In 1610, Galileo began publishing articles describing the sun as centre of the solar system. By 1616, he was called to the Inquisition and was forced to recant. Fortunately for us, his denial did not change the facts.
Today the same situation exists between the nuclear industry and the facts of its radioactive legacy.
The nuclear industry insists that low levels of radiation are not harmful to human health. Physicians know better. And so does most of the public. What we don’t know is the relative risk to which we are exposed during our usual activities, or the increases of that risk when power plants release tritium and other radioactive emissions.
The US National Research Council came to the conclusion in 2008, after five previous reports, that “current scientific evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that there is a linear, no-threshold dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of cancer in humans.” In lay terms, this means that there is no dose that is completely safe, just different levels of risk.
There has been more than enough evidence linking radiation and effects on health.
In 1954, the US dropped a bomb on the Bikini Atoll irradiating some of the Marshall Islanders and more than 7000 square miles of Pacific ocean. The United States funded a Nuclear Claims Tribunal which recognizes thirty-six conditions for which citizens can be compensated. Most of the conditions are cancer but mental retardation is included.
In 1985, the UK government established the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) to respond to anecdotal reports of higher rates of childhood leukemia near the nuclear installation at Sellafield. The authors note a “serious excess of childhood cancer might be related to radioactive emissions from the nuclear facilities” but concluded that the emissions measured at the facilities were too small to explain this finding(3).
In 2008, the Germans concluded a study that provided compelling evidence of an unequivocal positive relationship between a child’s risk of leukemia, and residential proximity to a nuclear power plant. The authors state that these findings are compelling, that the elevated risk does indeed exist and that it is related to the nuclear facilities. Then they concluded that “the reason for the elevated risk is unexplained, as the levels of radioactive emissions from these facilities are considered too low to explain the increase in childhood leukemia”.
It should be noted that in neither the COMARE study nor the German study did the researchers claim that there was no connection between the power plants and the effect upon health.
Closer to home, the Port Hope Synopsis report by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission includes a study which makes the following statements: “there was an excess of childhood cancer deaths”, "lung cancer mortality was of interest because of the increased incidence observed amongst women" and "increased mortality from circulatory disease, including ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and disease of arteries". None of the increases were statistically significant. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission states that there was no ill effects of the radioactivity in Port Hope. Researchers would conclude that “more research is needed”.
Where are the voices of physicians? In December 1998, International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War adopted a Swiss proposal in opposition to nuclear power. Their affiliates, Physicians for Global Survival (Canada), and Physicians for Social Responsibility (US) eventually followed. In 1982, reconfirmed in 2004, the Canadian Medical Association’s position is that: “there is at present no conclusive evidence of a measurable increase, in the long or short term, of adverse effects due specifically to radiation in populations thus exposed”.
Just as the Church defended its long held belief that the sun circled the earth against scientific evidence, so the nuclear industry defends the myth that it is clean green and safe for human consumption. It’s time for the CMA to reconsider. Or keep defending fiction.
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