Radiation -- 'The Most Important Subject in the World'

How radiation is defined

Radiation comes in many different forms. Some, like heat and light from the sun, are natural and can be seen or felt … Ionising radiation cannot be seen or felt … can result in serious damage to living matter …
— ‘Radiation: Effects and Control’ by Peter Saunders and Alison Tasker, UK Atomic Energy Authority, 1990, p. 1.
If only [ionising] radiation were red then these people would know what they are living in…
— Soviet doctor working in the 30-kilometer circle zone around the damaged Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Quoted in Greenpeace Magazine, Jan/Feb 1991, p. 8.
Radiation is the most important subject in the world, and it will be forever, because of the thousands of nuclear weapons and bombs, and the constant threat to civilization and the world.
— Dr. Thomas Mancuso, physician, research professor and epidemiologist in interview with Robert del Tredici, author of ‘At Work in the Fields of the Bomb’, Douglas & McIntyre, 1987, p. 141.

Radiation Can Be Lethal

;’… these truly heroic firefighters extinguished the flames and conquered the blaze; but they were burned, many of them fatally, by another invisible flame, the flame of gamma and neutron radiation, of a kind that no water could possibly extinguish …
‘… the two young trainees were slowly making their way past vast piles of debris to level 36 where the reactor hall was located. They could hear the crackling of flames, the shouts of firefighters At level 36 everything had been destroyed … powerful nuclear radiation was ionising the air … They found — themselves shielding their faces with their hands as if the sun were too bright … They stayed near the reactor about a minute more, carefully remembering what they had seen. That was long enough for them to receive a lethal dose of radiation. Both died in great agony in number 6 clinic in Moscow …’

‘Chernobyl: Then and Now’, CBC Quirks & Quarks program, 20 April 1991.
‘Even from the routine emissions you do get deaths. I did a study in Wisconsin around normally operating nuclear plants with no accident situation there, they’ve all been built since 1970. I looked at how birth weight infant deaths and the death rate increased downwind. At the same time I matched it with Nuclear Regulatory Commission measurements of off gas radioactive releases and just over a period of the first few years of operation of these plants there were over 100 excess immature infant deaths.
‘Now those infants did not die of cancer, they did not die of serious genetic diseases, so they are not counted; those are the two things that are counted. They most likely had a respiratory difficulty and they couldn’t cope with a radioactive gas, so they would get irritation of the respiratory tract and depressed immune system. So it would look like a pneumonia death, so they’re not counted as connected with the plant. And there are many such things; that’s why I object to this technology, it’s not life-compatible.’
— Dr. Rosalie Bertell, at St.Paul’s University, Ottawa, 17 May 1986.

Radiation and serious health problems

‘In Canada an investigatory study showed a relationship between birth defects and death rates and emissions of radioactive tritium in cooling water from the Pickering nuclear power plant in Ontario. Officials down-played that study, but Greenpeace commissioned an independent assessment from a British researcher, Dr. Barry Lambert, a radiation biologist at St. Bartholemew’s medical school in London, England … [In his report Dr. Lambert commented]: ‘It is an interesting study, it has been well done, it needs some further investigation … They found an increase in birth defects in Pickering, and they also found that the pattern of the increase in these birth defects correlated with the pattern of releases in tritium into Lake Ontario from Pickering power station … Tritium (he explained) is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen; it emits beta particles and normally is not a real hazard to anybody until it gets inside the body. You can breathe in tritium gas or tritiated water; once it mixes with your body water it irradiates you the same as external radiation does. The conclusion of the study was that this was too much of a coincidence and that therefore the two incidents must have been related. I am not absolutely sure that this is true, but it certainly indicates that further studies should be done. It is a timely indication that something may be wrong.’
CBC, ‘As It Happens’ program, 16 July 1990.
‘The cows had problems such as multiple fractures, blindness, chronic arthritis, anemia and something that looked like starvation and deficiency … We’ve seen this problem for about two and a half years before the accident at Three Mile Island … Some people lost all their calves … Since the plant has been closed we haven’t run into this problem.’
Dr. Robert Weber, local veterinarian, in ‘Voices from Three Mile Island: The People Speak Out’, by Robert Leppzer. The Crossing Press, Trumansburg, New York, 1980, page 26.
‘I truly believe that there will be an increase in the medical consequences in this area from the accident, such as miscarriages and increased incidences of cancer and leukemia.’
Dr. Michael Gluck, General Practitioner, in ‘Voices from Three Mile Island: The People Speak Out’, pg 42.
‘In 1975 Dr. Thomas Mancuso asked Dr. Alice Stewart and her statistician, George W. Kneale, for help in reviewing data on workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington State. Within a year, the three discovered that plant radiation was causing unusual numbers of pancreatic, lung, and bone marrow cancers among workers.’
The New York Times, article by Keith Schneider, 18 May 1990.
‘… the human cost of building nuclear bombs: Workers at nuclear weapons plants in the U.S. say they are the real victims of the bomb. For years they have complained of health problems, especially high cancer rates. Now Washington will make their health records public. Doctors and scientists will get a chance to study the charts of 200,000 workers from a nationwide network of bomb factories. If [an earlier study] is confirmed it would mean that about 2,000 of those 200,000 workers would die from cancer because safety standards were too low
CBC Radio, news item, 18 May 1990.

Radiation experienced now may be lethal to future human generations

;‘The main finding of this study is that the recorded external dose of whole body ionising radiation to fathers during their employment at Sellafield [nuclear reprocessing plant in Britain] is associated with the development of leukaemia among their children … we interpret this finding to suggest an effect of the radiation exposure on germ cells producing a mutation in sperm that may be leukaemogenic in subsequent offspring …’
‘These findings support the hypothesis, incorporated as part of this study, that exposure of fathers to ionising radiation before conception is related to the development of leukaemia in their offspring.’

‘Results of case-control study of leukaemia, etc.’ (‘the Gardner report’), British Medical Journal, 17 Feb 1990, p. 427-8.

Chernobyl’s radiation legacy

‘… at a distance of between 50 and 90 km from the Chernobyl plant the contamination of topsoil exceeds 80 Ci/km2. This makes the land unsuitable for agriculture, but local people have no choice but to continue diary farming because centrally supplied “clean” food does not arrive in sufficient quantities. Despite health warnings, many people drink local milk and gather fruit and vegetables from their plots.’
‘The Legacy of Chernobyl’, by Zhores Medvedev, biologist and senior research scientist, Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1990, p. 186-7.
‘More than 700 British farms are still subject to stringent anti-radiation rules, five years after the Chernobyl cloud swept over the country … the restrictions, currently affecting more than half a million sheep, are likely to be in place well into the next century … rain laced with radioactive iodine contaminated pasture, then cattle, and then milk.
‘The milk was drunk by children, several dozen of whom are now expected to contract thyroid cancer over the next 30 years … radioactive caesium from Chernobyl has rendered 2,000,000 sheep inedible in Wales alone.’
Science correspondent, in The Observer newspaper, London, 21 April 1991.
‘The majority of Ukrainian territory is affected by radioactive contamination. More than 1,500,000 of population is affected by radiation directly. Amongst those 1,500,000 people are 250,000 children, and the total territory contaminated by radioactive elements is more than 36,500 square kilometres … the consumption of meat, milk and other food products is restricted.
‘I think that the official information that only 32 people have died — this is some kind of a crime. In Ukraine today an average of 20 (babies with) birth defects are born per each 1,000 newborns, and 40,000 miscarriages are reported every year … each year 14,000 children with congenital disorders are born … 80% of all 18 year olds have chronic diseases … That is why we say we are living through a period of Ukraine’s genetic degeneration, why we must assume that the total number of deaths in Ukraine exceeds 10,000.’
Dr. Valery Ivasiuk, surgeon and member of Ukrainian Parliamentary Commission on Health, in ‘Chernobyl — Then and Now’, CBC Quirks and Quarks program, 20 April 1991.

Is future radiation disaster preventable?

‘Most statistical assessments call for another major accident in the next 10 years. No amount of engineering fine-tuning will eliminate the possibility of a catastrophic release. To cite one near-miss, the PanAm jumbo jet that was blown out of the sky above Lockerbie, Scotland, lunged into the ground a short 10 miles from the Chapelcross nuclear power station … The director of nuclear safety of the International Atomic Energy Agency says that we can expect a major nuclear accident to occur roughly every 10 years.’
Andre Carothers, Editor, in Greenpeace Magazine, Jan/Feb. 1991, pp. 2 & 8.
‘Both in this accident at Chernobyl and the accident at Three Mile Island, it was human error, people violating the rules deliberately that led to the accident, and then it was the technology that was not forgiving enough, that wasn’t able to cope with these errors, that led to the destruction of the power plants … People violated the rigs, they thought they could get away it it, they may have done it before and in fact have gotten away with it, but in these two cases they didn’t.
‘You asked if there could be another Chernobyl — you certainly can’t preclude it. There is a series of accidents, for example there’s one called the “station blackout” which is the one of great concern in the States, and that is that if a nuclear plant is running along at full tilt, 100% power, it’s got all this radioactivity in it. Suddenly, say the power line is knocked over by lightning or something, at that time the plant loses its power, it has got to shut down instantly and it has to run its diesels in order to remove the decay heat. Well, if for some reason those diesels don’t work then the plant has no way of removing its heat, the station has effectively blacked out and the nuclear plant can melt down. Now, that had been deemed as totally unlikely, but within the last two years there was an incident in Georgia, U.S.A. The plant was shut down, thank heavens, but a truck backed in, knocked over the transformer and they lost off-site power and the diesels wouldn’t start. And they were very lucky the plant had been shut down and had very little decay heat, but you know it can happen, will happen eventually. And even those in the nuclear industry say you should be prepared for another accident. It’s just that they think it’s acceptable if they happen infrequently enough and are not damaging enough to public health.
‘So I think that — yes, the simple answer to your question is yes, it could happen again.’
Dr. James Mackenzie, senior Associate in the Climate, Energy and Pollution.
Program at the World Resources Institute, Washington, CBC program ‘Chernobyl — Then and Now’, 20 April 1991.

Excerpts selected, edited and arranged in order by John R. Ashton; present address: 3 Old Bakehouse Yard, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE61 1AS, England.

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