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Radiation Exposure and Risk

Ionizing radiation damages living things and contaminates the environment, sometimes permanently. Studies have shown increases in cancer around nuclear facilities and uranium mines. Radiation mutates genes which can cause genetic damage across generations.

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Thursday
Jul112013

Beyond Nuclear on Thom Hartmann radio show regarding worsening radioactivity releases at Fukushima Daiichi

On July 11th, Thom Hartmann (photo, left) interviewed Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps on his radio show about the cancer death of Masao Yoshida, Tokyo Electric Power Company's (Tepco) general manager of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and leader of the "Fukushima 50" who tried, at great personal risk, but unsuccessfully, to prevent the three reactor meltdowns of March 2011. Thom also asked Kevin about reports that radioactivity releases from Fukushima Daiichi have increased nearly 100-fold in recent weeks and months, and what this means in terms of radioactivity hazard for Japanese seafood, rice, and other exports to the United States.

A day earlier, Sam Sachs on RT interviewed Kevin about the same issues.

Monday
Jul012013

Can nuclear power ever comply with the human right to health? Part II 

THEIR MONEY OR YOUR HEALTH: RADIATION RISK BENEFIT ANALYSIS

RECAP

In the continuing wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations sent Special Rapporteur on the right to health (a position created in 2002) Anand Grover to assess Japan’s compliance with human rights principles; specificallythe right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. His visit took place between November 15 and 26, 2012 with permission of the Government of Japan.

This is the second part of a Beyond Nuclear exploration into how the Special Rapporteur’s (SR’s) recommendations and conclusions may apply to nuclear power and human rights compliance beyond the Fukushima catastrophe. Part I examined the dangers of relying on previous radiation health impacts to inform current and future studies and precautionary aspects of the SR's report.

Many aspects of the SR’s report are groundbreaking and speak directly to the shortcomings of our current assumptions on radiation and health not only in regard to events in Japan, but also in the context of radiation protection worldwide; leading ultimately to an extremely important question:

Is it possible for the nuclear power industry and government proponents to comply with the UN definition of the right to health, or must they always exist in violation of these principles?

In this part we examine how risk-benefit analysis is antithetical to human rights.

RADIATION PROTECTION SHOULD BE BASED ON CURRENT SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE AND HUMAN RIGHTS, NOT RISK-BENEFIT ANALYSIS

“…risk-benefit analysis is not in consonance with the right to health framework, as it gives precedence to collective interests over individual rights. Under the right to health, the right of every individual has to be protected. Moreover, such decisions, which have a long-term impact on the physical and mental health of people, should be taken with their active, direct and effective participation.” (p. 16)

The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) recommendations for such a high level of radiation exposure (up to 20 mSv per year for existing contamination and between 20 mSv and 100 mSv for “emergency circumstances”) are based on principles for deciding how much risk the public should be forced to endure. These principles are called justification and optimization.

Those officially responsible for radiation protection, such as governments of the European Union, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), rely on these recommendations from ICRP to inform their decisions; and although the ICRP claims no responsibility for how these officials enact the recommendations, the ICRP is a responsible party. The quotes below are European Commission (EC) interpretations of ICRP recommendations; but any government can use the principles of justification and optimization to remove nuclear industry responsibility for most exposures. Supporting the SR’s point above, the EC recognizes that overall benefits may not be for the individual: “Responsibility for judging the justification of new or existing practices usually falls on national radiation protection authorities to ensure an overall benefit in the broadest sense to society although not necessarily to the individual.” (European Commission)

“The principle of justification requires that any decision that alters the radiation exposure situation should do more good than harm; in other words, the introduction of a radiation source should result in sufficient individual or societal benefit to offset the detriment it causes. The principle of optimisation requires that the likelihood of incurring exposures, the number of people exposed and the magnitude of their individual exposure should all be kept as low as reasonably achievable, taking into account economic and societal factors.” (emphasis mine)  (European Commission)

“Benefit to whom” and “harm to whom” are not defined, meaning that “benefit” can shift to those with the most political and monetary resources (nuclear industry) at the expense of those that are less well resourced such as members of the public, including farmers and those of lower socio-economic status, etc. So through the concepts of “optimization” and “justification”, the nuclear industry could be allowed to prey on those who are unable to defend themselves.

Additionally, because these concepts are based as much on economics as they are on health, radiation exposure standards based on them should in no way be assumed to represent the most valid or protective science of the day. “As low as reasonably achievable” does not mean protective enough. “Sometimes the radiation detriment will be a small part of all factors considered and it is important that other types of detriment are considered. Similarly, benefit must be determined. Justification therefore goes far beyond the scope of radiological protection.” (European Commission)

Concepts such as these allow, for instance, the ICRP to recommend that feeding contaminated food to people may be preferable to not doing so: “There may be situations where a sustainable agricultural economy is not possible without placing contaminated food on the market. As such foods will be subject to market forces, this will necessitate an effective communication strategy to overcome the negative reactions from consumers outside the contaminated areas.” (emphasis added) In this instance, these principles set up a regime that seeks to downplay the health impact of eating contaminated food instead of informing people that the food is contaminated in the first place. Ultimately this takes away a person’s right to know how contaminated their food is, thereby removing their right to decide whether or not they want to eat contaminated food. Obliterating a person’s choice in this manner is counter to the “active, direct and effective participation” required by the right to health. For more on efforts to address man-made radiation in our food, click here and here.

NEXT TIME-- RADIOPHOBIA: ACTUAL DISEASE AND BULLYING TACTIC ?

Thursday
Jun202013

Can nuclear power ever comply with the human right to health? Part I

Eleanor Roosevelt with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spanish. 1949.A FIRST OF ITS KIND REPORT

In the continuing wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations sent Special Rapporteur on the right to health (a position created in 2002) Anand Grover to assess Japan’s compliance with human rights principles; specificallythe right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”. His visit took place between November 15 and 26, 2012 with permission of the Government of Japan.

The report on the Fukushima disaster appears to represent the first time a United Nations investigation has linked health impacts of industrial radiation from a nuclear catastrophe to human rights. The Special Rapporteur has issued several recommendations for improvement in the following areas:

  1. nuclear emergency response
  2. detail and management of health surveys
  3. dose limits of radiation
  4. access to accurate information on radiation and its health effects
  5. transparency and accountability of the nuclear industry
  6. participation of affected communities in the decision-making process

This is the first part of a Beyond Nuclear exploration into how the Special Rapporteur’s (SR’s) recommendations and conclusions may apply to nuclear power and human rights compliance beyond the Fukushima catastrophe. Many aspects of the SR’s report are groundbreaking and speak directly to the shortcomings of our current assumptions on radiation and health not only in regard to events in Japan, but also in the context of radiation protection worldwide. A number of the recommendations, if applied worldwide, would remove nuclear proponents’ proclivity for undermining human rights (in this instance the right to health) in their feverish attempts to prop up a waning industry. Note the compliance of nuclear energy is still unexplored with regard to UN charters that lay out the rights of women and the rights of the child. But ultimately, the report recommendations on health pose, perhaps unintentionally, a silent but extremely important question:

Is it possible for the nuclear power industry and government proponents to comply with the UN definition of the right to health, or must they always exist in violation of these principles?

Let’s first examine some of the report recommendations and how they counter current nuclear sector practice.

Workers attempt to clean radiation from the TMI partial meltdownINVESTIGATE HEALTH IMPACTS OF EACH RADIOLOGICAL CATASTROPHE SEPARATELY

“Though experiences from the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents provide invaluable guidance, a narrow appreciation of the accidents would not provide proper guidance.” (p 9)

Health impacts from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, which is still releasing radiation, needs to be investigated separately from other nuclear catastrophes, like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, for a number of reasons. Studies on Chernobyl may not fully account for effects of contamination and radiation exposure because crucial information was not made public until 1990. Therefore, “...the right to health necessitates rigorous and prolonged monitoring of individual health, as the health effects of radiation exposure are not always immediately known or treatable...” (p 9) “The Special Rapporteur…encourages [the Government of Japan] to explore…health effects of radiation on children…” (p 11) that include chromosomal aberrations, increase in child and adult morbidity, impairment, leukemia and other childhood anomalies, fetal deaths, mental disability. Already health survey attempts in Japan have prematurely assumed no increase in child health anomalies or fetal death attributable to radiation exposure, based on incomplete Chernobyl research that showed no increase. They also wrongly assume no childhood health follow-up is necessary.

This recommendation is antithetical to how most experts assess radiation impacts on health and environment. Many of these experts, and the official bodies with which they work, possess conflicting interests. Comparing one set of health data (like that from the atomic bombings or Chernobyl) to a still-unfolding catastrophe like Fukushima, can lead to incorrect assumptions and misattribution of disease causation. Under these conditions, the real impact of radiation exposure is hidden and measures to ensure a healthy population are misdirected or not instituted at all.

Picture on a wall with ruined Chernobyl reactor in the backgroundConsider just two examples: that of CLL and thyroid cancer. An increase in chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) was found among Chernobyl liquidators, even though it was supposedly not found in the atomic bomb survivors. The lack of CLL in atomic bomb survivors has wrongfully negated compensation to US nuclear weapons workers who were exposed to radiation under different circumstances and subsequently contracted CLL. Also consider that researchers began examining the Chernobyl data with the assumption that they would find increases in thyroid abnormalities because an increase was present in those exposed to the atomic bombings. In this last instance the comparison was valid, whereas in the instance of CLL the comparison was misleading. This illustrates how previous accident data should be used as a guide, not as a bludgeon to stamp out any inconvenient or unexpected data collected after new catastrophes.

Fukushima evacueesStatistics used by the World Bank provide a litany of diseases which are more prevalent in Ukraine since the late 1980’s and are also more prevalent there than in other former Soviet states. These include heart and circulatory diseases, cancer, reduced life expectancy for females compared to males, infant mortality; the list continues. A number of these conditions are associated with radiation exposure according to various studies; and are among the SR’s list of diseases to be monitored post Fukushima. However, since the radiation health risk formulas for Chernobyl were largely based on atomic bomb studies which do not absolutely prove these connections, the health decline in Ukraine is attributed to a myriad of other causes, not radiation; not even as a partially responsible cause (a likely scenario). This is a case of data bludgeoning run amok.

PRECAUTION IS PREVENTION: DO NOT DISREGARD EVIDENCE THAT DISEASE CAN BE CAUSED BY LOW DOSES OF RADIATION

“…disregarding these findings diminishes the understanding of and increases vulnerability to health effects of long-term exposure to low-dose radiation.”  (p 6)

The report takes special care to repeat a number of times (pp 6,7,9, 10) that, although impacts of exposure to low-doses over a long time are not fully known, some studies do point to disease induction from chronic, low dose radiation. Therefore, evacuees should be advised to relocate to areas of contamination as far below 1mSv/year as possible and exposed populations must be monitored for such diseases. An official recognition that protection from low doses of radiation is a human right is revolutionary. This recommendation not only recognizes that avoidance of post-nuclear accident exposures is a right under the human rights framework, it also reaffirms the validity of the precautionary principle which states "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”  In its purest form, the precautionary principle is in agreement with the right to health. The political answer to scientific uncertainty is precaution.

This is contrary to what official radiation exposure committees like the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) recommend when deciding what is a “safe” exposure limit – a decision that incorporates economic considerations to the detriment of health through the principles of  “optimization” and “justification”.

NEXT TIME-- RISK BENEFIT ANALYSIS: A CONVENIENT PRETEXT

Friday
Jun142013

Radiation Expert Exposes Danger to Ohioans from Fracking Waste

Dr. Marvin Resnikoff of RWMADr. Marvin Resnikoff of Radioactive Waste Management Associates has authored a report, Hydraulic Fracturing Radiological Concerns for Ohio, on behalf of the FreshWater Accountability Project Ohio. FWAPOH also put out a press release, "Radiation Expert Exposes Danger to Ohioans from Fracking Waste," which calls for better public protections from the State of Ohio and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District [MWCD]. 

Resnikoff points out that much of the highly-radioactive solids such as rocks and soils pulled up during drilling, and contaminated muds and sands are cheaply disposed of in municipal landfills in Ohio, irrespective of actual radioactivity content, for 1/100th of the cost of disposal of comparable low-level radioactive waste from nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation in the nation's three facilities for that purpose. In Ohio, he stated, "It is evident that environmental concerns are trumped by the economics beneficial to the unconventional shale drilling industry." Similarly, Dr. Resnikoff identified evidence that the Patriot water treatment facility in Warren, Ohio, which delivers pretreated water to the Warren public water treatment plant, is likely sending radium-laden water into the Mahoning River watershed. "On a daily basis, Patriot does not test for gamma emitting radionuclides and for radium-226," he observed. 

"Dr. Resnikoff's work illustrates that Ohioans, from common citizens to truck drivers to landfill workers, are daily being exposed to radiation exposure or poisoning because the Governor, General Assembly and even a large conservancy district, the MWCD, are sacrificing public protections to prop up frackers' profitability," asserted Terry Lodge, attorney for SEOSOW. "Under the guise of 'austerity,' the state government is destroying protective regulations for everyone, while creating a business environment where those who threaten public health and the environment pay little to nothing. And even huge corporate welfare breaks aren't saving this dirty, low-productivity con game."

Lodge also serves as the attorney for environmental coalitions, including Beyond Nuclear, opposing the proposed new Fermi 3 atomic reactor in southeast MI, as well as the 20-year license extension, and the proposed steam generator replacement, at Davis-Besse in northwest OH.

Fracking was exempted from such federal laws as the Safe Drinking Water Act by the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the same law which automatically subsidized nuclear power to the tune of $13 billion, while additionally leading to the approval of $22.5 billion in nuclear loan guarantees thus far.

On May 22nd, Beyond Nuclear joined with 67 other groups to chastise Environmental Defense Fund for joining into a greenwashing alliance with the fracking industry.

Thursday
Jun062013

UN human rights report issues critique on Japan's handling of Fukushima impacts, especially radiation exposure

UN Special Rapporteur, Anand Grover, has now released an advanced unedited report on the state of human rights in Japan following Fukushima fallout. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Mission to Japan (15 - 26 November 2012) makes several recommendations on implementation of nuclear emergency response systems, monitoring health effects subsequent to an accident, policy changes on radiation dose information, decontamination, compensation and transparency within the regulatory framework. Here are some highlights:

Continue monitoring the impact of radiation on the health of affected persons through holistic and comprehensive screening for a considerable length of time and make appropriate treatment available to those in need;

Refrain from restricting examination for internal exposure to whole-body counters and provide it to all affected population, including residents, evacuees, and to persons outside Fukushima prefecture;

Formulate a national plan on evacuation zones and dose limits of radiation by using current scientific evidence, based on human rights rather than on a risk-benefit analysis, and reduce the radiation dose to less than 1mSv/year;

Provide, in schoolbooks and materials, accurate information about the risk of radiation exposure and the increased vulnerability of children to radiation exposure;

Incorporate validated independent data, including that from the communities, to monitor radiation levels.

Formulate urgently a clear, time-bound plan to reduce radiation levels to less than 1mSv/year;

Clearly mark sites where radioactive debris is stored;

Provide, with the participation of the community, safe and appropriate temporary and final storage facilities for radioactive debris;

Make information collected by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, including regulations and compliance of nuclear power plant operators with domestic and international safety standards and guidelines, publicly available for independent monitoring;

Ensure that TEPCO and other third parties are held accountable for the nuclear accident and that their liability to pay compensation or reconstruction efforts is not shifted to taxpayers.

Include cost of reconstruction and restoration of lives within the relief package;

Provide free health check-ups and treatment that may be required for health effects from the nuclear accident and radiation exposure;

Ensure that compensation claims by affected persons against TEPCO are settled without further delay;

The Special Rapporteur urges the Government to ensure effective community participation, especially participation of vulnerable groups, in all aspects of the decision-making processes related to nuclear energy policy and the nuclear regulatory framework, including decisions regarding nuclear power plant operations, evacuation zones, radiation limits, health monitoring and compensation amounts.

NOTE: The position of UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health was created in this century. This interim report on the Fukushima disaster appears to represent the first time an investigation has linked health impacts of industrial radiation from a nuclear catastrophe to human rights -- in this case the right to health for both children and adults.