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Bart Ziegler

By Bart Ziegler, Ph.D., community and environmental medicine; president and cofounder of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation

In an Oct. 1 Guest Opinion, “Surfing Community Deserves Truth from Activists,” author Greg Becker makes the kind of case you would expect from a Southern California Edison employee—that discharges of irradiated water from San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station are perfectly safe. 

We disagree. 

And while we admire Becker’s resume—licensed mechanical engineer, former reactor operator, yacht captain, writer and, above all, a surfer—his credentials don’t qualify him to speak to toxicology and the risk of cumulative exposure to radiation in the human body. 

Our concern is about beachgoers exposing themselves over the course of their lives to the plant’s so-called liquid radioactive batch releases.

Women, children and human fetuses are especially vulnerable, much more than the “standard male body” government regulators use as a control when setting “allowable limits” of radiation exposure. 

Exposure to radiation can damage the DNA in cells of the human body. The nation’s top scientists, those at the National Academy of Sciences, have concluded that there is no such thing as safe exposure. 

As reported this month in the Orange County Register, European scientists have identified cancer clusters among people living near nuclear power plants. We stand behind the scientists, physicians and 1,200 signatories of a petition pressuring lawmakers to fund research on possible cancer clusters near SONGS. 

For 50 years—and for most of that time, in secret—SONGS has bombarded the environment with radioactive isotopes. Bowing to pressure from some of the same activists Becker disparages, the utility only recently began notifying the public of its atmospheric and liquid batch releases. 

Emissions at San Onofre have waned since the plant quit making electricity in 2012, but they are expected to increase with the planned demolition of contaminated domes and spent fuel pools, according to a qualified whistleblower from San Onofre who came forward and will remain anonymous.

Meanwhile, Edison continues to contaminate the information stream with obfuscation, misinformation and self-congratulations. 

To be clear, Southern California Edison is unable to say for sure whether liquid batch releases are safe or even estimate the repercussions of radioactive material accumulating in the atmosphere and ocean, on the sea floor and in the seafood we eat, especially tuna. 

We scoff at what regulators, the utility and Becker cite as allowable limits of exposure. Coal plants can discharge carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, arsenic, and benzene, but that doesn’t mean kids should play near the smokestacks.

Likewise, surfers, swimmers, and fishermen should not be encouraged to recreate in the water a few hundred yards from SONGS’ outflows that release cesium-137, cobalt-60, iodine-131, strontium-90, tritium, among other radioactive isotopes. Edison identifies these isotopes in its own reports. 

We also question Becker’s reference to Dr. Ken Buesseler’s oceanographic research. Dr. Buesseler is a world-renowned marine radiochemist, but he is not a medical expert on the human health effects of radiation. 

Radioactive isotopes from SONGS remain deadly for more than 200,000 years. For the most reliable information on what is safe at San Onofre, we must trust physicians and relevant science, not employees of Southern California Edison.  

Bart Ziegler received his doctorate degree in community and environmental medicine with an emphasis in inhalation toxicology. He has a background in chemistry and neuroscience. He is the president and cofounder of the Samuel Lawrence Foundation. For the past 10 years, he has advocated, on behalf of the public interest, for improved environmental health and safety measures at nuclear power plants and for the high-level radioactive waste left behind at each site. He appreciates the ocean in his free time by sailing California waters on an old schooner.

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comments (9)

  • The biggest and most dangerous challenges to our society is not homeless or petty politicians who would give you a ticket for a stick hanging out of you truck ,,Its the nuclear waste dump and the ever abusive toll road stooges ,,, We are threatened daily by their poison and waste and the word authority… Both groups should be dissolved and incarcerated for their continued abuse of the public and endangerment of our community , VOTE PLEASE George Gregory

  • Greg Becker was 100% correct in his article and Mr. Ziegler is fear mongering. Greg’s “credentials” absolutely qualify him to speak about the non risk of San Onofre’s releases as the effects of radiation on the body is specifically part of one’s nuclear training.

    Mr. Ziegler never addresses the points of comparison that Greg makes, comparisons he is free to look up if he doesn’t trust what the government’s regulators (NRC), the utility, or Greg’s expertise cite. If he bothered to review the effluent reports available online at the NRC’s website, he would discover that in 2012, the last year the plant operated, the most exposed member of the public would have received a cumulative dose from ALL plant discharges both liquid and gaseous, of less than one millirem…for the entire year! Contrast that with the 620 mRem the average American receives each year more than half of which is from natural sources such as radon and cosmic radiation. Airline crews receive more radiation than most nuke plant workers as they have less atmosphere to shield the cosmic rays (those living at higher altitudes also receive more and astronauts receive substantial doses for the very same reason).

    The sands of Guarapari Beach Brazil are 5 mRem per hour on contact and people sunbath and bury themselves in it every day. That means an individual on that beach for an hour receives 5 times the amount of radiation in that hour that the most exposed member of the public does at San Onofre for an entire year.

    Ramsar Iran is one of the most naturally radioactive places on earth. Due to the natural Radium springs, residents can receive as much as 26,000 mRem per year. In one video, a detector set on one individual’s bed read 11 mRem per hour, i.e., 11 times the amount of radiation in one hour that a member of the public in San Onofre would receive in a year.

    Contrary to Ziegler’s claim regarding Dr. Ken Buesseler, Buesseler doesn’t need to be an expert on the effects of radiation on the human body. The effects on the body are well known and have been thoroughly studied and one need only discover the dose rate and/or dose individuals have been exposed to. Dr. Ken B. has done more sampling and analysis for radioactivity of ocean water than perhaps anybody in history. Mr. Ziegler should know this so I scoff at the fact that he fails to recognize or mention this in his article and indeed, pretends it isn’t so.

    “Radioactive isotopes from SONGS remain deadly for more than 200,000 years.”

    News flash, Ziegler, water remains deadly FOREVER. If you mishandle water, ie., remain under water long enough, you will perish. Likewise, radioactive material if mishandled, can be deadly.

    Ziegler’s statement he doesn’t bother to back up: “Meanwhile, Edison continues to contaminate the information stream with obfuscation, misinformation and self-congratulations.” My response, “such as”?

    Another Ziegler boner: “To be clear, Southern California Edison is unable to say for sure whether liquid batch releases are safe or even estimate the repercussions of radioactive material accumulating in the atmosphere and ocean, on the sea floor and in the seafood we eat, especially tuna.”

    Totally false! Anyone who claims the liquid or gaseous discharges are dangerous AND claims to be an expert, is a liar. I’ll let Mr. Ziegler clarify whether he is ignorant or lying.

  • Greg Becker and David Davison are licensed nuclear reactor operators who have been indoctrinated for decades into believing whatever their employer told them. And we know that Southern California Edison lied repeatedly to their own workers about everything. Did SCE tell their workers about how they were redesigning the interior structure of the replacement steam generators? No, they did not. SCE also told their RO’s that the cancer rate among nuclear workers was no higher than the general population, except that longitudinal studies have never been done to prove that statement. The research that I find quite compelling has been done by a man named Joseph Mangano. Joseph Mangano is a qualified epidemiologist who has done years of research using public health records. What Mangano discovered is that all types of cancer, including childhood cancer, went down in the counties surrounding the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant in the five years after it was closed. However, the opposite occurred in the five years after Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant came on line in the 1980’s. All types of cancer, including childhood cancer, went up in the counties surrounding Diablo Canyon. No one wants to pay attention to Mangano’s research that shows that living near a nuclear power plant is harmful to people’s health, but the research has been done that shows that the nuclear industry has lied, lied ,lied for years about the health impact of low level radioactive contamination in the environment. Good try, Becker and Davidson, but no one believes SCE or their former workers.

  • Of course the nuke industry has lied– for EVER……. They denied and covered up SONGS discharges and leaks for decades. Just like the Tobacco industry, we will all find out one day that San Clemente’s formidable cancer problem comes from living with a huge nuclear reactor and now nuclear waste dump. It’s not wonder the industry is still fighting even a study of our residents.

    Bloody sad for San Clemente.

  • Anti-Nuke, tin foil hat activists still lie about San Onofre.

    Dr. Mangano? Hilarious, the man is a crack-pot! He is the numbskull who claimed, farcically, that 14,000 Fukushima related deaths occurred in the UNITED STATES following the accident.–14000-us-deaths-tied-to-fukushima-reactor-disaster-fallout-135859288.html

    “Greg Becker and David Davison are licensed nuclear reactor operators who have been indoctrinated for decades into believing whatever their employer told them.”

    Hilarious! Do you also foolishly believe that doctors just accept, lemming-like, whatever their college indoctrinated them into believing? Or engineers? Or physicists? Or the crack pot Dr. Mangano?

    “Did SCE tell their workers about how they were redesigning the interior structure of the replacement steam generators?”

    Yes, we were all well aware of the design changes and had even been given lectures on this fact. You are speculating on activities you clearly have no knowledge of whatsoever.

    Regarding cancer rates, one such study was already done in the early 1990s that included San Onofre. No excess cancers were found which is totally Unsurprising since dose rates and accumulated dose are closely monitored and tracked. In addition, one doesn’t need to “believe” what an employer claims as there are numerous sources that confirm the amount of dose necessary or likely to cause biological effects. Apparently, you are unaware of these numerous sources.

    “No one wants to pay attention to Mangano’s research…”

    Not true, crack pots and tin foil hat wearing activists believe the horse manure this fellow and his assistant peddle. It’s crappola as are his claims about childhood cancer rates.

    “…no one believes SCE or their former workers.”

    That may or may not be true but truth is not determined by what people believe but by the facts and evidence itself, and YOU have none to commend your fact-free claims.

    As to the baloney Richard Clemson spews when he says, “They denied and covered up SONGS discharges and leaks for decades.” Let me categorically state that ALL discharges are a matter of public record one can review on the NRC website.

    Let me help you: here is the effluent reports on the NRC website for San Onofre (you can view them for any nuclear plant in the country). Pick a year:

  • Mr. Davidson? You think this is hilarious?
    Wow— That says alot about you and your ilk my friend.
    It’s not funny. The activists are exercising Constitutional freedoms that makes the industry very nervous.

    $$$$ We have all seen this movie before. Why the industry and the NRC are so afraid of a longitudinal study about south Orange county cancer is pretty obvious.

    • Peters, I think anti-nuke numbskulls who appeal to crackpots for their “expertise” in these matters is hilarious. Joesph Mangano is just such a person (in part, for the reasons I stated above) and you are free to exercise your Constitutional freedoms to believe his BS but don’t expect thinking people to do so.

      As I’ve already mentioned and you ignored, a study of cancer clusters was already performed around San Onofre and found zip…no surprise there. The NRC is tasked with keeping the public safe by monitoring each nuclear power plant, not chasing after every fool’s errand claim and wasting the public’s money. If the tin-foil hat crowd is confident they’ll find a correlation between nuclear plant operations and cancer, then fund and do a study yourself. Until YOU and the other alarmists can back up your fact-free claims, taxpayers have every right to ignore your hysteria.

  • The way you talk to people out here says alot about who you are sir.

    And….. You are wrong about the longitudinal health study that would be required.

    But, conferring with you is clearly a waste of time. Good luck. Please feel free to have the last word; your ego desperately needs it.


    • Clem, you can argue all you want but you have zero credibility and zero facts to commend your stance. The study was done, it didn’t support your fact-free narrative and now anti-nuke, tin-foil hat zealots want the public to pay for another. As I said earlier, if you’re confident in your claims, you and your fellow activists should fund and perform a study yourselves…stop demanding the public pay for YOUR hysteria.

      The effects of radiation are well understood and the effluents from the plant are well documented. This combination of facts provide researchers with the information they need to estimate any health effects of said releases…there are none!

      I’m not conferring with you, I’m pointing out your BS claims and unwarranted fears.

      What my ego needs or doesn’t need is irrelevant to the issue at hand. What is relevant is you and your crowd of fear mongers are NOT serving this community with unsubstantiated BS.

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