's Health and Safety Laboratory] although there were unfortunately no laboratory records to verify the fact. This aside, however, they had a wonderful new development to report. In the time since President Jones had talked to the AEC, N.U.S. had found some of the original high samples from Beaver Valley.
Now it would be possible to see if that radioactivity had really been there.
This was indeed fortuitous, especially since these samples were by then nearly two years old and the company did not usually retain its samples for more than a year. Evidently they eluded the original search for samples in February.
According to Dr. Goldman, all the company's employees had been instructed to ransack the premises, and the samples had been turned up by two lab technicians in a storage basement where such samples were not usually kept.
Despite the AEC's earlier misgivings about N.U.S.'s credibility, the legitimacy of these newfound samples was accepted without question. Arrangements were immediately made to have them reanalyzed by the AEC, the EPA, an independent private lab, and N.U.S. It was also decided that N.U.S.'s performance in the reanalysis would serve as a test of whether the company had recovered its competence.
So what happened?
The samples were reanalyzed and no more radioactivity! Some of the samples turned out to be as much as twenty times lower than before, but N.U.S. had got it right this time. Their analytical methods were corrected at last. They were saved. Everybody was saved.
The press was notified.
There were a few loose ends.
N.U.S. had to explain why so many of its measurements had been twenty or more times too high in 1971. The company reviewed its laboratory records again and made a new discovery: all through 1971 there had been systematic errors in several of its analytical methods, all tending to produce only erroneously high readings.
That was it. The case was closed.
NUS's safety work for thirty-four other reactors, and even the low readings it somehow managed to obtain at various times and places in Beaver Valley, was allowed to stand unchallenged. Dr. Goldman and DiNunno fired several employees, including the lab chief, who never stopped defending his measurements, and N.U.S. has since continued in its work of making nuclear power plants "absolutely safe to public health."
None of this, of course, was known either to me or the members of the fact-finding commission when the hearings began on July 31, 1973 in the town of Aliquippa. The panel appointed by Governor Milton J. Shapp and chaired by Dr. Leonard Bachman, the Governor's Health Services Director, consisted of seven members in addition to the chairman, representing a broad range of disciplines and wide experience in matters related to public health. Only five of the panel members, however, were independent university-based scientists outside the state government, and only three of these had personal experience with studies of radiation effects in man.
Of the three, Dr. Karl Z. Morgan, Neely Professor of Health Physics at the School of Nuclear Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, editor-in-chief of the journal Health Physics, first President of the International Radiation Protection Association, and Director of the Health Physics Division of the AEC's Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 1944 to 1973, had the longest association with the problems of radiation, its control, and its measurement.
Next in the length of his professional involvement with radiation and its effects on man was Dr. Edward P. Radford, Professor of Environmental Medicine at the School of Hygiene and Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, who had recently served on the National Academy of Science's Committee on the Biological Effects of Radiation.
The third scientist with recent experience in the evaluation of the effects of radiation on human populations was Dr. Morris DeGroot, Professor of Mathematical Statistics and Chairman of the Department of Statistics at Carnegie-Mellon University.
Of the other two university scientists, one was Dr. Paul Kotin, Provost and Vice-President of the Health Science Center and Professor of Pathology at Temple University in Philadelphia, formerly Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, with a special interest in the environmental causes of cancer, and a consultant to both the National Cancer Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The other member of the scientific panel was Dr. Harry Smith, Jr., Dean of the School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at Troy, New York, who was a biostatistician active in the health field over many years, serving as consultant to the National Center for Health Statistics of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Also serving on the Governor's Commission was the Secretary of Health for the State of Pennsylvania, J. Finton Speller, M.D., and the Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources, Maurice K. Goddard.
Although this was not known to me at the time, it would actually be the staffs of these two state officials who would prepare the final report, since there was no provision for any funding of an independent staff responsible only to the scientist members of the committee. In particular, the radiological portions of the report were to be drafted by Thomas M. Gerusky, Chief, Office of Radiological Health, and Margaret A. Reilly, Chief of Environmental Surveillance in Gerusky's office, both of whom reported to Secretary Goddard. The sections of the report dealing with health effects were to be prepared by Dr. George K. Tokuhata, an epidemiologist recently appointed as Director of Program Evaluation in the Department of Health. All three of these key individuals had in the past made public statements denying the validity of my findings on low-level radiation effects from fallout and releases from nuclear plants. As Griffiths later learned in a series of interviews with some of the commissioners also published in the Beaver County Times, the final report kept being delayed again and again because the staff kept creating drafts which reflected the view that there were no serious problems connected with Shippingport, and which the commissioners were unwilling to sign.
But on the day of the hearings, I was very hopeful that at long last an eminent group of concerned scientists and public health officials would provide the kind of scientific jury able to evaluate fairly the serious evidence for unreported releases and disturbing increases in mortality rates that had recently come to light.
After Dr. Bachman had opened the hearings and introduced the members of the panel, I summarized the data I had previously submitted in two reports to the governor in a series of slides. In addition, I presented further evidence on the changes in mortality rates involving other chronic diseases besides cancer in a number of towns along the Ohio. Thus, in East Liverpool, 5 miles downstream from Shippingport, heart-disease mortality had risen some 100 percent from its low point of 370 per 100,000 deaths in the period 1954-56 to 730 by 1971, while Ohio as a whole had remained constant at about 370 to 390 throughout this period. Yet back in the early 1950s, before Shippingport had started, there was more ordinary pollution from chemicals and coal burning in the Ohio River, from which the drinking water for East Liverpool originated. And in the ensuing two decades, there had been major efforts to clean up the air and water.
I then presented other recent data in support of the possibility that the action of radioactive fallout on all aspects of human health may have been seriously underestimated, thereby explaining the unexpectedly sharp rises in both infant mortality, cancer, and chronic diseases in Aliquippa and nearby river towns since the nuclear plant had gone on line.
Some of this data came from an extensive collection of heath statistics gathered by Dr. M. Segi at the School of Public Health, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan, from work sponsored by the Japanese Cancer Society. It showed that many types of cancers known to be caused by radiation rose sharply all over Japan, and not just in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, beginning some five to seven years after the bombs were detonated. Thus, while pancreatic cancer had been level for a period of more than ten years prior to 1945 -- during a period of rapid industrialization, production of chemicals, and growth of electric-power generation by coal -- it shot up some 1200 percent by 1965, and only recently began to slow down its enormous rate of climb following the end of major atmospheric bomb testing. The pancreas is also the organ involved in diabetes, a disease that had also shown sharp rises not only in Japan but in the United States, and specifically in the Beaver County area.
Similar patterns emerged from plots of Dr. Segi's data for prostate cancer and lung cancer, the former rising to 900 percent of its pre-1945 incidence, and the latter to 750 percent. And again a similar pattern had taken place near Shippingport, where lung cancer for the nearest sizable town of Midland had risen 500 percent from its 1957-58 rate of 22 to a high of 132 per 100,000 population by 1970, while it had risen only some 70 percent, from 22 to 38 per 100,000 in Pennsylvania as a whole during the same period.
Again, these patterns could not simply be blamed on cigarette smoking alone, although it was known that uranium miners who smoked had some five to ten times the lung cancer mortality rate than those who did not, so that those who both worked in the mines and smoked showed a twenty-five- to hundredfold greater risk of dying of lung cancer as compared with those who neither smoked nor were exposed to the radioactive radon gas. Thus, in effect, the releases of radioactive gases into the already polluted air of Midland has produced the same kind of synergistic effect, as if the people in that town just a mile away from the Shippingport plant had suddenly started to work in the uranium mines.
Thus, the data for the changes in cancer rates in the area for which levels of radioactivity in the air, the water, the milk, and the total diet had been measured as comparable with the levels produced by fallout from bomb tests in Siberia and the Pacific drifting over Japan during the 1950s clearly supported the reality of the data gathered by the N.U.S. scientists recently, and also the reality of the existence of much-higher-than-reported releases from Shippingport in the past.
In further support of the argument that relatively low doses of radiation from nuclear reactor releases can have readily detectable results on human health, I summarized the evidence that infant mortality in Beaver County and other areas along the Ohio had increased in 1960 and 1961 following an accidental release of radioactive isotopes in the course of a fuel-element melt-down at the Waltz Mills nuclear reactor on the Youghiogheny River, some 20 miles upstream from the city of McKeesport in April of 1960.
Within a year after that little-known accident, infant mortality rates doubled in McKeesport and then slowly declined again to the level of the rest of Allegheny County, which gets its drinking water mainly from the Allegheny River. And the effects could be seen in a steadily declining pattern of infant mortality peaks along the Monongahela and Ohio River communities for 160 miles downstream.
In the course of the questioning period that followed my presentation, I was asked how it was possible that such relatively small doses comparable to normal background levels could lead to such large changes in mortality rates, when it apparently took ten to a hundred times these levels to double the risk for the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In response I cited the startling results of a recent study published in the journal Health Physics in March of 1972 by a scientist working for the Canadian Atomic Energy Laboratories in Pinawa, Manitoba, Dr. Abram Petkau. Dr. Petkau had been examining the basic processes whereby chemicals diffuse through cell membranes. In the course of these studies, he had occasion to expose the membranes surrounded by water to a powerful X-ray machine, and observed that they would usually break after absorbing the relatively large dose of 3500 rads, the equivalent of some 35,000 years of normal background radiation.
This certainly seemed to be very reassuring with regard to any possible danger to vital portions of cells as a result of the much smaller doses in the environment from either natural or man-made sources. But then Dr. Petkau did something that no one else had tried before. He added a small amount of radioactive sodium salt to the water, such as occurs from fallout or reactor releases to a river, and measured the total absorbed dose before the membrane broke due to the low-level protracted radiation.
To his amazement, he found that instead of requiring a dose of 3500 rads, the membrane ruptured at an absorbed dose of three-quarters of one rad, or at a dose some 5000 times less than one rad, much less than was necessary to break it in a short, high-intensity burst of radiation such as had occurred at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Dr. Petkau repeated this experiment many times in order to be certain of this disturbing finding, and each time the result confirmed the initial discovery: the more protracted the radiation exposure was, the less total dose it took to break the membranes, completely contrary to the usual case of genetic damage, where it made no difference whether the radiation was given in one second, one day, one month, or one year.
By a further series of experiments, he finally began to understand what was taking place. Apparently a biological mechanism was involved in the case of membrane damage that was completely different from the usual direct hit of a particle on the DNA molecules in the center of the cell. It turned out that instead, a highly toxic, unstable form of ordinary oxygen normally found in cell fluids was created by the irradiation process, and that this so-called "free radical" was attracted to the cell membrane, where it initiated a chain reaction that gradually oxidized and thus weakened the molecules composing the membrane. And the lower the number of such "free radicals" present in the cell fluid at any given moment, the more efficient was the whole destructive process.
Thus, almost overnight, the entire foundation of all existing assumptions as to the likely action of very low, protracted exposures as compared to short exposures at Hiroshima or even from brief, low-level medical X-rays had been shaken. Instead of a protracted or more gentle exposure being less harmful than a short flash, it turned out that there were some conditions under which it could be the other way around: The low-level, low-rate exposure was more harmful to biological cells containing oxygen than the same exposure given at a high rate or in a very brief moment.
No longer was it the case that one could confidently calculate what would happen at very low, protracted environmental exposures from studies on cells or animals carried out at high doses given in a relatively short time. It was clear that the direct, linear relation between radiation dose and effect was no longer the most conservative assumption, for it was based on the implicit assumption that a given dose would always result in a given increase in risk, no matter whether the radiation was absorbed in one second or one year. Clearly, if Dr. Petkau's findings were to be confirmed by other experiments in the future, our whole present understanding of low-dose radiation effects would have to be revised, since small exposures might turn out to be far more harmful to living cells than we had ever realized.
Thus, I pleaded we should not reject evidence for much higher than expected infant and cancer mortality rates merely because that evidence did not seem to agree with our previous estimates based on high-level, high-rate exposures at Hiroshima and in various studies. I now believed that we had to be prepared to revise drastically our expectations as to what apparently innocuous low-level, chronic radiation exposures to critical cells and organs from environmental sources might do.
My own testimony was followed by that of Dr. Irving Bross, a well-known biostatistician from the Roswell Park Memorial Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York, who had himself been studying the effect of low-level radiation on childhood leukemia for many years. In summarizing his findings Dr. Bross stated that there exists a wide range of individuals with very different degrees of sensitivity to radiation, depending upon their age and their past medical history.
This fact alone would invalidate any estimate of the likely effect of small radiation exposures to a large human population, since these had been based on the average adult, obtained at high doses, and on the assumption of a linear relationship between dose and effect. For a non-homogeneous group, the more resistant individuals such as healthy young adults would not show any significant effects, while either the very young or the very old and those with immune deficiencies, allergies, and other special conditions might show an unexpectedly large effect. As Bross had put it in a letter to The New York Times published just a few weeks before he testified: "It follows that procedures for calculating `safe levels' based on `average exposures' of `average individuals' are not going to protect the children or adults who need the protection most."
Next was the testimony of the Deputy Director of the Division of Biology and Medicine of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in charge of all biomedical and environmental research, Dr. W. W. Burr, Jr. This witness, as recorded by the reporter for the Beaver County Times, Bob Grotevant, "tabbed all allegations about a definite correlation between radioactive emissions from the Shippingport plant and increased infant deaths and cancer cases made by Dr. Sternglass as `unsupportable.'" Burr then announced that a number of follow-up tests after publication in 1971 of "erroneous" test data by the N.U.S. Corporation "proved that no such high levels of any radioactive products existed near the plant."
This, then, was the way that had been chosen by the AEC to deal with what had happened, as we were to learn later from the internal memoranda, and one witness after the other for N.U.S., for the utility, for the EPA, and for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania followed the line agreed upon in the correspondence and secret meetings described in the memoranda. Each independent set of data was rejected as unreliable or meaningless when it showed the existence of high radiation levels or increases in mortality rates.
As Anna Mayo, who covered the proceedings for The Village Voice, put it in an article published a few months later, "it was all redolent of -- you guessed it -- Watergate. In the audience, environmentalists gnashed their teeth, wishing that the Shippingport horrors could have been exposed on national television. If Duquesne Light would cover up, would not Con Ed, LILCO, or Commonwealth Edison do the same if Indian Point, Shoreham, or Dresden were at stake?"
Indeed a great deal was at stake: In 1973 some thirty-eight new nuclear reactors were in the process of being ordered, the largest number ever in one year, each representing a potential business of about a billion dollars. And it was the stated aim of the Nixon administration and the nuclear industry to see a thousand of these reactors operating near the cities of our nation by the end of the century. It would indeed be difficult for any human beings not to have minimized the danger when a thousand billion dollars were at stake.
As expected, when the report of the Governor's Commission finally appeared a year later, after the licenses had been granted to Beaver Valley Unit I and II, it did not call for a moratorium on nuclear power plants, as Anna Mayo had suggested it should at the end of her article. In fact, she had predicted the outcome exactly. As she had put it bitterly: "About the most that can be expected is a modest plea for further studies: that is, more and more necrophiliac nitpicking."
The summary of the commission's report set the tone of the entire document. By carefully using certain qualifying words that are easily passed over by the hurried reader, such as "substantial," "systematic," or "significant," a draft had finally been prepared by Tokuhata, Gerusky, and Reilly that the members of the committee could no longer continue to refuse to sign after months of efforts to arrive at some sort of acceptable wording. It provided sentences which, when taken separately, could be widely used by the utility to claim that it had been completely cleared. For example, consider the very first sentence: "There is no substantial evidence that the quantities of radioactive materials released by Shippingport Atomic Power Station have been greater than reported by the plant operators." This sentence was followed, however, by one that would satisfy the consciences of some of the more concerned commissioners: "However, the absence of comprehensive off-site monitoring during plant operations precludes accurate verification of the data on plant releases," and so on throughout the long and inconclusive report.
Far more revealing than the report as to the true feelings of four of the five independent scientists on the commission willing to go on record were the answers to questions submitted to them by Griffiths in his article, which appeared just before Governor Shapp released the report in June of 1974.
For instance, to the question, "Did the data in the original N.U.S. report point to Shippingport as the source of the high radiation data," the scientists answered as follows:
DR. DEGROOT: "If we accept those data, then the circumstantial evidence points to Shippingport largely because of the location of the radioactivity and the lack of plausible alternate sources."
DR. MORGAN: "The original N.U.S. data very strongly suggested to me that the radioactivity came from the plant. If you take the data as fact, you'd be very hard-pressed to find any other source that could explain it."
DR. RADFORD: "Well, there was some indication in the original N.U.S. data that there was a release from some source. As to whether that source was Shippingport, I'd have to look up the data again."
DR. SMITH: "I can't find any direct connection between the radiation levels measured by N.U.S. and the Shippingport plant. All that mish-mash is so unscientific that one would never be able to draw any valid scientific inferences from it."
Another question referred to the discrepancy between the original N.U.S. analysis and the reanalysis: "After N.U.S. reanalyzed its data, the high radiation levels disappeared. Did this reanalysis prove to you that the radioactivity was never there?"
DR. DEGROOT: "No, it did not. It did convince me that the reanalysis was highly unreliable. However, I am equally convinced that the original N.U.S. data showing high levels cannot be considered reliable evidence. There are just so many inconsistencies in their work that I cannot accept any of it. . . . This comment does not mean that all their high readings were wrong. In fact, I find it highly unlikely that N.U.S. could have made systematic errors, all in one direction, in several different analytical techniques."
DR. MORGAN: "The explanations advanced by N.U.S. did not at all convince me. For example, if they had found something wrong in only one of their systems, it would not be too surprising. We all make mistakes. But to have systematic errors in several different analytical techniques, all tending to produce only high readings -- the chances of that are quite low. . . . There appears to be a strong suggestion of dishonesty, and that estimate is borne out by written comments from Dr. John Harley of the AEC, whose integrity I respect. Dr. Harley found that N.U.S. seems to have doctored some of their data to fit their arguments. If a person will do that with one set of scientific data, it is very possible he will do it with another. . . . So, as far as I can see, there is no proof that the radioactivity levels around Shippingport were not quite high in the past. For a long period now the radioactivity levels in milk in that general area have been high according to the public-health agency surveys, which are completely separate from the N.U.S. survey. This has never been explained."
DR. RADFORD: "Well, they had three separate laboratories reanalyze some of the original 1971 milk and soil samples, and each lab got similar low readings. If these samples were valid, then it is pretty clear there was not much radioactivity there to begin with. Now of course you could say they dug up soil from somewhere and analyzed it -- I cannot argue that."
DR. SMITH: "I think that the degree of scientific merit on one side really was better. I would accept the explanations advanced by N.U.S."
Another question: "Was there any evidence in the mortality statistics that Shippingport had caused health damage, or did the statistics tend to refute this?"
DR. DEGROOT: "We cannot really decide the issue because of the poor quality of the available health statistics and because the population is not large enough for a really meaningful statistical analysis. But there is certainly nothing in the available data to lower the probability that there may have been health damage. It is true that the Pennsylvania State Health Department went back and discovered errors of a certain type in its published infant mortality rate for Aliquippa in 1971, and that the ensuing corrections sharply lowered the rate. . . . However, I feel it is likely there were also errors of another type which could have raised the rate back up again. Unfortunately, the resources were not available to investigate this possibility. So, to my mind, the corrections are incomplete. The only type of error investigated was one that would reduce the number of deaths and lower the rate. . . . In any case, I think there remain some anomalies that have not been fully explained. For example, I did an analysis of infant mortality in Aliquippa, and the rate definitely seems to have shifted upward recently. To my mind this upward shift is not fully explained by demographic or socioeconomic factors. I do not know if any of it is due to Shippingport, but I think it warrants further investigation."
DR. MORGAN: "I do not personally feel that the mortality statistics refute the possibility of some adverse effects on the population's health. Taking the original published data, it appears to me that there was an effect. However, after the Health Department got through making corrections and applying all the epidemiological and statistical techniques to the mortality rates for the population near the reactor, they seem to have come up with the belief that there were no significant health effects. . . . I cannot help but be a little skeptical. To me, if you are going to make all these corrections for the population that might have been exposed to radiation, you have to give equal consideration to the unexposed control population. It was very obvious to me that if they had, it would have made a difference in at least one instance."
DR. RADFORD: "The statistical evidence favors the hypothesis that the plant did not cause any health damage. For example, the mortality rates do not decline with distance in all directions away from the plant. The mortality rates for Beaver County as a whole are quite low, and on that basis one would be hard-pressed to say that Aliquippa was affected, since the rest of the county should also be high. . . . Then, when the mortality rates for Aliquippa are corrected for errors, you see that Aliquippa is no worse off than any other town with comparable population characteristics."
DR. SMITH: "In my opinion the mortality statistics indicate there was no effect from the reactor. The adjusted mortality rates are not abnormally high. One comes to the conclusion that the Shippingport area may not be the greatest place to live, since the mortality rates are higher there than in many other communities, but such high rates are normal, expected occurrences in places with the kind of demographic and socio-economic characteristics you find around Shippingport. . . . Also, I have to find a scientific link between radiation exposure and infant mortality, and this requires a great deal of what I call logical extrapolation or inferences step by step through a process which proceeds from the birth of a child to its ultimate death, and I cannot find sufficient evidence for that link in this case."
Although the majority clearly were deeply suspicious of the "reanalysis" of the radiation data and the "adjustment" of the vital statistics by Tokuhata, I was surprised by Radford's comment that the mortality rates do not decline with distance away from Shippingport, and that therefore the evidence favored the hypothesis that the plant did not cause any health damage.
Not until later, when I saw the final report, did I see what could have led Radford to this conclusion. In Table 13, Tokuhata had listed the cancer death rates according to distance from Shippingport for the years 1961 to 1971. There were columns for the rates within 5 miles, between 5 and 10 miles, beyond 10 miles, for Beaver County, and for Pennsylvania as a whole. And at the bottom of each column, there were listed the average mortality rates for each of these regions.
When I looked at them, I was startled to find that Radford seemed to be right. The lowest rate did in fact exist for the circle 5 miles in radius around Shippingport: 155.7 compared with 170.4 in the next, more distant region 5 to 10 miles away from the plant, and a still higher rate of 182.3 for Pennsylvania as a whole. This certainly seemed to suggest that radiation was good for one's health, and that the closer one lived to the reactor, the better off one would be.
What exactly had Tokuhata done to arrive at this conclusion that had obviously convinced Radford and Smith? It took me a while to work it out, but when I did I was furious. Looking down the entries for each year from 1961 to 1971, I saw that all areas showed lower cancer rates in 1961 than in 1971, but that the area nearest to Shippingport had happened to have by far the lowest rates to begin with, well before any major releases had occurred from Shippingport and well before any increases in cancer mortality due to Shippingport could have shown up in the statistics. It had been a largely rural area, relatively free from pollution and therefore with relatively good health, cancer mortality having reached a low point of only 102.6 per 100,000 population in 1964, lower than any other listed at any time for any area in the table. The average for the first four years, 1961-64 was only 133.4, compared with 155.3 for the 5-to-10 mile range and 176.8 for Pennsylvania as a whole.
But by the time that the 1963-64 Shippingport releases had had a chance to act, namely by 1969-70, the area nearest to Shippingport had increased the most, shooting up to a peak of more than double its lowest rate of 102.6, namely to 225.6 in 1969 and 218.9 in 1970, while the more distant areas increased much less. Thus, the 5-to-10-mile-distant zone had risen to 189.2 by 1969 and 191.2 by 1970, while the area of Beaver County beyond 10 miles from Shippingport was listed at only 164.9 and 164.3 for these years.
In fact, taking the last four years of 1968 to 1971 in the table when cancers had had a chance to manifest themselves, and comparing them with the first four years when the effect of any releases could not yet have appeared in the mortality statistics, it was clear that the data fully confirmed my earlier findings obtained from the Vital Statistics reports of Pennsylvania and Ohio by town and by county. The greatest increases had indeed taken place for the people nearest to the plant: a rise of 38 percent compared with only 22 percent for the next zone and 20 percent for the area beyond 10 miles, while Pennsylvania as a whole showed only a 6 percent increase in cancer mortality.
Thus, by averaging over all the eleven years listed in the table so as to include the years of lowest cancer rates for the rural area around Shippingport before the plant could have had any effect on cancer rates, Tokuhata had successfully managed to give the impression that the closer one lived to the plant, the less was the risk of cancer.
There was one question that had remained unanswered even by the internal documents from the AEC files: How and where in the plant did the radioactive gases escape without being officially reported, as required by both state and federal regulations?
As so often before in the Shippingport story, the answer came in the most unexpected manner, this time not through the mail but in a phone call late one evening a few weeks after the Aliquippa hearings had ended.
The caller said that what had been brought out at the hearings so far was in the right direction, but that the full story behind the high radioactivity in the area could be found by putting the plant operators on the stand in the forthcoming licensing hearings that were to be held by the AEC later in the year. What we needed to do was to have the men explain during cross-examination the details of the treatment system for the radioactive gases, and then force them under oath to say whether they had found any anomalous conditions in the hold-up tanks where the radioactive gases were supposed to be stored for many weeks to allow the shorter-lived radioactivity to decay before they would be discharged from the monitored stack.
This was of course the kind of break we had hoped for. Together with the internal memoranda of the AEC that had revealed the attempt to explain away the findings of high radioactivity in the air, the soil, the milk, the water, and the local diet, it would complete our case for arguing that the Duquesne Light Company should not be given a license to operate two even larger nuclear reactors, since their employees were either too incompetent or too corrupt to do so without endangering the health and safety of the public.
And so I obtained the detailed engineering drawings of the gas-treatment system for the Shippingport plant from articles published in the literature, and explained the complex system to the attorney for the city, Al Brandon, who would have to do the actual cross-examination.
The hearings by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board on the operating permit for Beaver Valley Unit I and the construction permit for Unit II finally got under way in the fall of 1973 in the Federal Court House in Pittsburgh. Although we had few illusions as to what the ultimate decision would eventually turn out to be, we at least hoped to expose to the public what had actually been going on behind the scenes at the Shippingport plant, widely advertised all over the world by Westinghouse and Duquesne Light as the cleanest and safest nuclear reactor in the world.
For a while we did not know whether we would be allowed to put the operators of the plant on the stand. But then the ruling came down, and it all really happened.
The first few men, when shown the diagrams of the gas-treatment system, claimed that they were not aware of anything abnormal. But suddenly, one of the men, when pressed by Brandon as to whether he had ever noticed anything unusual in the operation of the system, and whether there might not have been some leakages from the gas-storage tanks in the yard, admitted that he had observed something that had caused him to become concerned.
Some time in late 1970 or early 1971 he had noticed an unusual drop in the amount of recorded radioactive gas releases in the plant log, and he had mentioned it to his supervisor, who told him not to worry about it. Questioned by Brandon he admitted that the situation persisted over a period of a few weeks, and that he then decided to investigate what might be going on for himself. He went out into the yard where the large gas-storage tanks were located and found that a lock on one of the rusty valves had been broken. The valve looked as if it might be leaking. Using a small brush to paint a soap solution over the suspected area, he saw bubbles being formed, indicating that radioactive gas was in fact leaking from the tank.
Again, he said that he reported the situation to his supervisor, who told him that he would take care of it, and that he should not concern himself with this problem any more since this was not part of his job.
As Brandon expected, none of the supervisors he put on the stand could recall this incident, and the local newspaper that evening reported that the plant personnel had testified that there were no problems in the plant.
Dr. Morton Goldman, the vice-president of N.U.S. and former public-health officer in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, testified under oath that all their early high readings of radioactivity had been in error, substantiating the testimony of the plant supervisors that no unusual or unreported releases could have taken place, and a few months later the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board issued the permits for the new reactors.
Once again, the industry had managed to win the battle in the special courts set up by the AEC, which controlled the judges, the staff, and the rules of procedure for the benefit of the industry it was designed to promote and protect.
It was only the people that were the losers. Two years after the licenses were granted and five years after the high radiation levels had been measured by the N.U.S. Corporation, with the same time delay as in Hiroshima, the cancer rates in Beaver County and Pittsburgh climbed to a second peak. They rose a full 23 percent in Beaver County and an unprecedented 9 percent in Pittsburgh in the course of only three years: The rise to an all-time high of 304.8 per 100,000 population took place after a generation of costly efforts to reduce the ordinary pollution from fossil fuels in the air and chemicals in the water.
But the heaviest price of all was to be paid by the men who worked at Shippingport, as I was to learn at another kind of hearing at Aliquippa seven years later.
When preparing testimony for a hearing before a workmen's compensation referee in behalf of the family of a man who had died of bone-marrow-type leukemia while working at the Beaver Valley nuclear plant next to the old Shippingport reactor, I was shown the death certificates of twenty-one other operating engineers who had died between 1970 and 1979. All of them had been working with pumps and other heavy equipment to clean up the radioactive spills and move the radioactive wastes on the site. Out of these twenty-two men, ten had died of cancer, more than twice the number normally expected.
Even more significantly, four of these ten were of the bone-marrow-related type, namely multiple myeloma and myelogenous leukemia, known to be most readily induced by radiation, when less than one in twenty cancers of this type would have been expected.
The men who worked at Shippingport were only too well acquainted with these facts. There was a common saying among them: high pay and early death.
Yet there was also a sign of hope for the future. After Shippingport was shut down by an explosion of hydrogen gas in its electrical generator early in 1974, infant mortality in the town of Aliquippa declined to an all-time low of only 11.3 deaths per thousand babies born in 1976.
If the public could only learn these facts as the nation entered the third century of its revolution against the arbitrary authority of another distant government careless of the inalienable human rights to life and liberty, even the tragic tide of rising cancer and damage to the unborn could eventually be reversed.
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