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.



Radioactive hydrogen found in 10,000 year-old deep well water

The radioactive isotope tritium has found its way into half of more than 6,000 wells researchers examined world-wide. Even wells containing water more than 10,000 years old, termed "fossil water", showed contamination by tritium, overturning a long-held assumption that wells dug deep enough could avoid contamination with modern pollution. The study was published online in Nature Geoscience on April 25.


Tell EPA: Radioactivity places greater health burden on women, children, pregnancy

EPA is holding a public conference call on radiation exposure standards (among other topics) this coming Monday, April 24 from 11 AM to 2 PM EST, phone number (800) 305-3182 ,  ID# 8535873


This is in response to the Executive Order issued on February 24, 2017 on enforcing regulatory agendas. This order requires federal agencies to alleviate “unnecessary regulatory burdens placed on the American people.”

We all know that, according to research, exposure to radioactivity from the nuclear bomb and power industries places greater health burdens on females, children and pregnancy.

Call EPA. Tell them:

1)    their current regulations are not protective enough of females and early life stages who get more cancers than men for the same amount of radiation and can have negative neurological impacts at even very low doses. If EPA wants to streamline their regulations, they should focus on protecting the most vulnerable life stages – pregnancy and childhood – and get rid of more complicated, much less protective, exposure standards

2)    EPA should assume that there will always be a pregnant person in the population and set any radiation standards to protect them.

NOT YOUR LAST CHANCE: If you can’t make the call, EPA is also accepting written comments by May 15. This comment docket is EPA-wide, so please make sure to comment specifically on radioactive pollution. Beyond Nuclear will be providing comments on the call as well as more detailed written comments. Watch the Bulletin for main points to use for the May 15, 2017 written comment deadline.


Office of Air and Radiation’s (OAR) public teleconference will be an operator assisted call. The call with start with brief remarks from EPA and the remainder of the call will be dedicated to listening to public input. Participants wishing to speak or listen do not need to register in advance for the teleconference. To hear the opening remarks, please dial in 10 minutes before the start time. You may call into the teleconference at any time during the three-hour period.

If you wish to speak, at any time, you may nominate yourself to speak by hitting *1 on your phone. Your name will be added to a queue. Speakers will be asked to deliver 3 minutes of remarks and will be called on a first come, first served basis. OAR will do our best to hear from everyone who wishes to speak. The teleconference will be transcribed and will be added to the docket. If you do not have the opportunity to speak on the call, please submit your input to the docket (docket number: EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190). OAR will give equal consideration to input provided through either of these methods.

Date:                         April 24, 2017

Time:                         11:00 – 2:00 p.m. EDT

Participant Dial-in Number:   (800) 305-3182

Conference ID#:               8535873


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