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[Nettime-nl] Gezondheidsrisico's van energietransport: wie wordt er geco
Tjebbe van Tijen via Chello on Thu, 14 May 2009 15:07:15 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-nl] Gezondheidsrisico's van energietransport: wie wordt er gecompenseerd?

overdenkingen n.a.v. artikel over compensatie gezondheidsrisico's van nieuwe hoogspanningsleiding in Zuid-Holland

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 compensated?

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