• 18 JUL 06
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    #523: More on Chernobyl’s Nuclear Nightmares.

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    #523: More on Chernobyl’s Nuclear Nightmares.

    From Eileen O’Connor:

    The enclosed information from Richard Bramhall in response to Mike Repacholi’s appearance on the BBC Horizon programme ‘Nuclear Nightmares’ is interesting.

    From Richard Bramhall, The Low Level Radiation Campaign

    Horizon: Nuclear Nightmares. BBC Two, 9.00 p.m. Thursday 13th July (United Kingdom)

    A lot of people have, understandably, been outraged at the advance spin on this documentary (see, e.g. Monday’s 10th July Times http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-2263204.html).

    The programme apparently will offer up as “new” (The Times says) the idea that there is a threshold dose below which radiation doesn’t cause harm. We read that it “may even be beneficial” and that “Evidence … has convinced experts that the risks of radiation follow a much more complex pattern than predicted.”

    We certainly agree that dose/response curves are complex. The reason for the complexity is that more than 50 years ago the American National Committee on Radiological Protection adopted a grossly simplistic concept of “dose” as an average of energy deposited into body tissue. This model was based on external irradiation, with which they were familiar since it was what they had been dealing with for decades in the search for adequate standards for regulating X-rays. It wasn’t too difficult to extend that simple physics-based model to the external irradiation from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, and it was convenient to assume that radioactivity inside the body could be understood as if it were external — an approach which fails to account properly for the huge variations in energy distribution from different kinds of radioactivity. Even in 1952 Karl Z. Morgan, who was responsible for the NCRP sub-committee on internal radioactivity, refused to agree that internal could be dealt with like external. His sub-committee was closed down and for the rest of his life he was a critic of the NCRP and its successor the International Commission on Radiological Protection – “I feel like a father who is ashamed of his children.” All this happened before the structure of DNA was discovered and long before biological responses like genomic instability, the bystander effect and microinflammation were even suspected. For these reasons all competent authorities now recognise that for many internal exposures “dose” is a virtually meaningless term, so it is irritating to see propaganda like The Times report still using it; inhaled particles of reactor fuel cannot be compared with chest X-rays. One size does not fit all.

    It is appalling to see WHO denying the reality of life post-Chernobyl, but we must bear in mind that their minds are clouded by the ICRP dose/risk model and by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s power of vetoing any WHO research on radiation and health. In their crazed world the risk model predicts no discernible health impact because doses (whatever “dose” may mean) from Chernobyl fallout were too small — a maximum of twice natural background. When there is an all-too-observable impact (e.g. 30% increase in cancer in Belarus in ten post-Chernobyl years or a similar increase in northern Sweden) they say it must be caused by something else rather than inferring that the risk model is wrong. Their science and their epidemiology are like two drunks holding each other up — a temporary marvel!

    For an alternative view see http://www.euradcom.org and the European Committee on Radiation Risk’s volume Chernobyl: 20 Years On. ECRR has summarised thousands of Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian studies. Scientists and clinicians in those regions are reporting a melt-down in human health. Studies of animals and plants show genetic defects transmitted over 22 generations, although plants don’t suffer from radiophobia. There is a flyer on http://www.euradcom.org/publications/chernobyleflyer.pdf.

    In 2004 LLRC summarised about 100 of these Russian language studies for the CERRIE Minority Report: they are on our site at http://www.llrc.org/health/subtopic/russianrefs.htm.

    The BBC documentary “Nuclear Nightmares” looks as if it will be propaganda intended to soften us up for a new round of nuclear power stations. We have raised this with the series producer and we shall be watching to see if the programme or the series complies with the rules of the Office of Communications. Rule 5.5. says “Due impartiality on matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy must be preserved […] This may be achieved within a programme or over a series of programmes taken as a whole.”

    We have obtained calculations of the health impact of replacing the present nuclear power generating capacity with new nuclear build. These are based on the ECRR’s 2003 Recommendations and will be the subject of a separate circular.

    We don’t feel worried by the UK Government’s announcement today. Nuclear power stations cannot operate without discharge licences, but the scientific debate over radiation risk has reached such a point that any decision to emit radioactivity will be subject to legal challenge. That’s the point at which the drunks will hit the pavement.

    The Low Level Radiation Campaign

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