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Known Exposure

June 6, 2011 ·

Throughout its history, IPS has worked to educate the public about the U.S. government's failure to inform the public about the extremely high risk of radiation.

In 1980, Jack Willis and IPS scholar and filmmaker Saul Landau produced the Emmy award-winning documentary, Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang. This powerful film tells the stories of everyday civilians and servicemen who were deliberately exposed to ultimately lethal doses of radiation during 1950s atomic bomb testing. The film also reveals the U.S. government suppression of the health hazards of low-level radiation. In light of the Fukushima disaster, the film remains tragically relevant today.

The first major expose of radiation human experiments was disclosed in the late 1960s by IPS Fellow Paul Jacobs. The experiments that Paul exposed involved giving deadly "battlefield" doses of radiation to poor, mainly black charity cancer patients by a University of Cincinnati radiologist, Eugene Sanger. The Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense had wanted to know how much radiation would render a soldier ineffective.

As I watched Saul’s grainy film, and as I learned about Paul’s important research, I wanted to believe that these tragic experiences of the past had at least helped to protect all of us from the dangers of nuclear radiation.

Yet, the radiation threats that Saul and Paul confirmed more than 30 years ago are echoed alarmingly in the new in-depth report by IPS scholar Bob Alvarez.

In the early 1980s, Bob found Paul's files at IPS as part of his research and, subsequently, produced a detailed report, which was used in a 1984 House Energy and Commerce investigation. Bob is now exposing the ongoing, monumental hazards caused by the unsafe practice of storing spent fuel at nuclear reactors across our nation.

The facts and statistics are alarming: More than 30 million highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods are submerged in vulnerable storage pools at reactors all over the United States. If compromised, these fuel rods are so deadly that a motorcyclist blasting past them at 60 mph at a distance of one foot would be killed from the effects of that fleeting radiation exposure. Bob has collaborated with Physicians for Social Responsibility on an interactive map that allows anyone to enter their zip code and assess the danger of a potential nuclear accident in their neighborhood.

The spent fuel pools located at U.S. nuclear reactors house some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity in the world yet they are kept in flimsy, hazardous storage units, ripe for catastrophe in case of a natural disaster or even a prolonged electricity outage. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has failed to secure these stockpiles and life-threatening incidents have already occurred at these pools.

As Saul, Paul, and Bob demonstrate, the U.S. government has consistently failed to inform the public about the extremely high risk of radiation. We will continue to do our utmost to educate the U.S. public until our government gets the message.


Joy Zarembka
IPS Associate Director