Peace Train: What would RBG say about nuclear power?

Standards for permissible radiation exposure do not protect the most vulnerable

As I sat down to write this Peace Train piece, my mind — like thousands of other mourning minds have been doing — turned to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The area at the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center that I concentrate on is nuclear — from weapons and power to waste. How would RBG rule on nuclear power? What did she teach us about nuclear power?

She certainly taught us about discrimination, based on sex. Women and children, especially pregnant women, are more vulnerable to nuclear radiation, meaning they suffer more harm from a given dose of radiation than the harm a man suffers from the same dose.

Linda Pentz Gunter points out in an article titled “Womankind arise!” on Beyond Nuclear International, “as we mourn the passing of Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we look back at her landmark victories against discrimination ‘on the basis of sex’ and wonder how nuclear regulations might have stood up to her legal scrutiny. As things currently stand, the nuclear power industry gets away with ‘allowable’ radiation exposure levels that discriminate against women.”

In the newly published collection of essays collected by Kristen Iversen with E. Warren Perry and Shannon Perry, “Doom With A View, Historical And Cultural Contexts Of The Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant,” in his essay, Dr. LeRoy Moore refers to the fact that “almost all radiation exposure standards have been calculated to protect ‘Reference Man,’ a Caucasian male twenty to thirty years of age, 5 feet and 7 inches tall, weighing 154 pounds.”

Wait, what about females, pregnant women, infants, the elderly, the infirm and the non-Caucasian? Clearly Ruth Bader Ginsburg would include this blatant discrimination in her thinking about discrimination based on sex.

In his conclusion Moore writes, “standards for permissible exposure to radiation rest on a questionable foundation … They do not protect the most vulnerable.”

That includes all children and females, both Caucasian and non-Caucasian. Moore goes on to say that, “although it has been recognized for decades that low levels of exposure to ionizing radiation can be harmful, we are repeatedly told that official radiation exposure standards protect us …They provide false assurance that makes it possible for a harmful industry to operate. They are in fact a sham.”

And, as I wrote before, women — especially pregnant women — are harmed disproportionately by this sham. RBG would agree I am certain.

Gunther goes on to point out in “Womankind arise!,” “no one really knows why women are more susceptible to damage from radiation exposure. With children, embryos and fetuses, it is more clear-cut as their cells are still rapidly dividing. With women, it could be that radiation functions as an endocrine disruptor. And we certainly have much larger reproductive organs than men.”

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself said, “fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”