Tjebbe van Tijen on Thu, 14 May 2009 16:18:08 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Health hazards of energy transport: who gets compensated?

Limping messenger 14/4/2009

(illustrated version at the blog, see signature of this email)

Health hazards of energy transport: who gets compensated?

The Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant carried today an article about the  
Dutch electricity firm TenneT (that manages the national high power  
electricity transport network over high power lines) making a  
settlement for possible future damages with nine inhabitants that  
live close to a newly planned transmission line in the province of  
Zuid-Holland. The electro-magnetic field of high power lines (both  
over-head and underground) is suspected to have negative health  
effects, whereby especially leukemia and Alzheimer are mentioned.  
Scientific prove of a direct relation between such radiation and the  
aforementioned health risks has been debated over decades, still the  
Dutch government has given in a while ago to the arguments as their  
monitoring institute (RIVM) also could not prove the opposite. A  
study on the number of people in the Netherlands living within a  
possible electro-magnetic risk zone counts 23.000 houses. This  
implies that thousands of people should move out and such a draconic  
measure would amount to an average cost of 650 thousand Euro for each  
house, with a stunning total of 15 milliard Euros. A Swiss report  
(the source not mentioned in the newspaper article) of last year has  
shown a correlation between living next to a high power transmission  
line and mortality caused by Alzheimer for those who live longer than  
15 years within a distance of 50 meters from such a line. Of course  
it has not been proven that there is a one to one relationship for a  
higher death rate of those who are neighbors to electricity highways.  
The Dutch institution RIVM estimates that of the 110 cases of  
leukemia a year, at the highest one death a year and at the lowest  
one death in five years may occur.

The headline on electro-magnetic radiation made me think back at some  
work done in the Documentation Center of Modern Social Movements at  
the University Library of Amsterdam that I helped setting up in 1973  
and whereby the then young ecological movement was one of our many  
focusses. Sometimes I would also buy a personal copy of a book which  
struck me as important and - today - I climbed my small ladder to  
reach into one of the top-shelves to find a copy of Lousie B. Young's  
book "Power over People". This book describes the struggle in a small  
village in Ohio/USA against a high power line of 765kv. The most  
graphic demonstration is shown on the back cover of the book... let  
me scan this now ...

The text maybe too small and also for the sake of search engines, I  
put it again in this caption: "Louise B. Young demonstrates how  
"power" has won out over "people" as she stands under a 765kv power  
line near Beecher, Illinois. She is holding two fluorescent bulbs  
that are lighted without benefit of cords, batteries, metallic  
connections to the ground, or sleigh of hand, but by the intense  
electric field in the vicinity of the power line."

 Now the voltage level of the Dutch lines - as mentioned in the  
Volkskrant article of today - is 380kV as the campaign described in  
the book by Louise B. Young speaks about twice that number (765kV),  
but here I need to mention the fundamental question whether or not it  
is the intensity of the radiation that causes bad health effects. It  
can be that so called 'low-level-radiation' may cause more malicious  
effects than certain medium or higher levels of radiation. This is  
for instance the case in the realm of radioactive radiation, also  
called ionizing radiation (subatomic particles of electronic magnetic  
waves). In the bibliography of  Young's book one will find a  
specialist of this field of research John W. Gofman (1918-2007) a  
medical physicist who has been involved in The Manhattan atomic  
research project and who has since the sixties contested the official  
norms of acceptable levels of radiation as used for the  
implementation of commercial nuclear plants. As Gofman's view was  
hampering the development of  nuclear electricity production, he has  
been side-tracked by the academic world and became a figure-head in  
the anti-nuclear movement. He has predicted high numbers of possible  
negative health effects and death as a result of nuclear incidents  
like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, numbers which are refuted by  
the official data, but as this data may be open to debate and his  
expertise in the field of medicine and  radiation as such has never  
been contested, his work and proposed methods of research remain  
valid to this very day.

Back to the subject after this side-track. Rereading some parts of  
the "power over People" book, there are apart from the specific  
issues some general themes that may be of use in the actual situation  
in the Netherlands. Young describes how a whole rural area is  
endangered by this super high voltage system that will serve the big  
cities Chicago and Detroit because environmental activists in these  
cities had been opposing the building of local coal-based-electric  
power stations. The book goes also in great detail in the different  
kind of cables and how they differ in the amount of energy that is  
lost (into the surroundings) and how a more evenly adapted network of  
power-lines and power-plants would improve the situation. There is a  
special chapter on alternatives for high-power transmission lines and  
of course the themes may sound all too familiar: localized generation  
and consumption; underground transmission with special cables  
reducing the radiation effect; fuel-cell system  transferring gas  
directly to electricity; using gas as an intermediate in the  
transport process; development of hydrogen technology...

Overhead-electricity  masts are an undeniable part of the Dutch  
landscape. Distribution of electricity  has changed economies and  
thus landscapes all over the world. Coal and oil have been the main  
transportable carriers of energy with devastating effects for man and  
nature. Shipping routes, pipelines and railways form the imperial  
'high way 'of energy linking wells and mines  to ovens and turbines  
producing... electricity. How many human lives are lost in this  
process is hard to calculate. It certainly is a million fold more  
than the tiny effects caused by the impact of electricity 'by-ways'  
in our landscape as described in the article that triggered these  
thoughts. It raises a moral question also: are we not bound to  
compensate everybody in the long trail of energy?

Tjebbe van Tijen
Imaginary Museum Projects
Dramatizing Historical Information
web-blog: The Limping Messenger
subject today = Health hazards of energy transport: who gets  

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info:
#  archive: contact: