NAG NEWSLETTER SUMMER 2007
WEDNESDAY 11TH JULY 2007
(please note altered date)
7pm Civic Centre, Reading
The Hidden Human Cost of Nuclear Weapons
AWE Local Liaison Committee
INTERNAL EMITTERS AND AUTOPSIES
It must come as a nasty shock to find out that your deceased relative had been the subject of post-mortem organ removal without your knowledge. The fact that it was done in the interests of comparing Plutonium levels in tissue of nuclear workers and the general public might not be very consoling.
The problem of secretiveness in matters nuclear in an attempt to minimise public fears about radiation is a familiar one. NRPB did not make a secret of the fact of these post-mortem autopsies, which were published in 1986 - it was the families that were kept in the dark.
The Black Committee had already commented in 1984 on the need for greater emphasis to be put on collection and consideration of human data relevant to the possible health consequences of radioactive discharges, and more data has been accumulated since from live sources.
The problem we see is with the interpretation of the data. How many childhood leukaemia clusters around nuclear plants does it need before these clusters are not put down to viruses or population mixing, and any connection with radioactive discharges denied? At the root of the problem, as we see it, is the continuing assumption that current risk modelling methods are correct, and any facts accumulated have to be fitted around that assumption.
There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon - an international project involving the UK, France and Belgium entitled "Alpha-Risk" is in preparation. Its aim is to study lung cancer and leukaemia risk amongst nuclear industry workers who have been exposed to internal emitters Plutonium and Uranium. Data will be collected from existing records from AWE , BNFL and UKAEA - current workers can opt out of having their records used, and the project is subject to ethical approval. The data collected will be passed for analysis to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (ARC). So far so good - except that ARC is part of the WHO, which reached an agreement with the IAEA in 1959 to avoid jeopardising the promotion of nuclear power. That means avoiding rocking the boat on the risk modelling methods, in which case this study, like the childhood leukaemia studies, will simply find that the doses were too low to be attributable to radiation. It would be much better if an independent body did the research.
MORE ON LOW LEVEL RADIATION
People living around Chernobyl still have unusually high levels of physical abnormalities and birth defects, according to an article in New Scientist of 21st April. The IAEA has suggested that this is due to stress, including from relocation. However, a study comparing 7,700 barn swallows from around Chernobyl with others from uncontaminated parts of Europe concluded that the local swallows were more prone to tumours, misshapen toes and feather deformities. As they had not been relocated, this must have been due to stress!
The study was conducted by Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, Columbia, who commented that we should be more concerned about the human population, because we still do not fully understand the consequences of low doses of radiation.
Another American university, the University of Southern Maine, have just completed a study of the effects of Depleted Uranium on human lung cells. This study involved exposing cultures of human bronchial fibroblasts to particles of Uranium oxide typically found in Depleted Uranium. The result was that chromosomes in cells mutated and the cell died, the effect being more marked the greater the concentration of particles.
Yet another study comes from New Zealand - the NZ Herald of May 14th reported on research done by Dr Al Rowland into the health of naval veterans of early nuclear testing. He discovered that their shortened lifespans and raised incidences of genetic damage were more likely to be due to drinking contaminated rainwater after the tests than to direct exposure to radiation - in other words, internal not external doses.
On hearing that a planning application had been put in for a mobile phone transmitter in Aberystwyth, Dr Chris Busby of Green Audit set out to do a local health survey, to provide a baseline of local health prior to transmissions. A questionnaire was sent round to a sample of houses in the area.
The intention was to do a follow-up survey when the transmitter had been in operation on full power for several weeks. Dr Busby saw this as an opportunity to provide some reliable data on the effects of microwave radiaton, since the study population would be the same as the control population.
The mobile phone company have withdrawn their application.
In March the U.S. Administration decided that the contract for designing its new stockpile of nuclear warheads (RRW's - Reliable Replacement Warheads) would go to the Lawrence Livermore Lab in California. The Lab is so much the dominant employer in the area, and the dominant force in the local economy and politics, that Livermore City's seal contains the atom.
It was therefore surprising and telling when two of the three local papers came out against the new development. The Tri-Valley Herald questioned the need, given that the old warheads had been found to have plenty of life still in them, and the Independent Newspaper commented that it would create more jobs locally but leave the world less safe.
The New York Times had earlier (Jan 15th) described the RRW programme as a "make work programme championed by the weapons laboratories", and noted that the Pentagon had only got interested in "aging" warheads which needed replacing only after the "bunker buster" idea fell through. "The nuclear labs need the work to attract and train the best scientists. But the labs are already spending billions on studying and preserving the current arsenal"
"Busywork for Nuclear Scientists" was the editorial heading. That's pretty much what is going on at Aldermaston as well.
CORWM AND NEW BUILD
CORWM has issued a statement defending itself against charges of misleading information on the radwaste issue, contained in the 2006 Energy Review, relating to waste arisings from new build. Since we have been critical of CORWM's failure to address the problem of effects of any new build decision on their recommendations, we should consider their riposte.
They point out that the Overview to their main Report stated at para 25 that its recommendations are directed to existing and committed wastes only. New build would entail a need for a "detailed assessment of the waste inventory that will arise so that proper arrangements can be made for its management. At the very least there could be an effect on repository design and size; there may also be a need for more management facilities including interim stores", and "new build wastes would extend the timescale for implementation possibly very long, but essentially unknowable future periods".
On the ethical front, CORWM distinguish between unavoidable, i.e. already existing, wastes, and any future wastes, which would need justifying in their own right.
While understanding CORWM's difficulties, we cannot see how its recommendations can be implemented in their present form if new build is finally approved. As they themselves point out, the design and size of the repository is affected, and so is the timescale. How can a local community agree to host such an unpredictable facility? Its not as if one could just pop back to the shops for another depository if the first turned out to be too small!
. Whatever plans are made to deal with new waste cannot be treated as a separate issue from plans for existing waste. NAG's take on this relates to our hope that the radioactive waste stored at Aldermaston in interim storage above ground is moved to permanent storage sooner rather than later
THE HUMAN ERROR FACTOR
According to a report from Nukewatch, a nuclear warhead convoy on its way from AWE Burghfield to Coulport got lost somewhere between Derby and Nottingham. The main convoy was seen driving up and down the A52 in search of Chetwynd Barracks, where it was due for a stop. The back-up convoy, which followed later and contained the massive emergency unit also got lost, and ended up in side roads in a residential area from which the drivers had considerable difficulty extricating the cumbersome vehicles.
Further along the route, the re-assembled convoy drove through Edinburgh on the very day the new Scottish Parliament was being sworn in. This seems to have been regarded as provocative, opposition to nuclear weapons being widespread in Scotland. We hope the provocation was not deliberate.
Secretary & Newsletter Editor: Evelyn Parker
16 Back Street
Winchester SO23 9SB