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.



FOIA raises questions about NRC cancellation of cancer study for US nukes

Newly released documents are raising questions about the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) September 8, 2015 decision to abandon a contract with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to study cancer mortality and incidence around US nuclear power stations. The announcement scrapped 5 years of scientific study and a $1.5 million investment in guarding public health and safety. The NRC reasoned that the NAS study would cost too much, take too long and not provide a statistically strong outcome.  That's really rich considering the NRC and Tennessee Valley Authority just took 43 years to issue a 40 year operating license fiasco for the Watts Bar Unit 2 nuclear power station and tallying up to $6.1 billion in construction cost.  However, the government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) raise serious questions about the real intent behind the NRC decision to walk away from its contract with the NAS to study the connection of public health to radioactive releases.

The NRC had originally commissioned the National Academies to update the controversial 1990 National Cancer Institute’s study and finding of no connection to cancer mortality and radioactive releases that was more a blunt instrument to quash the legitimate health concerns of reactor communities than a refined scientific assessment.  The NCI conclusion was made more dubious by the near simultaneous 1990 publication of an epidemiological study by the Massachusetts Department of Health study finding of a 400% statistical increase in rare adult leukemia around the Pilgrim nuclear power station that the health department correlated to the proximity and duration of residency to the reactor.  Since then, cancers studies in Germany and France have found a doubling of childhood leukemia around nuclear power stations in those countries.  

The NAS had just completed Phase 1 of the two-phase study selecting two epidemiological methods to proceed around  seven pilot nuclear facilities in the United States. Upon completion of the pilot study, projected to take another three years and $8 million, the NAS would select the stronger methodology for completing the requested nationwide study around nuclear facilities.

The NRC was instead looking for the NAS to provide some certainty of its scientific findings before allowing the pilot study to proceed.  When the NAS could not provide a guarantee the NRC cancelled the study after considering cheaper and quicker alternatives that would never materialized.  In the end, the public got nothing.

“You do not know whether the study will find something unless you do the study,” Rania Kosti, who was coordinating the study for NAS, recently told the Orange County Register near the now closed San Onofre reactor site.

In our view, rather than kill the study in total, one alternative would have been to downsize the pilot program to examine cancer mortality and incidence around a narrower range of reactor sites in order to find a potentially stronger statistical model. An obvious candidate area would have been to look at exposed populations downwind and downstream of multiple overlapping reactor sites---like the seven units at Braidwood, Dresden and LaSalle nuclear power stations in Illinois where strong anecdotal evidence continues to identify cancer clusters among children and young adults. 

Instead, the NRC and the nuclear industry remain content to take no action and rely on an assumed claim of no causal relation between radioactive releases from nuclear power stations and contribution to an ongoing cancer epidemic. Once again, the NRC promotion of an industry production agenda trumps public health concerns.


TAKE ACTION! EPA radiation plan harms, not protects, children 

EPA is poised to approve its Protective Action Guides (PAGs) for drinking water before Obama leaves office. EPA still has not released the limits for over 100 radionuclides the public might be exposed to through water, but they are increasing limits by thousands of times—more than was even proposed at the end of the Bush Administration.

The PAGs are supposed to protect the public from radiation exposure, but in reality they would allow exposure to radioactivity through food, ground shine, and now water, that would result in risks many times above EPA's risk goals, despite recent research showing very low doses could be harmful.

The total allowable radiation exposure would particularly impact sensitive women and children, especially infant girls. Further, there is no guarantee that people will not be forced to remain in highly contaminated areas for a number of years.

Tell the EPA to replace the PAGs with guides that protect vulnerable early life stages like pregnancy and childhood. Call Administrator McCarthy (202-564-4700) and Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water, Joel Beauvais (202-564-5700) and ask them to NOT approve these dangerous radiation levels for drinking water. Sample text given at link below. 

See story on NBC.

See Beyond Nuclear's comments on the most recent water PAGs.

Sample text:

Administrator McCarthy AND Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water, Joel Beauvais

Please reject the drinking water PAGs. They do not protect pregnancy and childhood. In combination with the other PAGs, they would result in risks much higher than what EPA states are its risk goals for protecting public health. Don't let your legacy be drinking water poisoned by radioactivity!


Steve Wing (1952-2016), beloved teacher, committed scientist

I first "met" Steve about 20 years ago, when he had published his research on the previously unrecognized health impacts of the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster. One of my early forays into radioactivity's impact on human health was helping to write a press statement on that study. I shared the text with him to make sure we had characterized the results properly and he confided to me over the phone that he thought our release better represented the study than others he had seen, including the official one. Through his approval I realized, as activists, we had the ability to grasp this very complicated subject and act on this understanding. I have never looked back and I have never been intimidated.

Steve was the scientific descendant of a line of "radiation realists", if you will. These are scientists who are experts in their disciplines and who, like all true scientists let actual health impacts, not stale models and predetermined conclusions, tell them how radioactivity affects human health, especially at low, protracted doses. Counted among their numbers, although this list is incomplete: John Gofman, Alice Stewart, Rosalie Bertell, Edward Radford, Karl Morgan. Their personal and professional lives suffered for their honesty, as has Dr. Wing's.

As Steve passes from us, we realize he is the ancestor of those who prize scientific rigor over obfuscation. Many of them have also suffered retribution. Quiet, humble and courageous, despite having his resources pulled, despite being told by his funder to "go home to North Carolina and get the right answer", Steve did not back down. And neither will we.

And no matter what comes our way, from nuclear weapons worker studies to public health studies around nuclear power reactors, we will always press for rigorous, unbiased health investigations.

Thank you, Steve, for generously sharing your expertise and the expertise of others. Thank you for not bending to pressure, and for presenting us with a legacy of intellect, integrity and knowledge that we can build on to help victims of radiation exposure remain visible rather than vanish in intentional indifference.

We will miss you.

Cindy Folkers and Beyond Nuclear


USS Reagan Sailors: One step closer to justice

Lawyers for U.S. sailors suffering illnesses associated with radiation exposure from the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe presented oral arguments before the 9th circuit court in Pasadena, CA in September. This follows two victories before the district federal court in San Diego, CA and two legal appeals by TEPCO who is being sued for compensation in this first-of-its-kind case. Determination in this case is expected within 60 days.

According to Nuclear Hotseat, present at the arguments, the sailors are experiencing a number of health impacts including, leukemia, ulcers, gall bladder removal, brain cancers and tumors, testicular cancers, thyroid illnesses, stomach complaints, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, and still births and birth defects among their children. A number of these maladies are rare for the sailors’ age and condition, and were not present before the relief operation Tomadachi, undertaken by the U.S. in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Japan. According to statements at a press conference, filmed here by Ecological Options Network, seven people have already died including a child who was riddled with tumors. The number of sailors in the lawsuit is currently 400 and additional plantiffs continue coming forward.

Radiation diseases are so complex, the Veterans Administration cannot figure out how to treat many of the ill. As a result, they are often diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), which is a catchall meaning they don’t know what the malady is. This type of unclear diagnosis also occurred after the atomic bomb explosions (bura-bura disease) and after the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown(vegetative distonia).

Lawyers for the sailors say any delay in the case is a delay of justice and proper health resources for these radiation-affected people. It’s been about 4 years already since the suit began and only judicial and legal wrangling has been undertaken in court. Specifics of the catastrophe, exposure scenarios and health information has not been allowed as of yet. According to plantiffs’ lawyers, this is a ploy by TEPCO to keep case from being heard.

TEPCO is trying to deny the sailors compensation claiming that the sailors should be able to fit into the compensation plans already established within Japan. But most of the sailors never set foot in Japan and participated in operation Tomadachi while they were technically in US territory. TEPCO also contends that the case must be heard in Japan, because TEPCO is a Japanese company. In reality, TEPCO is a multinational corporation, a status which would allow the case to be tried outside Japan, a course of action highly recommended as a case in Japan would be cost prohibitive and dangerous for the ill sailors. As a final insult, TEPCO is asking whether the Navy acted reasonably under the circumstances, this despite the fact that the U.S. was asked by the government of Japan to provide aid. And during it all, TEPCO wasn’t revealing the true scope of the catastrophic meltdown or what radioactive poisons were being released.

Outside parties have been weighing in. The Koch brothers issued a report from one of their think tanks that parrots the TEPCO arguments while claiming to be neutral. Higher levels of the U.S. Government are saying “go ahead” with the case. The law firm of John Edwards, former governor and Vice Presidential candidate, is considering helping with the case, and past prime minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, had some powerful words on the sailors’ behalf. He believes they were exposed and as a result, they are suffering illness. He is concerned because the Japanese people haven’t been told about the sailors’ plight. He contends any logical person would recognize that the health impacts of the sailors are from radiation. He used to support nuclear power but no more.  He is upset to see that even U.S. doctors refuse to confirm that radiation is the cause of the sailors’ disease. He believes TEPCO purposely hid the truths of the catastrophe and that it seems the U.S. Navy is following suit. For wonderful video and audio coverage of the sailors’ plight, see EON and Nuclear Hotseat. Information in this piece is taken from these sources.


Nuclear Hotseat #238: SPECIAL – Porter Ranch/Radon Radiation Risk

Host and producer Libbe HaLevy interviewed Beyond Nuclear's Cindy Folkers and Kevin Kamps, as well as Toledo attorney Terry Lodge (Beyond Nuclear's legal counsel in multiple atomic reactor license interventions), on her Nuclear Hotseat podcast.

The full program is devotedto the radon risk hidden
in the methane gas leak disaster at Porter Ranch in Los Angeles.

Listen to the audio recording online here, and see Libbe's write up about the program below: 

This Week’s Featured Interviews:

  • Kevin Kamps is the Nuclear Waste Watchdog for Beyond Nuclear.  He gives an overview of the problems created by radon and suspicions about its impact on the people of Porter Ranch.
  • Cindy Folkers is Beyond Nuclear‘s expert on ionizing radiation and its impact on health and the environment.  She talks about the health impact of radon and its decay products, emphasizing the need for independent testing at the site.
    Links to the two articles cited by Cindy Folkers as possibly pointing to an earlier start of the Porter Ranch gas leak:
    From August, 2015

    From July, 2014
  • Richard Mathews is a long time resident of the Porter Ranch area who is currently running for state assembly from that district. Richard lives four miles away from the gas leak; he talks about the politics behind the scenes and local activist organizing efforts.
    Petition to have the Porter Ranch gas leak declared a national emergency
  • Terry Lodge is an Ohio trial lawyer living in Toledo who has represented many clients in civil rights, civil liberties, and environmental cases.  He talks on the science as well as legal aspects of this case.

The Missing Link:

Nuclear Hotseat #237 – Byron DeLear interview transcript on West Lake Landfill and legal options.  (NOTE:  Tech glitch; will post on 1/13/16)


…A Reminder to All of the San Fernando Valley from your Friendly Neighborhood Environmental Protection Agency: