Dr. David Shevin photograph


November, 2005

Emily is looking at me from across my desk. She is five years old. Her gaze actually crosses just over my left shoulder. Her mouth has that expectant, "When will you pay attention to me, mom?" energy at the corners. Emily was a wild, creative, impatient little one. It shows in the pose. Her arms fold onto the wood surface; beside her is a jar with a small handful of alfalfa flowers, and the stalk for one of them bends over sharply. I have been looking at this picture since 1992, when her mother Christina sketched her daughter and enclosed the picture in a letter to me.

Now it's thirteen years after the sketch was made, and Emily is interviewed for a Christian youth website. She explains that she became a Christian at the age of nine, when her mother died and she was searching for some peace with the loss. The testimony is touching. While Emily has found a great deal of comfort in her faith, the central concern of her testimony is as much about missing her mother as it is about belief. She explains that her study partner encouraged her to be forward-looking, with a nostrum from Jeremiah: "''For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I miss her mother as well. Christina and I were close before, during, and after her marriage to a nuclear engineer. In fact, they met working at the site of the ill-fated Zimmer Power Plant just East of Cincinnati. Christina worked as an inspector at that site before the plant was converted to a coal-fired facility. Too many safety concerns had come before the community; scandals included substandard materials used in construction and chicanery in the handling of radioactive materials.

The couple moved for work at a Michigan facility, then to plants in North, then South Carolina. Christina pursued her enormous gift as an artist and trained as a nurse, finding great love in her work for a neonatal intensive care unit. They had two children, of whom Emily is the elder, and David the younger. All the while, they lived within close proximity to the nuclear facilities where the father worked.

If there is one lesson that can not be emphasized enough in the ongoing energy debate, it is that if you are a woman, you do not want to live near a nuclear power plant. The rates of ovarian and breast cancers, and of premature and underweight births rise dramatically in those neighborhoods. Where the children were born in the shadow of the McGuire reactors, a fairly new facility. These reactors are downwind from the long established Oak Ridge laboratories, established in 1943, and the six counties in that region have seen a 46 percent increase in breast cancer mortality rates compared to the prewar years.

Then the youngsters and mom moved to the neighborhood of the Robinson reactor in South Carolina. Figures there are available since initial measurements in 1950-54. The fifteen counties downwind of the Robinson reactor saw a 27 percent increase in breast cancer mortality since that period. The national rate of increase during that period was one percent. (These figures represent the period leading up to Christina's diagnosis in 1996. That same year, Jay M. Gould, an alumnus of the EPA Science Advisory Board published his study THE ENEMY WITHIN. This book remains must reading for shaping an energy policy that we can live with.

It is interesting to note, as well, that prior to the nuclear age, America's rates of breast cancer were on the decline. Today the crisis is as severe as it has ever been, and we have not decommissioned the nukes that so clearly have contributed to this increase in mortalities. The industry, in short, did not have the same plans to give hope and a future that Jeremiah's prophecy contained.

I have noticed in recent years, when I have spoken with doctors and professionals in the medical community that they often comment on the newer and more confounding cancers that they are seeing. They often speculate on the environmental causations of these. Christina's was a good case study in this process. Her initial tumor was shipped from one research center to another, and debated by oncologists who simply could not decide whether they were treating a carcinoma or a sarcoma. Hers was one of those sad cases where the cancer came out of remission following treatment, and struck with a vengeance.

It is clearly demonstrated that the radiological exposure in the neighborhoods of nuclear power plants takes lives. Our president has mapped his plans to encourage Congress to speed the licensing of new nuclear facilities: "A secure energy future for America must include more nuclear power" he declared in his most recent energy proposal. "No blood for oil" has been a worthy conviction. "No more blood for nukes" is equally worthy.

By David Shevin

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