Steven Starr, implications of radioactive cesium contamination — Introduction


The Implications of The Massive Contamination of Japan With Radioactive Cesium
Steven Starr

Senior Scientist, Physicians for Social Responsibility
Director, University of Missouri, Clinical Laboratory Science Program
Helen Caldicott Foundation Fukushima Symposium
New York Academy of Medicine, 11 March 2013

Biographical Sketch of Steven Starr
Bibliography of Recently Published Works

Introduction by Maria Gilardin
from TUC Radio’s 10-part Fukushima Symposium Mini-Series
Recordings from March 11 and 12, 2013
Broadcast quality mp3 of the 30 minute program is here: <> (20.8 MB)

The first time radiation contamination came to the attention of the American public was in 1979 when on March 28 a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, had a partial meltdown. A huge controversy developed as to what radionuclides had been released and what the health effects might be.

The overwhelming problem being that a lay person cannot see or smell nuclear radiation and also that health effects, such as cancer, in most cases do not occur immediately. Then and now the public and media are dependent on radiation monitors run by the nuclear industry and safety standards set by government agencies such as the EPA or the ICRP, the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

Only five weeks after the Three Mile Island accident 70,000 people from all over the country came to Washington DC for a rally to Stop Nuclear Power. California governor Jerry Brown spoke, as well as the actress Jane Fonda, and whistle blower, nuclear chemist, and MD, John Gofman. The comedian Dick Gregory made an amazing and inspiring point:

What we’re doing here today is more important than the Vietnamese war, it’s more important than dealing with racism, than dealing with sexism, than dealing with hunger. Because I can feel hunger. I can see war. I can feel racism. I can feel sexism. I cannot see radiation. I cannot smell radiation. I cannot hear radiation. I look around one day and I am dead. Somewhere, you have to.

So I say to you today, when you leave here, you have to give radiation an odor. You have to give radiation a sound. So go back into your communities. And be willing to go to jail if it comes to that. Because I’d rather see you in jail with the jails filled up, than the graveyards running over.

That was Dick Gregory on March 28, 1979.

I do not know if the world renowned Japanese film maker Akira Kurosawa heard those words. But in his 1990 movie Dreams he inserted a nightmare segment: Mount Fuji in Red. It shows the serial explosion of six nuclear reactors spewing radiation. In Kurosawa’s imagination the radiation had been colored by the engineers so it would become visible. And the last images of Mount Fuji in Red show a father desperately swinging his jacket into a cloud of red Cesium-137 trying to protect his wife and their two children.

No color had been added to the Cesium-137 dispersed by the Fukushima disaster and secrecy still prevails on part of the industry and government. But much more so than in 1979, people’s monitoring efforts and the voices of scientists, who still risk their careers for speaking out, give us a deeper understanding of nuclear radiation. Very sadly also we now have studies from the aftermath of Chernobyl when proof can be found as to how radiation damages the environment and health, especially of children, and how it persists for much, much longer that any one of our personal life spans.

A whole group of of responsible scientists had come to New York City on the two year anniversary of the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi. Among them Steven Starr from the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at the University of Missouri.

When I heard him speak concisely and crisply about Cesium-137 and what people in Japan are facing; how cesium moves, persists, accumulates, how it enters the body with contaminated food, and what organs it damages; I felt that he is one of the few scientists who actually can make radiation visible. In one brief quote he conjured up the nuclear fire, and the fact that we are trying to understand and cope with something totally new.

Long-lived radionuclides such as Cesium-137 are something new to us as a species. They did not exist on Earth in any appreciable quantities during the entire evolution of complex life. Although they are invisible to our senses they are millions of times more poisonous than most of the common poisons we are familiar with. They cause cancer, leukemia, genetic mutations, birth defects, malformations, and abortions at concentrations almost below human recognition and comprehension. They are lethal at the atomic or molecular level.

They emit radiation, invisible forms of matter and energy that we might compare to fire, because radiation burns and destroys human tissue. But unlike the fire of fossil fuels, the nuclear fire that issues forth from radioactive elements cannot be extinguished. It is not a fire that can be scattered or suffocated because it burns at the atomic level—it comes from the disintegration of single atoms.

That was a brief preview of Steven Starr’s talk at the New York Academy of Medicine, recorded on March 11, 2013. Steven Starr is Senior Scientist with Physicians for Social Responsibility. Here is his full presentation:


( PDF format )

Editor‘s note: this transcript was created from the broadcast quality audio recording program featuring Steven Starr produced by Maria Gilardin in her Fukushima Symposium Mini Series on TUC Radio. Starting with the PDF file in the March 11 Documents tab of <>, the text below was fashioned using Maria’s Introduction and Mr. Starr’s actual presentation. (All highlighted text in the original PDF – e.g., underlining, italics, bold – is represented below as underlined text.) The slides were generated from copy generously provided by Mr. Starr. I am grateful for the assistance of Steven Starr and Maria Gilardin in assembling this presentation.