uranium paranoiaum

India’s generation of children crippled by uranium wastescreams the ‘World news’ section of the British tabloid The Observer.

The byline reads: ‘Observer investigation uncovers link between dramatic rise in birth defects in Punjab and pollution [sic] from coal-fired power stations’

Ahem! Let us go through this article first and then treat it with the contempt & disdain that it deserves.

Let me say, I admire this excellent effort at factifuging. However, never mind the facts, if you do a google search, you get copious amounts of random rumours and fearmongering… No real analysis, no understanding at all – all are characterized by a mere store-and-forward procedure!

“…he was systematical, and, like all systematic reasoners, he would move both heaven and earth, and twist and torture everything in nature to support his hypothesis.”

— Laurence Sterne, in Tristram Shandy.

As I had informed the dear friends who forwarded this link rather regretfully, about this article from the blinkered Observer – ‘At multiple levels, this reportage is dishonest, scaremongering and a travesty of facts at best – even if there are so many kids that are affected as the report claims. A price for the so-called ‘development’ – what else. Though my heart goes out to those children…’

Normally I would ignore these kinds of pseudo-scientific, sensation/scandal/scare mongering and half-baked articles, but then this was from the famed Observer magazine and it seemed to have truly flummoxed my friends  (who were wondering whether any of their friemds would know anything about this). Hence the diatribe, much like the rant against the swineflu hysteria that I scribed elsewhere!.

Some facts first:

  1. About half of the worlds electricity is generated using these fossil fuel fired thermal power plants (FFFTPP) – obviously these are located all over the world, including the GREAT Britain, sorry, actually small England.
  2. About 70% of the power generation in India is undertaken through FFFTPPs; so chances are that, right now I am using the power that is polluting India at many levels. I admit to that, though I am generally careful about how I use the grid power. Mea culpa, of course – just like many other paperback activists I know. But I can’t with a straight face, complain about the development of the country and say self-righteously – ‘look why are they polluting’ kind of inanities & dishonest statements.
  3. As long as we are sucking at the power grid, using the centralized facilities and strenuously working towards bland uniformity all over the place, we would continue to live (and die) in glass houses; we can’t really afford to throw an activist’s stone anywhere!
  4. Whenever we mine for things – Iron ores, Copper ores, Aluminium ores, Quartz , Coal – you name it – all these minerals/ores have traces / low levels of other elements too. This would include naturally occurring radioactive isotopes of elements such as Thorium and Uranium, But when huge amounts of ores are ‘beneficiated’ – meaning concentrated so that relevant ‘useful’ elements could be economically recovered / extracted – the processes would leave behind concentrated amounts of other elements too. One such fallout of the essential nature of metallurgical / chemical processes is the concentration of radioactive isotopes. The release of these isotopes in to the ‘environment’ will lead to radioactive contamination.
  5. In the case of coal that goes into FFFTPPs, HUGE quantities of coal are consumed. We don’t ‘see’ it normally, but the numbers are terrible and huge. For a 1000 megawatt FFFTPP, thus the amount of Uranium-235 that would be released per year would amount to a whopping 30-40 Kgs and an equal amount of Thorium too, to boot!
  6. If you compare this with a Nuclear Power Plant (which say,  is also of a 1000 megawatt capacity) – the radioactive emission from a FFFTPP is circa 100 times HIGHER! These numbers are unbelievable, but true within a reasonable margin of error. So what is TRUE is that a ‘normal’ thermal power plant (FFFTPP) is 100 times more dangerous than a comparable Nuclear Power Plant. And I am only discussing the ‘radioactivity’ – not any other pollution. But we rarely hear anything about this!
  7. The reasons are two fold: A: Thermal Power Plant processes are more or less ‘simple’ and are allegedly widely known – hence the logic of our media-crazed population is that, since we know something about this deal, then the bad effects of a plant would be some undefined ‘pollution’ – nothing really that would cause an alarm. To put it more succinctly: People DON’T know that they DON’T know much about these FFFTPPs. So, because of the lack of meta-cognition, they think they have a ‘handle’ over the situation! B: But, most people do NOT understand nuclear power – it is actually Unclear Power for them. Besides Atom Bombs conjure up visions of death and destruction – the danse macabre! People KNOW that they DON’T know much about this Unclear Power; hence there is this irrational fear.

Fear and loathing by The Observ err

Here’s where the paranoia mongering art of The Observer comes in! Their methodology that appears to be working comprises the following tactics:

  1. Have screaming headlines about a ‘third world’ nation and the way the rulers of that country are systematically misgoverning and raping their nation.
  2. Generalize based on as few samples as possible.
  3. Extend the ‘third world’ image by selectively giving examples of conspiracies, bureaucratic lethargy.
  4. Use the 7B (as above) concept as above to fan paranoia.
  5. Introduce non-indigenous people (the so-called experts) into the ‘affected’ population – and reaffirm the imagery that these externak experts are the ONLY saviors of the situation. This in the classic ‘white man’s burden – of which, we all tiringly know so much.

Research? What research, eh??

One thing that strikes me is that there is NO need for any research at all to come up with some emotional and pseudo-activist statements. The article quotes a scientific article from Scientific American, and another from one particular Krylov’s article. How come no references are given? Is it because, just like most of the other fellows, the author of the screaming article also didn’t look up the actual references?

In my case, I did not want to pay for the springer verlag article of Krylov – but I at least read the first page which is available free – unlike probably the author of the Observer article.

It is available here – read for yourself: http://www.springerlink.com/content/kq51j307255197l4/

Again, the Observer article creates an impression that the radioactive contamination of places around FFFTPP has just been proved or discovered by The Observer in 2009 – that too in India! And that it tries to create an illusion that it is also incidentally corroborated by the research of the Russian scientist Krylov! And that, even Scientific American has recently written about this!

Of course, this is merely a few light years from the truth.

Some 40 years back, US scientists – J. P. McBride, R. E. Moore, J. P. Witherspoon, and R. E. Blanco arrived at the same point in their article “Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents of Coal and Nuclear Plants” in the December 8, 1978, issue of Science magazine.

The reference for the abstract is here: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/202/4372/1045

This is the earliest reference to the subject that I could trace, though am sure the bibliographic references in the article itself would have many more past references.

So, what’s new – except the sensational scandal that one could create of this sudden and finest discovery by the illustrious Observer?

White man’s burden

Oh these poor third world bastards and heathens, what will they do without us white Europeans slogging to help them, rallying to their support… Poor things! Why, they don’t even have good governance, after we left their shores post WorldWarII.

Look, how THEY are screwing up their own environment! They don’t even have good testing or research facilities! The rulers are all thugs. They always want to hide all sinister things under the carpet. But then India is still under the ‘hindu rate of growth’ – so only WE can help them heathens…

Pssst. How soon can we colonize you again, now that the stage is set with the invasion of our advanced scouts – the Credit Cards and Foreign-Institutional-Investors!

‘nuff said.

Why this issue was taken up by The Observer at all?

Why can’t The Observer write about how we are faring, what are the real issues etc? I think the reason is that, tentative mention of RADIOACTIVITY conjuring up a veritable ‘dance of shiva’ is rather sexy. It immediately turns heads. More so, if it is not from The Observer’s backyard. Much more so, if there could be spidermanish ‘intrepid reporter’ who can go to a heathen country and do an EXPOSE!

In one of the swine flu posts elsewhere, I have handled the question of why talking about lame tobacco deaths or even road accidents is so duh! And why swine flu virus and radioactivity are instant head turners, with a lot of rumour mongering value!

In conclusion:

  • The article selectively gives ‘facts’ while dishing out paranoia.
  • It ignores the SAME effects that any given fossil fuel fired thermal power plant would likely have ANYWHERE & EVERYWHERE in the worlIt takes a particular case (even assuming that the data that The Observer got is not suspect) and generalizes and asks the stupid question of whether all the next generation children from India are going to be malformed.
  • It takes credit for discoveries, that were long back discussed threadbare.
  • The samples were not tested in India, where it is possible for one to easily test them – instead it was taken to Germany – was this done to prove that a country like India is not to be trusted or the facilities for even testing just don’t exist?
  • Are children likely to have been affected in Punjab, India due to the radioactive isotope contamination? Yes. It is true of ANY thermal power plant anywhere in the world, including where ‘The Observer’ is published from – England.
  • Is the WHOLE of India’s next generation children going to be affected? You guess!
  • Is it not SAD that some children are affected? Yes. We need to bother about this. There are ways, but it is not within the scope of this counter-expose. I would however say what Bapuji said and practiced ages back – ‘be the change you wish to see.’
  • On the web, one can find enough information – no need to even test samples, it is all documented – then why this clandestine process of testing, and secretely smuggling out samples and all that? Why create an elaborate image of ‘research’ when there is not even a semblance of it in the first place? Why all the hoopla?
  • There is no shraddha – no due diligence, no perseverance in the article; actually this is what I object to.

My line of argument means that there is a morethan fifty percent chance that I am consuming power generated by FFFTPPs, even as I write this blog post, even as The Observer continues to host the random bits of scaremongering news, masquarding as unbiased news! All of us are adding to the Uranium issue among many others, ofcourse!
I am bored now, there are so many mal and ill formed ideas and subtexts in the Observer article. Let me get back to gardening, to cool my blood vessels.

Finally, granted that The Observer article is NOT at not all science or an informed opinion – is it even a reasonable reportage? You judge.


Coal Combustion: Nuclear Resource or Danger?
— Alex Gabbard
ORNL Review, Summer/Fall 1993, Vol. 26, Nos. 3 and 4.

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