Sunday, April 10, 2011

Not convinced by my earlier post about why radiation is bad

In my earlier posting I outlined a series of systemic arguments as to why George Monbiot had missed the point have all those other nuclear apologists. The following day Peter Karamoskos had a well written article published in The Age as to why radiation is bad and refuting some of George Monbiot's main arguments.  This is what Peter had to say:

"With the 25th anniversary of Chernobyl looming, the pro-nuclear lobby is in overdrive.
You have to hand it to the nuclear industry and its acolytes. In the middle of the second-worst nuclear power disaster in history at Fukushima, and with still no end in sight, you would think they would respond with contrition, humility and profuse mea culpas. Not on your life. The industry representatives and its acolytes came out swinging in full denial attire.

Ziggy Switkowski, former chair of ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) and a proponent of nuclear power for Australia, claimed "the best place to be whenever there's an earthquake is at the perimeter of a nuclear plant because they are designed so well", and then quickly added: "On the other hand, you know, if the engineers do lose control of the core, then the answer becomes different."

Strident nuclear advocate Professor Barry Brook gave assurances in his running commentary that seemed ironically prescient of what was about to happen, stating ''I don't see the ramifications of this as damaging at all to nuclear power's prospects'' and that ''it will provide a great conversation starter for talking intelligently to people about nuclear safety''.
Other arguments trotted out by pro-nuclearists about how safe nuclear power is demonstrated their chutzpah more than their good judgment. My favourite: the justification for nuclear power is that it kills fewer people than the coal industry. Ignoring the false choice this proposition entails, what does it say about the safety culture of the nuclear industry when one of its selling points is that it kills fewer people than the competition?

But more insidious and objectionable is the creeping misinformation that the nuclear industry has fed into the public sphere over the years. There seems to be a never-ending cabal of paid industry scientific ''consultants'' who are more than willing to state the fringe view that low doses of ionising radiation do not cause cancer and, indeed, that low doses are actually good for you and lessen the incidence of cancer. Canadian Dr Doug Boreham has been on numerous sponsored tours of Australia by Toro Energy, a junior uranium explorer, expounding the view that "low-dose radiation is like getting a suntan". Toro must have liked what it heard because it made him a safety consultant for the company in 2009.

Ionising radiation is a known carcinogen. This is based on almost 100 years of cumulative research including 60 years of follow-up of the Japanese atom bomb survivors. The International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC, linked to the World Health Organisation) classifies it as a Class 1 carcinogen, the highest classification indicative of certainty of its carcinogenic effects.

In 2006, the US National Academy of Sciences released its Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation (VII) report, which focused on the health effects of radiation doses at below 100 millisieverts. This was a consensus review that assessed the world's scientific literature on the subject at that time. It concluded: ". . . there is a linear dose-response relationship between exposure to ionising radiation and the development of solid cancers in humans. It is unlikely that there is a threshold below which cancers are not induced."
The most comprehensive study of nuclear workers by the IARC, involving 600,000 workers exposed to an average cumulative dose of 19mSv, showed a cancer risk consistent with that of the A-bomb survivors.

April 26 marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. The pro-nuclearists have gone into full-spin-ahead mode, misrepresenting the latest UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation) report on Chernobyl.

Two days ago on this page, George Monbiot (''How the anti-nuclear lobby misled us all with dodgy claims''), citing the report, wrongly plays down he death toll. He correctly states that the report found 6848 cases of thyroid cancer in children, although he fails to acknowledge it was due to the effects of radioactive iodine in the nuclear fallout. The number of cases will continue to increase, according to the US National Cancer Institute, for a further 10 to 20 years.

Thyroid cancer is easy to detect because it is normally a rare cancer. Most other cancers caused by radiation are not that easy to detect above the high background natural rates of cancer. It is the proverbial needle in a haystack scenario - but in this case the needles (radiation-induced cancer) look the same as the hay (other cancers). What the report therefore said was that statistical limitations and large uncertainties precluded being able to single out any radiation-induced cancers. It did not say there have been no cancers, as Monbiot and others claim, or that none will develop, only that it is not possible at this stage to detect them.

IARC states that ''by 2065, predictions based on these models indicate that about 16,000 cases of thyroid cancer and 25,000 cases of other cancers may be expected due to radiation from the accident and that about 16,000 deaths from these cancers may occur''. Whether we will be able to detect them when there will also be more than 1 million other cases of cancer over this period is debatable. But every one of these excess cancers is a tragedy for each victim and their family, and is no less so simply because cancer is a common disease.

George Monbiot should read properly the BEIR VII report that Helen Caldicott gave him - all 423 pages."