The pro-nuclear lobby goes bananas

The nuclear industry wants you to believe that fruit is more fatal than Fukushima

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Desperate times call for desperate propaganda. Accordingly, the declining nuclear power industry would have you believe that bananas are a teensy bit too radioactive for comfort. If you eat a banana a day, they say — or for that matter live in Denver, or fly in an airplane, or salt your food with Morton’s — then you are a high-risk taker who would be far safer just living contentedly next door to a nuclear power plant. We debunked these false arguments in our 2013 report, Pandora’s False Promises (see page 30 on bananas.)

At the Cop23 Climate Talks last November in Bonn, a group calling itself, oxymoronically, Nuclear for Climate, hoped delegates would once again slip on their false banana propaganda and fall for their nonsensically unscientific notion that bananas are actually more dangerous than nuclear power plants! I am not making this up. They actually handed out bananas complete with a sticker that read: “This normal, every day banana is more radioactive than living near a nuclear power plant for one year.”

We’ve long contended that these pro-nuclear front groups treat the public like readily dupable dunderheads. But it’s they who are the dunderheads if they really think we would believe this piffle. Frankly, if this is all they’ve got, then the industry rhetoric is now on a par with its finances: in full bankruptcy.

Are bananas going nuclear, or vice versa?

If you smell something rotten in this banana business, your are right. So let’s peel off the propaganda right now.

In short, when you eat a banana, your body’s level of potassium-40 doesn’t increase. You just get rid of some excess potassium-40. The net dose of a banana is zero.

To explain in more detail, the tiny radiation exposure due to eating a banana lasts only for a few hours after ingestion, namely the time it takes for the normal potassium content of the body to be regulated by the kidneys. Ordinary potassium, like the kind in bananas, contains just 0.0118% potassium-40.  Since our bodies are under homeostatic control, that tiny level of potassium-40 doesn’t increase after eating a banana. The body just gets rid of some excess potassium-40.

The banana bashers don’t want you to know this and instead try to pretend that the potassium in bananas is the same as the genuinely dangerous man-made radionuclides  — such as cesium-137 and strontium-90 — that are released into our environment from nuclear power facilities, from atomic bomb tests and from accidents like Fukushima and Chernobyl.

These radioactive elements, unlike the potassium-40 in bananas, are mistaken by the human body for more familiar elements. For example, ingested radioactive strontium-90 replaces stable calcium, and ingested radioactive cesium-137 replaces stable potassium. These nuclides can lodge in bones and muscles and irradiate people from within. This is internal radiation and can lead to very serious, long-lasting and trans-generational health impacts.

Terrorists are not armed with bananas, and there’s a reason

Cosmic radiation, or uranium and its daughter products which exist in water supplies, and radon released from underground, are inescapable and not without risk themselves. But radioactivity released by nuclear facilities or atomic bombs — unlike in bananas or while flying in an airplane — unnecessarily adds to our exposure burden and the longevity of radiation in our bodies.

You can read a more detailed explanation by Paul Langley, who also debunks the potassium falsehoods put about by the nuclear industry and its perfidious propagandists. Langley points out, as we do, that “radio potassium (K40) is a very small proportion of all potassium. It is far less radioactive per unit weight (amount, physical dose) than any biologically active fission product.”

And he concludes: “Terrorists do not attempt to arm themselves with bananas. They are not dangerous.”

Some years ago, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted one of its so-called “community nights” for those living close to the Braidwood nuclear power plant in Illinois. Braidwood is notorious for, among other things, covering up on-going leaks of tritium into drinking water wells, farmers’ fields and the local river. The NRC brought in an alleged PhD scientist for the purpose of what would now be called “mansplaining” to a group of mothers adjudged likely naive enough to buy into their banana BS.  After whipping out a banana and the requisite false comparison to nuclear plants, he was shocked to get immediate pushback. Hurriedly digging in another pocket, he then produced a container of Morton’s salt. Neither magic trick worked.

Later, one of the mothers had the brilliant idea of calling up Chiquita and Morton to let them know how their brands were being abused. The companies were, let’s just say, displeased. The NRC “doctor” — who, it turns out did not have the PhD he advertised — abruptly vanished. So too, did the salt and bananas argument. In Bonn it briefly lived on. Until the Don’t Nuke the Climate contingent quashed it.

This story contains contributions from Cindy Folkers, radiation and health specialist at Beyond Nuclear. An earlier version of this story appeared on Counterpunch.

One Comment on “The pro-nuclear lobby goes bananas

  1. Pingback: Desperate nuclear lobby goes bananas over bananas « nuclear-news

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