Guest Blog: Aesop’s Atomic Fable by June Birch

Sucking the sea life

Aesop’s Atomic Fable by June Birch

Many of us will have grown up knowing about Aesop’s Fables, but until the other day, I didn’t realise that he was born around 620 BC, was enslaved, but his second owner freed him because of his learning and wit.. As a freed slave in the ancient Greek republics, he was allowed to take an active interest in public affairs. Aesop travelled and became famous for his stories, which ended with a brief, useful, conclusion.

Anyway, here’s a modern fable:

One cold winter’s day, two fish decided to swim out to the warmer water in the deep ocean. “Let’s go to the deep edge,” said one “and swim over the cliff.”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” asked the other.

“Well, there’s always the fishing,” said the first fish. “Let’s ask the crab.”

The crab often stayed in a rock pool when the sea went out and he overheard things the human beings said.

“Avoid the nets and the electric pulse trawl fishing,” he said. “That’s nasty.”

“Is that all?”

“It’s bad enough!” said the crab. “Place looks like a battleground when they’ve been around.”

“Are you sure that’s all?” asked the nervous fish.

“Well, I’ve heard some of the people on the beach talking; there are ‘Coastal Champions’, ‘Sea Champions’, ‘Wave Makers’… Mark you, as far as I can see, they mostly want to protect us so that there are enough of us left for them to eat.” He raised his claw in a symbol of disgust. “…But that’s all I’ve heard them mention.”

They thanked the crab and swam happily out to sea. When they were nearly at the deep edge, they felt a strong pull, like the tide, but stronger. To begin with, they just went with it, then they found that they couldn’t swim strongly enough to leave the current. Around them hundreds of other fish were in the same situation.

“I wonder if this is going to be something wonderful!” said one of the fish to the other. The fish swam more and more closely together as they were pulled into the one way cooling system of a nuclear power plant. They were so densely packed together that when they smashed into the grid preventing entry from all but the smallest fish, eggs and marine animals, they hardly knew what was happening to them. They had become mortality statistics.

Just because no one tells you about a danger, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.


According to the Sierra Club,

“A single power plant can obliterate billions of fish eggs and larvae and millions of adult fish in a single year,” This comes from a very readable, long document “Giant Fishblenders: How power plants kill fish and damage our waterways (and what can be done to stop them).”

There is also a very short, thought-provoking piece written in 2008 about work done by Dr.Peter Henderson. He mentions Dungeness Nuclear Power Station in the U.K. where outfall pipes have become clogged with dead fish. “We are talking as many as 250 million fish in as little as five hours,” Dr.Henderson said. This is the link and there are more details below the blog.

What happens? Many of the fish and animals sucked in, which are too big to go through the filter screens, are smashed and mutilated when they come up against the screens. It’s known as impingement. Fish, other little animals, larvae, and millions of eggs, which are small enough to go through the 1cm mesh screens, go through the cooling pipes and according to Dr. Henderson, many die after being heated to 30 C, chlorinated and given small doses of radiation. This process of going through the cooling pipes is called entrainment.

“In the Southern Region of the North Sea the calculated mortality of eggs and young for sole was so high that it had been equal to 46% of commercial fishing. Herring mortality off parts of the East Coast of the U.K. was 50% of commercial landings.”

If you ever wondered what it’s like to be entrained, there is a description in another excellent document, “Licensed to Kill” by NIRS.. “How the nuclear power industry destroys endangered marine wildlife and ocean habitat to save money.” A diver called Bill Lamm suffered nightmarish, life threatening entrainment in the St. Lucie nuclear power plant in Florida in 1989 (See page 34).

Cooling towers in recirculating cooling systems, instead of once through cooling systems, would be a massive help to a lot of fish, but the towers still need a fresh supply of water, just much less. Where do the enormous amounts of heat produced by the nuclear plant go….and the emissions?

For every three units of thermal energy generated by the reactor core, about one unit of electrical energy goes to the grid and two units of waste heat go out to the environment. In the sea, this can cause temperature changes of over 40 degrees Fahrenheit above ambient summer temperatures.

There is invaluable information about the expected radioactive liquid wastes from proposed nuclear power plants in the UK in a straight forward but detailed document by Tim Deere-Jones in Marinet. He gives some surprising facts about the numbers of different radioactive nuclides and how much radioactivity would be allowed.

What happens when the radiation gets into the sea? For the fish around Fukushima there is massive non-stop nuclear contamination. They may have been classified unsafe to eat, but I don’t suppose the fish measured with high radiation levels outside the port felt that good either. About 400 tons of radioactive water pour into the Pacific every day. On the other side of the ocean, in California, starving baby sea lions have been rescued by the hundred; for some, it was too late… Perhaps there weren’t enough fish for them to eat.

Many years ago, the scientist, Dr.Sternglass, wrote a paper correlating the very large decreases in fish populations after low- altitude nuclear tests and then their gradual recovery “strongly suggesting that the eggs of fish and the developing young are far more sensitive to internal radiation from low-level fallout than had been anticipated, very much as in the case of the human embryo and fetus.”

Although the fall-out from the nuclear tests was huge, whereas the fish numbers gradually went back to pre-test levels, there is no let-up in the radiation being poured into the Pacific today, and I wonder sincerely if this is the cause of the absence of so many fish.

It amazes me that we can read his paper, today, on the internet. If you are interested, this is a link:

If this seems too far away to be a problem, in Europe the nuclear power industry is allowed to discharge nuclear waste into the sea, by building kilometres of underwater pipes through which radioactive effluent now flows freely, something which would be banned if this same waste was in containers!

This is a written account of a clip from a film by SWR, the German public television broadcaster showing the pipe from Sellafield, only visible from the air.

To take a couple of quotes “In recent decades the operator at Sellafield has tossed more than 500 kg of plutonium into the sea” and at 42:00 in – “We take a soil sample… The result turns out to be alarming. The amount of plutonium is up to 10 times higher than the permissible limit.”

If you want to watch the whole film, scroll down to the bottom of the article and click the link. You may have to pull back the cursor to see the beginning, which coincides with an advertisement.

It isn’t just the fish, is it?

I leave the final word to Marianne,

“Unlike Aesop we can never be unslaved. We can never be free of the nuclear chains because it is essential to life that nuclear waste be kept separate from the biosphere into eternity. The question now is whether those eternally enslaving chains will be heaped higher with new nuclear development.”  


Are coastal power stations affecting Northern European inshore fish populations?
by P.A. Henderson

Liquid Radioactive Waste Discharges from the UK’s Proposed new Reactors by Tim Deere-Jones

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