Tag Archives: Fukushima

Nuclear Radiation: There is No Safe Dose

Nuclear Radiation: There is No Safe Dose
by Romeo F. Quijano, M.D.
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
College of Medicine, UP Manila
After initially saying that radioactivity from Japan will not reach the Philippines, government officials now admit that radioactive fallout has in fact reached the country but say that levels detected are low and do not pose any health risk. This seemingly authoritative declaration that the Philippines is “safe” from radiation should not be allowed to blind the public to the real dangers brought about by the Japan Nuclear Reactor Disaster which has already surpassed the Three Mile Island incident and is alarmingly approaching the scale of the Chernobyl catastrophe.  Rather than downplaying a very serious catastrophe confronting the entire world and misleading the people, the government should address the full spectrum of public health and environmental problems caused by the release of ionizing radiation from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants.
The authorities apparently refer to the so-called standards of permissible or acceptable limits set by the International Commission on Radiation Protection (ICRP) and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission as basis for declaring that exposure levels of the public are “small” and within “safety” limits and that significant risk of harm is limited to the immediate vicinity of the power plants. These standards, in fact, have been set to accommodate the interests of the nuclear industry and countries with nuclear weapons. The ICRP recommendations of exposure limits are not based on worker and public health criteria, but on value judgements with respect to the acceptability of risk estimates for what it sees as benefits of the activities. Since the decision makers, were either users of ionizing radiation in their employment, or are government regulators, primarily from countries with nuclear weapon programs, the vested interests are very clear.
Government “experts” are actually misinterpreting the standards used world-wide as the common basis for radiological protection standards. Even the ICRP stated that: “The permissible doses can therefore be expected to produce effects [illnesses] that could be detectable only by statistical methods applied to large groups.” It further stated that:  “The commission believes that this level [5 rems radiation exposure per 30 years for the general public] provides reasonable latitude for the expansion of atomic energy programs in the foreseeable future. It should be emphasised that the limit may not in fact represent a proper balance between possible harm and probable benefit because of the uncertainty in assessing the risks and benefits that would justify the exposure.” Thus, it is quite clear that even the ICRP recognizes that radiation exposure below “acceptable” levels could actually cause adverse health effects.  Yet, 5 rem per year, rather than per 30 years, was permitted for workers in the nuclear industry. The 5 rem per 30 years was set as the average dose to a population, with a maximum of 0.5 rem (5 msV) per year for any individual member of the public.
The concept of “permissible” or “acceptable” level is derived from toxicologic assumptions and extrapolations which do not constitute a valid rationale for a conclusion of “safety”. The usual procedure for setting the standard for a toxic substance is to decide the relevant medical symptoms of toxicity and determine a dose level below which these symptoms do not occur. This cut-off point is called the “tolerance level”. The tolerance level for a substance, if one can be determined, is then divided by a subjectively derived factor (10-100) to give a so-called “safe” level. This presumably allows for human variability of effects which may occur below the level at which there are no visible signs of toxicity. This rather limited concept, while useful for estimating risks from exposure to certain toxicants in particular situations, does not apply for toxic substances (like radioactive materials) which do not have any “tolerance” level, meaning, even the smallest possible dose can produce a toxic effect. At very low doses, effects are likely to be statistically hidden by normal biological variations, yet these effects are real. Even physicians attending to the affected people are usually not aware that the illnesses they are seeing are connected to the exposure.
For the past several years, health research on the effects of ionizing radiation exposure has focused on estimating the number of excess radiation-induced fatal cancers and excess severe genetic diseases to be expected in a population given the average estimated exposure to radiation for the country. Other radiation-related human tragedies such as earlier occurrence of cancers, endocrine disorders, immune dysfunction, developmental disorders, and other illnesses are not included. This averaging approach also fails to deal with global distribution of air and water with the result that deaths and the cumulative damage to future generations are not limited to one country.
The painful human experience from ionizing radiation since the US dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 has stimulated a tremendous growth in understanding the harmful effects of ionizing radiation on the human body, despite the official suppression of independent scientific data by the nuclear powers. Thanks to independent scientists, we now know that radiation has no safe level.
As early as 1955, Dr. Alice Stewart. who was head of the Department of Preventative Medicine at Oxford University, discovered that the number of children dying of leukemia had risen 50% in only a few years. She determined that babies born to mothers who had a series of maternal X-rays of the pelvic region during pregnancy were twice as likely to develop leukemia or cancer as babies of mothers who had not been X-rayed. These diagnostic X-rays exposed the patient to extremely low doses of radiation. Other researchers have since verified these findings and have shown the number of mutations to be in direct ratio to the amount of radiation received by the reproductive organs.
In 1970, Dr. Thomas Mancuso, a professor of occupational health at the University of Pittsburgh, was commissioned by the Atomic Energy Commission to study the “biological effects, if any, of low-level ionizing radiation among workers employed in atomic energy facilities”. It was expected that Mancuso’s study would find that nuclear work was safe. However, Dr. Mancuso’s team found a definite relationship between low levels of radiation and the development of certain types of cancer in spite of the fact that all workers employed were specifically selected for their excellent health. They discovered three kinds of cancers among the workers: lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and cancers of blood-forming tissues, particularly Myeloma. The cancers were occurring at well below the radiation exposure levels of the official limit of five rads per year. This meant that the current standards for nuclear safety might be twenty times too high. However, there were powerful forces who suppressed the research. Mancuso’s funding was cut off and he was ordered not to publish his findings. He was denied further access to the workers’ data. In 1977 he was ordered to give up his files or have them seized.  Practically everyone who sided with Mancuso were subjected to character assassination or lost their funding. The government would only allow studies of workers health records to be performed by labs under them. The data of workers health became the virtual monopoly of a small group of government sponsored scientists and were unavailable to the larger scientific community.
Recently, Dr. Rosalie Bertell of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health revealed that there has been an effort to increase permissible doses of ionizing radiation to certain organs such as thyroid and bone marrow in spite of research showing the radiosensitivity of these tissues. This newer trend reflects political and economic, rather than scientific justifications. For example, the ICRP radiation recommendation for workers permits up to the equivalent bone marrow dose of 1,000 chest X-rays per year. ICRP recommended that members of the general public can receive up to one-tenth of the occupational exposure or 0.5 rem per year, the equivalent bone marrow dose of about 100 present-day chest X-rays per year. In 1978, ICRP recommended raising the levels of radiation permitted to humans from man-made sources of radiation, increasing the permitted bone marrow dose from 5 rem to 42 rem with apparently little regard for the increased damage to bones and blood-producing organs. ICRP reiterated the need to allow human exposure in order to “enjoy the economic and social benefits” of the nuclear industries despite the fact that so much new research was available documenting human illness associated with the “permissible” exposure levels.
The amount of radioactivity being released to the open environment from the Fukushima nuclear plants are by no means “small”. It is difficult to estimate the actual amount of radioactivity released at this time, however, there is ample reason to believe that the seriousness of the accident has already exceeded that of the Three Mile Island incident which reportedly released a total of 13 million curies of radioactivity. A Chernobyl-like scenario is, in fact, more likely.
A radioactive substance is not like an ordinary poison that one can dilute to insignificant levels. The lowest dose of ionizing radiation is one nuclear track through one cell. You can’t have a fraction of a dose of that sort.  The “small” amount of radiation, claimed to be “safe” by authorities, added to our increasingly fragile environment will cause serious harm to the health of human beings and other living organisms all over the world. Radioactive particles, especially Plutonium, Strontium, and Cesium are bioaccumulative, extremely persistent  and highly toxic. They travel long distances and will contaminate all regions on earth. Particularly devastating would be the inevitable damage to the genetic pool which will lead to an increase in the number of seriously defective offsprings who will be born in future generations. The number of children and grandchildren with birth defects, leukemia, cancer, immune disorders, endocrine disruption and other illnesses due to these officially “safe” levels of radioactivity might seem “statistically insignificant” to some in comparison with other known health hazards, but this is not just another health hazard and it is not just an issue of scientific debate. This is an issue of plain human decency and moral responsibility to our children and grandchildren who deserve to inherit a reasonably habitable earth as their forefathers have enjoyed. 
3. Limitations of the ICRP Recommendations for Worker and Public Protection from Ionizing Radiation by Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., GNSH, International
   Institute of Concern for Public Health; http://www.ccnr.org/radiatio4

Japan Nuclear Threat: What People Need to Know

I got this from my email last night and thought of sharing this important information.

Dear friends in the media,

Please find below the statement of Dr. Romeo Quijano, professor at the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the University of the Philippines Manila, and president of Pesticide Action Network Philippines. It can be quoted for news articles or printed in full as a letter to the editor.

Thank you very much!

Pesticide Action Network Philippines

Address Japan Nuclear Threat with Truth and Precaution, not Misinformation

The threat to Filipino health and environment from the nuclear power plant disaster in Japan is serious and should not be downplayed. This threat should be addressed with truth and precaution and not misinformation. Government officials and the mainstream media repeatedly claim that there is no possibility that the nuclear radiation from Japan will reach the Philippines and that the radiation leak is minimal and pose no significant health risks. This is gross misrepresentation of facts.

There is already a partial meltdown and it is not farfetched that a complete meltdown will occur, if it has not already occurred by the time this article is circulated. There is already a significant breach in the reactor core containment facilities, both immediate and secondary. There is no doubt that significant amounts of radioactivity had already been released into the open environment, exposing thousands of people within several kilometers radius. It is highly probable that this radiation pollution will worsen in the next few days and will most likely reach the Philippines. The claim by Philippine authorities that the radioactive cloud will not reach the Philippines because the prevailing wind direction from the nuclear plant is way towards the Central Pacific is no reassurance because wind direction can change at any moment. Furthermore, radioactive elements are extremely persistent and will inevitably affect practically the entire planet after some time. Levels of radiation in the nuclear disaster site has already reached alarming levels, forcing the evacuation of 750 workers involved in the desperate efforts to contain the damage.

This is a clear sign that the situation is out of control. Earlier, dose rates of up to 400 millisievert per hour have been reported, more than enough to cause acute radiation sickness. Radiation levels in Tokyo has been reported to be 10-23 times the normal levels and in Saitama, near Tokyo, the levels were reported to be 40 times normal. These levels have been erroneously proclaimed to be “safe.”

It must be emphasized that, theoretically, no level of radioactivity is “safe.” While these levels are still quite low compared to levels known to be clearly associated with various illnesses due to exposure to radiation, there is a real risk that over time, additional cases of cancer, birth defects, immune disorders, and other illnesses would occur among the population exposed to these low level radiation, especially the more susceptible population groups such as women and children. Furthermore, it is not unlikely that the actual levels of exposure are higher than what is officially reported and given the fact that the situation is far from being controlled, more releases of radioactivity to the open environment is of high probability.

The Japanese reactor is reported to be one hundred times more powerful than the Chernobyl power plant, which exploded in 1986 and which resulted in worldwide radioactive contamination which continues until today and which will continue for many years to come. The two stations in the Fukushima region reportedly produce the world’s largest joint amount of energy. If complete meltdown occurs in any of the Fukushima reactors, this may lead to a much worse contamination of the atmosphere than the one that was caused by the Chernobyl disaster.

The Union of Concerned Scientists have expressed serious concerns on what is happening to the Fukushima reactors. The first is that the damage to the Unit 2 containment may be leaking gases and or liquids. Normally the reactor building is intended to act as a secondary containment and capture radiation leaking from the primary containment so that filters can remove the radioactivity before it is released to the atmosphere. But the reactor buildings for all three reactors have been damaged by explosions and no longer provide this secondary containment. So if the primary containment is leaking, then a core meltdown could lead to a very large release of radioactivity to the environment. The second concern is that even if the primary containment is currently intact, the Mark I containment system used in these reactors has a known vulnerability to meltdowns. Molten fuel that enters the primary containment area can melt through the wall of the primary containment—a situation called liner melt-through—which would also allow the release of large amounts of radioactivity to the environment.

The Mark I is unusually vulnerable to containment failure in the event of a core-melt accident. A recent study by Sandia National Laboratories shows that the likelihood of containment failure is nearly 42%. The most likely failure scenario involves the molten fuel burning through the reactor vessel, spilling onto the containment floor, and spreading until it contacts and breeches the steel containment-vessel wall. The Sandia report characterizes these probabilities as “quite high.”

The situation at the Fukushima plant is getting much worse. Larger radiation releases have occurred. The radiation levels around the plants have gotten so high that workers from the plants have been withdrawn. If efforts to cool the reactors are stopped or become completely ineffective, the result may be meltdowns of the fuel in all three reactors.

Another concern expressed is the reported presence of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel constituting about 6% of the core of unit 3. MOX is a mixture of plutonium and uranium oxides. The use of MOX generally increases the consequences of severe accidents in which large amounts of radioactive gas and aerosol are released compared to the same accident in a reactor using non-MOX fuel, because MOX fuel contains greater amounts of more the highly toxic radioactive elements such as plutonium, americium and curium. Because of this, the number of latent cancer fatalities resulting from an accident could increase substantially if there were a severe accident with core melt and containment breach.

What is happening in Japan should also serve as a clear signal to the Philippine government to junk completely the efforts to revive the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). The probability of a similar catastrophe occuring if the BNPP is revived should not be taken for granted. The Philippines is vulnerable to earthquakes and the BNPP is situated on the slopes of a potentially active volcano. The reopening of the BNPP would not benefit the Filipino people but instead would expose us to unnecessary risks and potentially horrendous consequences.

What needs to be done is to reverse the privatization of the power industry and build sustainable, safe and appropriate sources of energy.

At this time, a disaster preparedness program to address the potential health, environmental and socio-economic consequences of the nuclear disaster in Japan should be in place. The government claims to have a radiological preparedness plan but an “alert zero” declaration indicates an inappropriate plan with erroneous assumptions and interpretation of facts. Rather than downplaying the seriousness of the situation and nonchalantly dismissing the risks, the government should expand its radiation monitoring, immediately mobilize resources and implement precautionary measures to prevent or at least mitigate the potential effects of radioactive contamination.

Romeo F. Quijano, M.D.
Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
College of Medicine, University of the Philippines Manila

Email: romyquij@yahoo.com