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Females exposed to nuclear radiation are far likelier than males to suffer harm

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Mary Olson ‒ staff biologist at the Nuclear Information and Resource Service and acting director of the Gender and Radiation Impact Project.

The nuclear weapons ban treaty recently adopted by the UN General Assembly arises from hope for our future. The negotiations for the treaty have elevated new information about the damage from ionizing radiation to the world stage. That is exactly where it needs to be heard.

More cancers are derived from radiation than national regulators now report. They may not be aware that both age-at-exposure and one's sex determine how much harm we suffer from radiation.

Women exposed to ionizing radiation during childhood suffer from cancer at a rate 10 times higher than predicted by traditional models used by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The models assume that "Reference Man" represents us all. Invented to simplify calculations, Reference Man is 25 to 30 years old, weighs 154 pounds, is 5 feet 6 inches tall, "Caucasian and has a Western European or North American" lifestyle.

There has never been a pause as more than 2,000 atomic tests since 1945 have been spreading radioactivity worldwide and hundreds of nuclear factories have proliferated. No one asked if Reference Man is an appropriate stand-in for all of humanity and radiation harm.

It turns out that adult males are hurt by radiation, but they are significantly more resistant than their mothers, sisters, wives or daughters. Use of Reference Man masks gendered impacts and therefore systematically underreports radiation harm.

My first paper on radiation, published in 2011, "Atomic Radiation Is More Harmful to Women," answers a simple question from a woman who raised her hand at one of my public lectures in North Carolina a year earlier, asking, "Does radiation exposure harm me more than a man?" She did not mean in pregnancy; she meant her own body.

I was shocked. That was 2010; in decades of work on radioactive waste policy, I had never heard of gender as a factor in radiation harm. I could not even attempt an answer. When the literature yielded nothing, my mentor, Rosalie Bertell, suggested I look at the numbers myself. Bertell was a mathematician and a recipient of a Right Livelihood Award, which is called an alternative to the Nobel prizes. Bertell devoted her life to communities hurt by radiation, including the ones she pointed me to in order to examine the data.

Only one large data set includes all ages and both genders exposed together to a single flash of gamma and neutron radiation: the survivors of the US nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. They survived in shelters or other shielding amid the first horrific years. Sixty years of data on cancer incidences and fatality among the survivors ‒ called the Hibakusha ‒ was published by the US National Academy of Science in 2006.

I regret that this data even exists ‒ it was my government that used the first nuclear bombs on cities full of people, and I certainly wish they had not. I nonetheless use the numbers. They hold a message for humanity: gender matters in the atomic age. That does not make it right.

The highest incidence of cancer, looking across 60 years, was among those who were children when they were exposed. This is not news. The surprise is that in this group, females suffered twice as much cancer across their lives than did males.

The difference between male and female, with males more resistant to radiation harm, is measurable in all the age-of-exposure cohorts, even into old age ‒ the difference between genders is smaller when adults are exposed rather than when they are children.

For every two men exposed in adulthood who died of cancer, three women died of cancer. A 50% difference in the rate of cancer death from radiation exposure in adulthood is not insignificant to most female readers! Indeed, this finding is changing my own behavior in fieldwork.

The question, Why is gender a factor?, is waiting for researchers to tackle. A team lead by David Richardson in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 2016 showed that the A-bomb cancer data mirrors the outcomes of many smaller radiation exposures over time, adding up to the same exposure level as the Japanese survivors.

We are all getting these smaller radiation exposures.

The 10-females-to-1-male ratio cited here is the comparison of cancer outcomes from the youngest female survivors versus the 25- to 30-year-old males: the group that underpins Reference Man. This dramatic order-of-magnitude difference in biological research is like a siren blaring: pay attention!

It is time to retire Reference Man. Any level that is set for public exposure to radiation should be based on little girls. When we protect them, everyone is better protected. Unless we protect girls, our collective future is at stake.

The radiation and gender "siren" has not been heard widely, but it has been heard. In 2014, I was honored to present my findings at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons and exhilarated to read the draft treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons, where one basis for the need for the new treaty is the disproportionate harm to women and girls from ionizing radiation.

The treaty falls within the jurisdiction of humanitarian law, which includes the most human activity of all: making babies, from which flow future generations. For these countless people to come, I celebrate that the news on radiation has been heard at the UN as it takes the next vital step of voting on a new nuclear-ban treaty.

It is a sturdy seedling of hope.

Reprinted from

Chapter 3: Medical Radioisotopes & Applications

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Medical radioisotopes

Over 10,000 hospitals worldwide use radioisotopes in medicine. The vast majority of these isotopes is produced by research reactors. Currently, there are 232 operational research reactors in 56 IAEA member states.20 Most of these reactors are used for nuclear research, including the ones involved in isotope production. Only 78 out of these 232 research reactors in 41 IAEA member states are used for isotope production.21 Twelve research reactors, distributed over 11 member states, are temporary shutdown22, of which three of them are involved in isotope production.23 The IAEA database mentions that seven research reactors are under construction or planned in 6 member states.24 It is not clear how many of these are involved in isotope production. More than half of the research reactors involved in isotope production (43 out of 78) is 40 years old or older.41

There are about 40 neutron-activated radioisotopes and five fission product ones made in reactors. By 1970, 90% of the radioisotopes in the US, the largest consumer of medical radioisotopes, utilized either iodine-131 (131I), cobalt-60 (60Co), or technetium- 99m (99mTc). 60Co was used for over 4 million therapeutic irradiations a year, 131I for diagnosis and treatment more than 2 million times a year, and 99mTc in nearly one million annual diagnostic procedures. Today the statistics are somewhat different.25

Technetium-99m (99mTc) is now the worldwide workhorse of nuclear medicine. In the next 40 years there will be steady increase in the demand for cyclotron-produced PET isotopes in the worldwide production of radiopharmaceuticals.

Cyclotron-produced radionuclides are generally prepared by bombarding stable target material (either a solid, liquid, or gas) with protons and are therefore proton-rich, decaying by β+-emission. These radionuclides have applications for diagnostic imaging with planar scintigraphy, PET and SPECT. Different cyclotron models for the energy range 10- 12 MeV with moderate beam intensity are used for production of carbon-11 (11C), nitrogen-13 (13N), oxygen-15 (15O) and fluorine-18 (18F) isotopes widely applied in PET. The search for new and more effective isotopes continues until today. The share of fluorine-18 (18F) in diagnostic imaging is estimated at 10% of the nearly 25 to 30 million procedures performed in 2006.26 18F-FDG is a versatile radiopharmaceutical with major applications in oncology, neurology, and cardiology.

3.1 Radioisotopes used in imaging
Radioisotopes used in cancer imaging
Of the many different radionuclides used in diagnostic procedures, only a few are valuable in diagnosing cancer. PET/CT is currently accepted to be the most accurate way to stage and monitor many types of cancer. It is used routinely in detecting tumors of thyroid and primary or metastatic tumors of the bone, brain and liver or spleen. Globally, the vast majority of these investigations are performed using the glucose analogue, 18F-FDG. This radiotracer allows cancers to be seen as ‘hot spots’ on the PET scan. 18F-FDG PET is emerging as a useful tool in the treatment of breast, colorectal, esophageal, head and neck, lung, pancreatic, and thyroid cancer; lymphoma, melanoma, and sarcoma; and unknown primary tumor. Gallium-68 (68Ga) has been used experimentally in the staging of lymphoma and shows a great deal of promise in bone scanning.27

Though PET and PET/CT imaging is becoming a dominant modality in cancer imaging, SPECT isotopes, such as technetium-99 (99mTc) and iodine- 123 (123I) are more common for use in cancer imaging. Other isotopes used in cancer imaging are: chromium-51 (51Cr), gold-198 (198Au), indium-113m (113mIn), iodine-125 (125I), iodine-131 (131I), mercury- 197 (197Hg), mercury-203 (203Hg), selenium-75 (75Se), and Ytterbium-169 (169Yb). Except 123I, all of these radioisotopes are currently produced by research reactors.

Radioisotopes used in cardiac imaging
It is thought that PET imaging may be able to overcome the limitations of the currently used perfusion tracers thallium-201 (201Tl) and technetium-99m (99mTc) in SPECT. Gallium-68
(68Ga) and copper-64 (64Cu) are named as potentially attractive PET tracers for this  purpose.28 Other perfusion agents are: 11C (in CO2), 15O, 13N (in NH3) and rubidium-82 (82Rb). Thallium-201 (201Tl), used in cardiac scintigraphy and SPECT, is also used for diagnosis of other heart conditions such as heart muscle death and for location of low-grade lymphomas.

(Radioisotopes used in brain imaging -picture: Understanding the Atom Series, US Atomic Energy Commission, 1966)

Carbon-11 (11C), nitrogen-13 (13N), oxygen-15 (15O) and fluorine-18 (18F) are used in PET for studying brain physiology and pathology, in particular for localizing epileptic focus, and in dementia, psychiatry and neuropharmacology studies. The most widely used radioisotope in brain imaging is 99mTc (SPECT).

Radioisotopes used in thyroid imaging
Thyroid imaging tests are used to diagnose or monitor thyroid conditions such as hyperthyroidism, thyroid nodules, thyroid cancer, enlarged thyroid gland (goiter) and thyroiditis. These tests can help a physician to determine the most effective treatment approach for a patient’s condition. Types of thyroid imaging tests include isotope imaging with PET and SPECT. PET uses iodine-124 (124I), gallium-68 (68Ga) and fluorine-18 (18F) and shows better results than the more commonly used gamma camera with iodine-131 (131I) or indium-111 (111In) and SPECT with 201Tl and 131I.29 The iodine-isotopes 123I and 131I remain the most frequently used radionuclides for thyroid imaging in the diagnosis and treatment of well-differentiated thyroid carcinomas (WDTC), which account for almost 90% of thyroid cancers. Although 131I is superior to 201Tl in the detection of lung metastasis, 201Tl may detect metastases not visualized with 131I, and the sensitivity of planar 201Tl may be improved with SPECT from 60 to 85%sensitivity. Imaging with 201Tl has been of value when 131I scans are negative in the presence of known thyroid cancer. 201I has been shown to be useful in patients with WDTC and elevated thyroglobulin levels, despite a negative 131I scan.30

Radioisotopes used in renal imaging
There are two types of commonly used scintigraphies to assess the kidney function. Cortical Renal Scintigraphy, an exam used to measure and evaluate the functioning kidney tissue, and Diuretic Renal Scintigraphy, an exam used to detect blockages in the kidney. For these purposes and renal SPECT imaging 99mTc is the most widely used radioisotope.

The main advantage of PET is that images provide quantitative information on tracer kinetics. Kinetic parameters that correlate with biologically defined processes can be calculated for the entire renal cortex or as pixel-based parametric images. Renal PET studies can be classified as functional (metabolic) imaging studies. Such as determinations of renal blood flow studies with 15O labeled water, 13N labeled ammonia, 64Cu and 82Rb pharmaceuticals. Other isotopes used in renal function imaging are: 55Co and 68Ga.31

3.2 Therapeutic radioisotopes
Therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals in brachytherapy are used for primary cancer treatment or targeted cancer therapy, bone pain palliation and radiosynovectomie. Primary cancer treatment make use of low-dose rate and high-dose rate radionuclides. The low-dose rate isotopes used are: cesium-131 (131Cs), iodine-125 (125I) and Palladium- 103 (103Pd). High-dose rate isotopes are: iridium-192 (192Ir), yttrium-90 (90Y), strontium-90 (90Sr) and cesium-137 (137Cs). Pain treatment in palliative care focuses on pain from skeletal metastases of cancer patients who have developed metastasis in bones in the advanced stage of their diseases. Radioisotopes used in this treatment are: strontium-89 (89Sr), samarium-153 (153Sm) and rhenium-186/188 (186Re/188Re) and yttrium-90 (90Y). Radiosynovectomie is a technique used for patients that are suffering from joint pain. The therapeutic radiopharmaceutical is delivered into the interior of joints that is lubricated by fluid, as in the case of rheumatoid arthritis. Beta-emitting radiolabelled colloids are widely used for this purpose. These radiopharmaceuticals use among others phosphorus- 32 (32P), yttrium-90 (90Y), samarium-153 (153Sm), holmium-166 (166Ho), erbium-169 (169Er), and rhenium-186 (186Re). The radiation properties of each radioisotope determine their respective use and applicability for the joint size. Lutetium-177 (177Lu) is a recent and promising isotope in bone pain palliation. 177Lu is also used in targeted cancer therapy. The shorter radius of penetration than 90Y makes 177Lu also an ideal candidate for radioimmunotherapy for smaller, soft tumors. 177Lu is projected to become as important as iodine-131 (131I), the second most used medical radioisotope. Several countries have already begun or are planning medium to large scale production of this radioisotope.32

Cancer treatment with radioimmunotherapy and PET
68Ga-PET is not only employed for imaging in the management of neuroendocrine tumors and neural crest tumors, but also for therapeutic use, where it complements present radiologic and scintigraphic procedures. Diagnosis and radiotherapy treatment planning for meningiomas (the second most common primary tumor of the central nervous system) in pertinent clinical setting is another potential use of 68Ga-PET. Therefore, current experience tends to open a new horizon for the clinical utility of 68Ga-PET imaging in future.33

Immuno-PET as a quantitative imaging procedure before or concomitant with radioimmunotherapy is an attractive option to improve confirmation of tumor targeting and especially assessment of radiation dose delivery to both tumor and normal tissues. Immuno-PET combines the high resolution and quantitative aspects of PET with the high specificity and selectivity of monoclonal antibodies. This makes immuno-PET an attractive imaging modality for tumor detection. Moreover, immuno-PET has the potential to supersede gamma-camera imaging in combination with radioimmunotherapy, because it enables the sensitive confirmation of tumor targeting and a more reliable estimation of radiation dose delivery to both tumor and normal tissues. Because PET is believed to be superior to SPECT with respect to quantification, several PET radioisotopes have been suggested as substitutes for gamma-emitting radionuclides used in radioimmunoscintigraphy. Theoretically, this could enable easy conversion from a SPECT to  a PET procedure. Examples of PET/SPECT radioisotope pairs are  94mTc/99mTc, 67Ga/68Ga, and 124I/123I, and examples of PET/radioimmunotherapy radioisotope pairs are 64Cu/67Cu, 86Y/90Y, and 124I/131I.34 68Ga can be produced – such as 99mTc - from a generator system with the parent radionuclide Germanium-68. 68Ge has a long half-life of 271 days which allows the production of long-lived, potentially very cost-effective generator systems. 67Ga en 68Ga have the same medical applications, whereas 67Ga is used with SPECT/CT and 68Ga with PET/CT.

Other therapies
There are also other internal therapies with radionuclides for relieving pain of secondary cancers in the bone. For example a pharmaceutical of samarium-153 (153Sm) is injected into a vein and distributes throughout the body. It lodges in areas where cancer has invaded the bone. It emits beta particles which kill the nearby cancer cells. It is commonly used in lung cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and osteosarcoma.

A method known as peptide receptor radionuclide therapy (PRRT) involves the development and use of radiolabelled peptides as molecular vectors for targeted therapy. When labeled with the 90Y and 177Lu, the most frequently used isotopes, peptide molecules have the potential to destroy receptor-expressing tumors.35

Other radioisotopes used in medicine
Bismuth-213 ( 213Bi)
213Bi is used for targeted alpha therapy, especially in treatments of cancers, including leukemia.

Chromium-51 (51Cr)
51Cr is used to label red blood cells and quantify gastrointestinal protein loss. Sodium Chromate is indicated for use in determining red blood cell volume or mass, studying red blood cell survival time (in conditions such as hemolytic anemia), and evaluating blood loss. Another 51Cr pharmaceutical is indicated for the determination of glomerular filtration rate in the assessment of renal function.

Copper-64 (64Cu)
64Cu is used to study genetic diseases affecting copper metabolism, such as Wilson's and Menke’s diseases which are caused by genetical disorders affecting the metabolism of copper in the body.  In Wilson disease, copper builds up in the liver, brain, eyes, and other organs. Over time, high copper levels can cause life-threatening organ damage. Menke's disease primarily affects male infants. Symptoms include floppy muscle tone, seizures, and failure to thrive.36 The isotope is also used for PET imaging of tumors, and therapy and is considered for routine production

Indium-111 (111In)
111In is used for specialized diagnostic studies, for example brain studies, infection and colon transit studies. Other applications include the labeling of platelets for thrombus detection, labeled leukocytes (type of white blood cells) for localization of inflammation and abscesses, as well as leukocyte kinetics.37

Krypton-81m (81mKr)
81mKr from rubidium-81 (81Rb): 81mKr gas can yield functional images of pulmonary ventilation, e.g. in asthmatic patients, and for the early diagnosis of lung diseases and function.

Strontium-82/Rubidium-82 (82Sr/82Rb)
82Sr is used as the mother isotope in a generator to produce 82Rb which is a convenient PET agent in myocardial perfusion imaging. 82Rb chloride is used in heart imaging (see images below). It is rapidly taken up by heart muscle cells, and therefore can be used to identify regions of heart muscle that are receiving poor blood flow in a technique called PET perfusion imaging.38 82Rb behaves like 201Tl and is a highly promising alternative for 201Tl or 99mTc SPECT imaging.

Zinc-65 (65Zn)
65Zn is used in brain cancer imaging and is considered as a tumor suppressor agent in prostate cancer. It is also used as a tracer in studies of zinc metabolism.39

Xenon-133 (133Xe)
133Xe is used for pulmonary (lung) ventilation studies.

General Source: Radioisotopes in Medicine (October 2009), WNA

20 R%20Data%20Base/datasets/category/status_operational_r eactors.html
21 R%20Data%20Base/datasets/utilization/isotope_prod.html
22 R%20Data%20Base/datasets/category/status_temp_shutdo wn_reactors.html
23 R%20Data%20Base/datasets/utilization/isotope_prod_list. html
24 R%20Data%20Base/datasets/category/status_reactors_con struction.html
25 Prof. G.T. Seaborg - Hundred Years of X-rays and Radioactivity (RON-BEC-100)
26 Nuclear Technology Review 2008, IAEA. pp.39-40
27 Putzer, Daniel et al.; Bone Metastases in Patients with Neuroendocrine Tumor: 68Ga-DOTA-Tyr3-Octreotide PET in Comparison to CT and Bone Scintigraphy. Journal of Nuclear Medicine Vol. 50 No. 8 1214-1221
28 Jain, Diwakar et al; Developing a new PET myocardial perfusion tracer. Journal of Nuclear Cardiology Volume 16, Number 5 689-690/ October, 2009
29 Phan, Ha T. T. et al.; The diagnostic value of 124I-PET in patients with differentiated thyroid cancer. Eur J Nucl Med Mol Imaging. 2008 May; 35(5): 958–965.
30 Avram, Anca M. et al.; Alternative Thyroid Imaging. Thyroid Cancer - A Comprehensive Guide to Clinical Management. Humana Press 2007. p.35
31 Prigent, Alain, and Piepsz, Amy; Functional Imaging in Nephro-Urology. Taylor & Francis, 2005.
32 Nuclear Technology Review 2009, IAEA. p.45
33 Khan, M. et al.; Clinical indications for Gallium-68 positron emission tomography imaging. European Journal of Surgical Oncology (EJSO), Volume 35, Issue 6, Pages 561-567.
34 Verel, PhD., Iris et al.; The Promise of Immuno-PET in Radioimmunotherapy. Journal of Nuclear Medicine (2005) Vol. 46 No. 1 (Suppl) 164S-17 S
35 de Jong, PhD, Marion; Combination Radionuclide Therapy Using 177Lu- and 90Y-Labeled Somatostatin Analogs. Journal of Nuclear Medicine Vol. 46 No. 1
(Suppl) 13S-17S.
36 Wilson Disease - Menkes Disease Information Page -
37 In-111 Fact Sheet, MDS Nordion: 111_Can.pdf
38 Rubidium-82 chloride:
39 Costello, Leslie C., and Franklin, Renty B.; The clinical relevance of the metabolism of prostate cancer; zinc and tumor suppression: connecting the dots. Mol Cancer. 2006; 5: 17. Published online 2006 May 15. doi: 10.1186/1476- 4598-5-17.


Study finds increased leukemia among Chernobyl cleanup workers

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

On November 8, 2012 a study entitled “Radiation and Risks of Chronic Lymphocytic and Other Leukemias  among Chernobyl Cleanup Workers,” was released examining the risks of leukemia, specifically, the most common type, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), in Chernobyl cleanup workers  exposed to  protracted low dose radiation (1).  The findings of this study, which examined 110,645 Ukrainian cleanup workers between 1986-2006, demonstrated that exposure to low doses of radiation from post-Chernobyl clean-up caused a significant increase in the risk of leukemia. This study was significant because while the risks of high levels of exposure are well known, the risks of low doses have been more controversial. This is crucial because during the Chernobyl disaster approximately 500,000 people were registered as emergency and recovery workers, receiving low, continuous doses.

The Ukrainian male workers examined were between the ages of 20-60 years during cleanup activities in 1986-1990 following the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident, were registered in the Chernobyl State Registry of Ukraine (SRU)before 1992, who resided in Kyiv City or in any one of five study oblasts (areas similar to a state or province: Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv and Kyiv) at the time of registration. Of those 110,645 a total of 162 cases of leukemia were found. This was found by examining cancer registries, conducting expert hematologic (blood) review and case ascertainment coupled with radiation dose estimates. For all leukemia cases a significant positive association existed with continuous radiation dosage. 

The proportion of chronic lymphocytic leukemia cases in the study (roughly 58% of all leukemia cases) was higher than the 40% figure reported by most population based cancer registries and the 44% of all diagnosed leukemia ca-ses among males. The cancer registries were estimated to be missing as much as 38% of all of the chronic lymphocytic leukemia cases. 

This study confirmed and strengthened previous studies which showed significant associations between protracted radiation exposure at low doses and leukemia incidence. Increased risks of leukemia, although not statistically significant, were also reported from a study of Chernobyl cleanup workers from Belarus, Russia and Baltic countries. Additionally, the results indicate that radiation risk estimates are elevated for both chronic and non-chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL and non-CLL).  However, examining CLL is crucial given that this is the most prevalent form of leukemia and incidents of CLL are expected to rise when the population ages. Generally, studies had looked at high doses of radiation and it has been assumed that protraction of radiation dose results in a reduction of adverse biological effects; however this study has demonstrated quite the opposite. 

This study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives (2012; doi:10.1289/ehp.1204996): 


NRC/NAS Cancer study--phase 2

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

In October 2012, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission directed the National Academy of Sciences to implement the first large-scale study of health impacts in U.S. communities near nuclear facilities since 1980.

Communities near selected nuclear facilities licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (six reactors and one nuclear fuel factory) have been designated as part of a pilot study of cancer: San Onofre, in CA; Mill-stone and Haddam Neck in CT; Dresden in IL; Oyster Creek in NJ; Big Rock Point in MI and Nuclear Fuel Services in Erwin, TN. Big Rock Point and Haddam Neck are both permanently closed.

This study is billed as an "update" of a 1990 National Cancer Institute effort to look at cancer deaths reported in the U.S. counties where nuclear reactors are located. This work was deeply flawed in its design and construction, was conducted twenty years earlier in the period of release of radioactivity from the reactors and did not include any local data, only published information that was very incomplete. In a refreshing break from business-as-usual, several years ago Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and numerous concerned citizens (many of whom have suffered health consequences while living near reactors) managed to jettison NRC's original plan in which it would have conducted this study itself--the basic equivalent of a primary school child filling in their own reportcard. It is NRC's regulations (enforced or not) and NRC's licensing of these facilities that create the question of whether atomic fission and routine and non-routine releases of radioactivity have increased cancer in these communities. 

While many U.S. activists groaned when Rep. Markey suggested the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to conduct the study, the NRC accepted  the idea, since it would still allow a supervisory role for the Commission. Those who rejected the idea of the Academy cite its typical bias toward industry; they advocated for NRC to make a grant to an institution like the National Institute for Environmental Health where it would be administered with complete independence to fund proposals from qualified researchers competing in an open forum with peer review.

Nonetheless, many observers and citizen advocates who have been personally impacted are heartened by aspects of the recommendations that the NAS made in what is known as "Phase 1" of the cancer study. Of particular note is that two different studies will be performed in each pilot community and one of these will be "case-controlled" and focus specifically on pediatric cancer. 

"This is a break-through moment for the NAS and NRC" said Mary Olson, Director of the Southeast Office of Nuclear Information and Resource Service, "Case-control is what distinguishes a detailed study from broad correlations or associations based on published data, like health department tallies, which provide no real basis to assert causality; case-control means that details about each individual are gathered, providing  a finer grain or higher resolution in the data. If there are health impacts in these communities, and the study is done well, this type of study can deliver a statistically significant causation. The choice to focus the case-control work on children is also stunning since children are far more susceptible to radiation exposure than adults. The pitfall always comes when the numbers studied are too small."

Strange Bedfellows Sometimes Agree
The potential for this work to deliver non-information remains great, and this view is shared by both the nuclear industry's advocacy arm, Nuclear Energy Institute, and one of the very few active epidemiologists to look at nuclear communities in the U.S., Dr. Steve Wing. In 2010 the NEI Blog stated: "Studies of...occupationally and environmentally exposed populations...are useful in ad-dressing allegations of adverse health effects in the population and in demonstrating a concern for the health of the exposed people. However, unless they are sufficiently powerful, they do not add to the scientific knowledge of low dose effects."

From his very different perspective, Steve Wing has contributed to this issue a side bar "Perils and Promises of Studying Health Impacts of Low-Level Radiation" (see page 12) which expresses much the same view.

People are prone to drawing comparisons between radiation and tobacco. If there had been a twenty year lapse in studies of the impact of tobacco AFTER it was already publicly known that tobacco is damaging to health, how would people have reported on that? We cannot with any sense of conscience oppose any study of this issue- but we certainly expect vigilance on the part of this community to ensure that if it is shown to be poorly conducted, or worse-yet, designed to fail, it becomes an inexcusable tarnish on all associated with it.

A step that NAS could and should take to ensure that a real peer review of its work is possible would be to publish both the details of the study protocols, and also the raw data used in their work. Today web publication makes this an easily viable option. Only this level of disclosure will allow a real assessment of the integrity and value of the study. 

The view from the nuclear study sites:
The Nuclear Monitor reached out to people in the impacted communities, and the overwhelming response was essentially "it is too soon to know what to think of this." There is a guarded optimism and hope summed up by Gene Stone of ROSE (Residents Organized for a Safe Environment) near San Onofre on the Pacific coast between Los Angeles and San Diego California: "We worked really hard to bring our health concerns forward and to get the attention that has led to this study -and are also very concerned that it be done right. We want to see independent over-sight of the NAS team- so that every single procedure and decision down to the finest points is subject to peer review. We are really excited about this study, if it is done credibly." 

This view was echoed by people near Dresden (IL), Nuclear Fuel Services (TN) and Big Rock Point (MI) and Oyster Creek (NJ). 

Let us hope that the NAS has the honor and the decency to work for these communities, rather than the source of the money for the study: the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission which licenses each and every one of these sites...and dozens more in the U.S.

"CAN believes that the study 
of communities leaving in the contamination pathway of nuclear reactors is vital. However we are concerned that any finding will be used to justify the continued operation of this generation of nukes. Studies have already occur-red in Germany as well as in this country that have demonstrated an increase in cancer and other diseases. It could be more pro-ductive to study the similarities in the diseases found in communities living in proximity to nukes such as cancer, birth defects, miscarri-age, Down syndrome and learning disabilities." 

--Deb Katz, executive director Citizens Awareness Network.

Thumbnail Portraits of the Facilities
San Onofre,
Southern California Edison. Originally three PWR reactor units, Unit 1 opened in 1967 about 15 years ahead of the other two, and in 1992 was closed permanently. Units 2 and 3 are currently down due to dramatically quick failure of replacement steam generators due to a design flaw that led to vibrations that cause systematic thinning of the tube walls which leads to increased chance of rupture and catastrophic radiation release. San Onofre is located in a densely populated area -- 8.4 million people live inside a 50 mile radius of the site, and a 100 mile radius includes 18 million people. More info on the steam generator problems of San Onofre can be found at

Dresden, Exelon Corp. Like San Onofre, Dresden was three reactor units, and Unit 1, one of the first in the U.S.A (1959) is now closed. All three units are BWRs (the two remaining are GE Mark I’s) that came on-line in the early 1970's. Located in Morris IL, the Dresden site has a population of 67,000 within a 10 mile radius and is 60 miles from "The Loop" of downtown Chicago. Dresden, like many of the selected sites has a history of contaminated ground water, likely from failure of underground pipes on the reactor site.

Big Rock Point, a GE BWR reactor owned by Consumers Energy (formerly Consumers Power) is another old, small reactor (75 MWe) that came on-line in 1964 and closed in 1997. Big Rock was experimental, and it was also used to test experimental nuclear fuels, many of which ruptured during use resulting in astronomically high radiation releases to air, water and solid waste. There is circumstantial evidence that open incine-ration took place on the site, including of "low-level" radioactive waste, which in addition to spills, leaks, and floods have made this section of Lake Michi-gan shore line (the "fourth finger" is the peninsula on which the site is located, west of Traverse City in Charlevoix) a very contaminated place. 

Haddam Neck (Connecticut Yankee) operated from 1976 to 1994 and was a single unit 582 MW PWR. It was operated by Yankee Atomic and closed for economic reasons stemming in part from safety concerns. The site has groundwater contamination and Haddam/Meriden CT is an area with diffuse but significant population. 

Millstone.  Another site that has three reactor units, the oldest shut and two remaining in operation. Millstone, owned by Dominion Generation, is on the Long Island Sound in Connecticut. Unit 1 is a BWR (GE) that operated from 1970--1998, Units 2 and 3 are PWRs. Both are plagued by leaks, many repairs, a lax safety culture and near-misses. Inside the 10 mile radius there are 140,000 people.

Oyster Creek, owned by Illinois-based Exelon Corporation, is a Fukushima –clone (GE Mark 1 BWR) sitting for the past 43 years on a New Jersey bay where the 6.5 foot surge of SuperStorm Sandy exceeded the level of the cooling water intake pumps. As luck would have it the reactor was down for refueling, however another 6 inches would have forced a Fukushima-style use of a firehose to keep the fuel pool coolant full and moving. This dinosaur is plagued with many safety issues inspiring a constant shut-down battle from local folks for the past 20 years. Instead, NRC approved a license extension which has been renegotiated to 2019; 140,000 people live within 10 miles.

Nuclear Fuel Services, Erwin, TN. Unlike the others, NFS is a fuel factory- -compounded in the last decade by the addition of a "low-level" radioactive waste heat treatment facility that cooks the hottest of this type of waste: filters and resins from the primary coolant loop of reactors. This site is tucked into a "holler" off a valley in the Appalachian Mountains where "company town" is an understatement. NFS has only recently returned to making commercial reactor fuel, having primarily supplied plutonium fuel for the propulsion reactors of the U.S. Nuclear Navy. The intimacy of the position of this industrial site with the small town it is planted in is, one hopes, rare. Backyards and jungle gyms abut the site, the local elementary school is a block away, and the river into which some wastes have been "straight piped" for decades has tested positive for highly enriched uranium and plutonium as far as 90 miles downstream.

San Onofre 1San Onofre 2San Onofre 3Dresden 2Dresden 1Dresden 3Big Rock PointConnecticut YankeeMillstone 2Millstone 3Millstone 1Oyster Creek

Perils and promises of studying health impacts of low-level radiation

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Steve Wing, University of North Carolina

Members of the public and scientists have been concerned about environmental contamination from nuclear weapons and nuclear power generation for a long time.  The National Academy of Sciences is currently working on a request from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to design an epidemiologic study of cancer around nuclear facilities in the USA.

People living near nuclear facilities may see an epidemiologic study as a way to shed light on their health concerns. An epidemiologic study could do that. However, if epidemiologic studies are not well-designed, they can be used to dismiss the public’s concerns and avoid implementation of public health protections.

There are many perils of epidemiologic studies, especially ones focused on low-level exposures. It’s easier to detect the effect of larger exposures, for example of nuclear workers, than the effects of smaller exposures, for example of people living near nuclear facilities. Furthermore, radiation exposures of most nuclear workers are monitored, whereas exposures of residents are not. This presents a big challenge, because an epidemiologic study that cannot sort people correctly into exposed and unexposed groups cannot detect an effect of exposure.

Several epidemiologic studies in Europe have found excess childhood leukemia among children living near nuclear power plants. These studies compared children living close to nuclear plants – within 5 km (3 miles) – to children living further away. No similar studies have been conducted in the USA, in part because we don’t have a national medical program that counts cancer cases, and in part because most of our health data are only reported for large geographic areas like counties.

The National Academy of Sciences study could be designed to improve on the European studies. However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has asked for a study that includes adults, who are less sensitive to radiation exposure than children. Furthermore, adult cancers may appear decades after exposure, increasing the opportunity for people to move between exposed and unexposed areas. Studies of adults, of large areas like counties, and of cancer death instead of cancer diagnosis, would not advance scientific knowledge about health effects of living near nuclear facilities, but such a study could become grounds for dismissing concerns about radiation releases. Another problem is that epidemiologic studies may be conducted under the assumption that radiation exposure is too low to affect cancer. Then, if an excess is found among people living near nuclear facilities, scientists must attribute it to some other unknown cause. This circular logic – evidence of the effect is dismissed because it is already believed there can be no effect – is unscientific but is dressed in the trappings of science to make it appear reasonable.

Members of the public concerned about radiation exposures from nuclear facilities should critically consider any proposed study to decide whether to give it their trust and support.
– Steve Wing, University of North Carolina

For further reading: Wing S, Richardson DB, Hoffmann W. Cancer risks near nuclear facilities: The importance of research design and explicit study hypotheses.Environmental Health Perspectives, 119:417-21, 2011.

In Japan, a mothers' movement against nuclear power

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Yes Magazine

The Fukushima disaster has brought a powerful new demographic to Japan's anti-nuclear movement: mothers. On the one-year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japanese women in New York city gathered for a rally they called Pregnant With Fear of radiation.

Protestors wore fake pregnant bellies, or carried posters with images of pregnant women wearing face masks.

Well aware that fetuses, children under five, and woman are at the greatest risk from radiation exposure, mothers have emerged as a powerful voice in Japan’s growing anti-nuclear movement.

To call attention to their message, the mothers have organized marches, petitioned government officials, fasted, and held months-long sit-ins in public locations. They regularly wear symbols of maternity and motherhood in deliberately confrontational ways.

The mothers call for action on multiple fronts. Most immediately, they demand the evacuation of all the families of Fukushima, where radiation emissions continue. They ask for tougher safety standards for food and drink in Japan, and an end to the practice of spreading and burning radioactive rubble from the contaminated zone throughout the country’s various prefectures. And, to prevent future disasters, they call for the permanent closure of all nuclear power plants in Japan and throughout the world.

“I couldn’t wait anymore for someone else to take action.”
The rise of maternal anti-nuclear activism in Japan began shortly after the March 11, 2011 disaster, when the hundreds of thousands of residents of Fukushima living outside the 20-kilometer evacuation zone were told it was safe to stay. Soon after the plant failed, the Japanese government raised the maximum limit of radiation considered safe, from 1mSv (millisievert) prior to March 11 to 20mSv. This new measure exposed (and exposes) the people of Fukushima to doses 20 times higher than is normally considered safe.

The families of Fukushima whom the government did not evacuate face a hard choice: leave of their own accord and abandon their homes and jobs (while continuing to be responsible to pay taxes, rents, and/or mortgages), or remain in Fukushima and expose their families to dangerous levels of radiation?

According to mother and activist Kaori Izumi, gender plays into responses to this precarious situation. Often, mothers and women want to leave Fukushima and protect their kids, while men tend to accept the line, from the government and the utility, Tepco, that “all is safe.” This can lead to conflict in a culture where women are taught not to challenge their husbands or government, figures of authority. 

Many worried mothers leave Fukushima with their children while fathers remain behind. “Often husbands don’t want to support two households and they tell the wives to come back to Fukushima, or they’ll stop sending them money,” says Izumi. “As a result, we’re seeing an increase in divorce rates.”

Izumi recounts her own story as a mother-activist. “I was not an activist before Fukushima. I’m a social scientist by training. I kept waiting for someone else to do something, to act, to challenge the government and Tepco for these crimes. Then I couldn’t wait anymore for someone else to take action. I had to do something.”

So, Izumi hit the streets, and during protest rallies, met other mothers working for justice. She brought several lawsuits against the nuclear industry at her own expense. She also organized a vacation program to house Fukushima families during school breaks, so children can gain some relief from radiation exposure—even if only for short periods. Now, she heads up a group working to permanently shut down the Tomari nuclear plant.

Radiation, rubble, and relocation
Tomoi Zeimer, a Japanese mother living in New York City, and her two sisters in Osaka (both of them also mothers), began anti-nuclear activism after Prime Minister Noda’s requirement that prefectures throughout Japan accept and incinerate radioactive rubble so that all of Japan would “share the pain” of Fukushima. In response to Noda’s decision, Zeimer began a petition campaign to stop the spreading of radioactive rubble. Mothers delivered this petition on November 2, 2011 to Japanese consulates across the globe.

As the spreading of rubble continues, more and more women throughout the world have joined the fight. There is a map showing the current status of the rubble spreading and burning (1)

Many activist mothers worry about their children’s health and feel they must leave the country. Ikuko Nitta left Fukushima the day after the disaster at her 12-year-old son’s insistence; they moved to Wakayama, believing it to be safe. When Wakayama agreed to accept rubble and incinerate it, Nitta began to make plans to move to Canada. When she recently tested her children’s radiation levels, her son tested positive for Cesium 137. Where the contamination came from, Nitta does not know, as they left Fukushima so quickly and she monitors the children’s food very carefully.

Cathy Iwane, a Wakayama mother who led the recent fight to stop the spreading of rubble to Wakayama, plans to immigrate to the United States. While she despairs about the Wakayama decision and worries about the children of Japan, she says the bonds she’s formed with women across the world, who support Japanese anti-nuclear activism, fill her with hope.

“I won’t give up,” Iwane says. “Not ever.”

An opportunity
The movement isn’t confined to Japan’s borders. In September, 2011, a group of Japanese mothers, including Sachiko Sato, an organic farmer who traveled with her youngest two children) Kaori Izumi, and Aileen Mioko Smith came to New York City to protest Prime Minister Noda’s participation in the UN summit on nuclear safety. “How can you talk about safety?” Sachiko shouted to Noda outside the UN. “You don’t even take care of the children of Fukushima.”

Sachiko, Izumi, and Smith spoke at various anti-nuclear events throughout the New York City area during their visit, urging American citizens to learn a lesson from the disaster in Japan. At one event, Smith stated, “Many Americans live far too close to nuclear power plants that sit on earthquake fault lines (2), Indian Point in Buchanan, New York, only thirty or so miles from New York City, as well as those on the coast in California. Americans must learn from the Fukushima disaster. You must shut down your own plants, 23 of which are the same design as the Fukushima reactors, GE Mark I. Yes, it can happen here.” 

In October 2011, hundreds of mothers in Japan began a protest in Tokyo at the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. The protest lasted 10 months and 10 days (the length of time a pregnancy lasts under Japan’s traditional lunar calendar).

Smith, who is executive director of Green Action, an anti-nuclear NGO based in Kyoto, says the Fukushima accident offers a chance to put an end to nuclear power. Most of Japan’s nuclear reactors were taken offline after the disaster; as of this writing, only one nuclear power plant remains online.

Smith says, “For the first time in 30 years, we have a real opportunity” to shut down nuclear reactors in Japan for good.

Heidi Hutner wrote this article for YES! Magazine (3), a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Heidi is a professor of sustainability, English, and women's studies at Stony Brook University, where she writes, speaks, and teaches about the environment and gender. Her forthcoming book is entitled, Polluting Mama: An Ecofeminist Cultural Memoir (Demeter, 2012). 

Reprinted, by author's permission from:



Cancer: a case of being out of tune? Dr. Rosalie Bertell applies string theory to our bodies

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dr. Rosalie Bertell

Dr. Rosalie Bertell continued to cut the edge of understanding of our world to the very end of her life. awarded a Doctorate at a very young age for a single mathematical equation, this exceptional woman specialized in being able to see and describe patterns where others see chaos. Her equation described (mathematically) the spiral motion of a torpedo moving in water; Bertell loved to share that the insight forming the basis of the equation came to her as she woke from a nap.

With a similar penetration of the apparent chaos of cancer, Bertell, in her final peer reviewed paper "A New Understanding of Breast Cancer and Alternatives to Mammography,"describes a wholly new understanding of how exposure to radiation harms living tissue. Bertell focuses particularly on radioactive elements that get inside the body (via air, food and water and some medical procedures) that once inside emit particles (alpha and beta) directly to tissue. These particles cause physical damage: alpha particles can break whole chromosomes and tear cell membranes. Beta particles can break DNA strands and physically damage other molecular structures. This physical damage is different than chemical "ionization" which, Bertell states, is the only mechanism currently "accounted for" in radiation harm.

Ionization is a chemical event where the energy and charge of the particles (alpha, beta, neutron) and waves (X and gamma) are sufficient to knock an electron off of a stable atom or molecule, leaving it a charged, or ionic state.

Bertell goes on to describe a different (additional) physical basis for radiation's harmful impacts starting at the sub-subatomic level. She tracks back into the nucleus of the radioactive atom before the emission of the radioactive particle happens. She delves deeper than the protons and neutrons of that nucleus; she looks at the quarks that make up those protons and neutrons. Ever the pioneer, and indeed Rosalie was one of the global String Theory pioneers, she applies that famed Theory to talk about the sub-quark level. In her view, the vibrational frequency of the string inside the quark inside the soon-to-be alpha or beta particle coming out of an unstable atomic nucleus is not the same as the matter of healthy, normal living tissue.

This difference in vibration she terms "electric field energy." Her theory is supported by experimental clinical work of a colleague, Robert Wood-Smith, and provides the basis for dramatic new recommendations for the treatment of breast cancer, and perhaps other types, with light (a specific wavelength of blue laser). Bertell characterizes cancer as cells that have a slower moving electric particle 'field energy.' Bertell's plea is that double blind research begin immediately to test these theories directly and rapidly since Wood-Smith has been saving lives.

To some, these ideas are confusing, and perhaps words like electric field energy sound like "mumbo jumbo," however the disciplines of embryology, biophysics, genetics and epigenetics have long since established that the electric properties of living tissue generate an energy field, and that this field is not a "symptom" or a simple byproduct of life--it is a primary means by which information is transmitted across communities of cells and integral to the function of our bodies. Dr. Bertell is linking her work in physics to her extensive knowledge of the health consequences of radiation and pointing the way to a new frontier of understanding. 

Given that radiation does cause physical harm as well as chemical, it is Bertell's view that the current estimate of the impact of radiation in terms of cancer induction seriously underestimates the amount of cancer due to radiation and internal radioactivity because it factors ionization only. Ionization is harmful, but in Bertell's view the amount of harm is relatively small. Looking only at this mechanism has lead to an enormous under-reporting of the amount of cancer that exposure to radioactivity is causing. In Bertell's view, factoring mechanisms of physical damage as well would account for much of the cancer epidemic raging in much of the world exposed to the fallout of nuclear weapons tests as well as major reactor accidents and ongoing emissions from all nuclear factories and power generators.

According to Bertell, "Radiation Protection Standards, set on the assumption that the only radiation related cancers were those due to ionization will need to be updated to account for the inordinate effect of internal contamination with unstable atoms which emit particles with slower electric particle ‘field energy’ than that of normal living cells. This subatomic vibrational effect of radioactive alpha, beta and gamma particles was not foreseen by those who set the radiation standards in 1950!"

Bertell, Rosalie, 2011. "A New Understanding of Breast Cancer and Alternatives to Mamography," Canadian Women's Studies, Vol 28: 2, 3 

One Rad Fits All? Not Anymore...Actually, Not Ever

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

If a flu epidemic were to selectively target men for fatalities over women, this would be big news; if a government sponsored vaccine against this flu selectively protected women more than men, I think that would trigger a pretty big firestorm of discussion, if not action.

It is with some puzzlement that I was faced, twenty years into this job at Nuclear Information and Resource Service, questions coming from women (only one or two) asking about radiation impacting women more than men. I asked back, "You mean pregnant women, right? In which case we are talking about the fetus..." To my amazement, came the reply, "No, women, not pregnant women." I was startled, but no, I did not know anything about that. These few women could not give me a source for where they had heard this idea. I was left with a niggle in my stomach, but I maintained my part of the ignorance and silence on this revolutionary news: gender matters when it comes to the Atomic Age.

It was not until 2011 and the triple meltdown at Fukushima, when the Executive Director of NIRS, Michael Mariotte asked me to write a letter on women and breast cancer in post-Fukushima Japan to the founder of the Komen for a Cure Foundation that I realized I had to track down my ignorance.

It is true that Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) had started a campaign in 2005 on disproportionate impact of radiation--but my understanding from a quick look at a couple of emails with the name "Healthy from the Start," was that this was focused on children. We have long known that due to body mass and rate of cell division in somatic growth children are more vulnerable to radiation impact. I had missed IEER's "memo" that women are too.

In 2011 as Fukushima was melting I was pretty determined to figure this out; it felt like a moral obligation to find out something as big as a gender difference in radiation impacts in honor of the horrendous suffering in Japan. So I looked. At first I found nothing. I decided to 
call one of the last remaining icons of the 20th Century radiation research pioneers--Dr. Rosalie Bertell. 

Rosalie told me to look at a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report that ended up being out of print. I called her back when I could not get access to that report. Rosalie said "look at the NAS BEIR VII; only it is not in the text, you will have to look at their numbers. You will find the difference there."

BEIR VII (the seventh report in a series called the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation) published in 2006 by the National Academy of Science --is on the one hand considered "the gold standard" on radiation by some, and by others a highly a controversial document. The nuclear industry hates it--it says that there is no safe dose of radiation. My coworker Diane D'Arrigo and a cohort of anti-nuclear activists also hate it since it leaves out so much: there is nothing directly based on Chernobyl data and it employs so many "fudge factors" that they point out how many ways it functions as a "front" for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep saying some exposure to radiation is ok. It felt almost sacrilegious to spend many hours investigating the numbers published in that report, but I did.To my amazement, Rosalie, and the women who came out to my talks were right. Radiation is more harmful to women. The difference is not small. For every two adult men who get cancer, roughly three adult women will get cancer at the same level of exposure; the ratio holds for fatal cancer too. IEER is also right: little girls are the most vulnerable. They are twice as likely to get cancer at some point at their lives than little boys of the same age and exposure level.

Why, in 20 years as a professional in this field did I not know this? Why, now 18 months after I published a briefing paper and then toured the federal agencies to deliver the findings is this still news?

BEIR VII was published in 2006. Amazingly, the authors of this report are mute on this subject. I need to interview them, and plan to as I begin to move into campaign-mode on these issues in 2013. Did the BEIR scientists miss this trend in their own numbers? Were they unwilling to discuss it because there is (not yet) an explanation of causation? Were there women involved?

We cannot attribute the full difference between the genders to body mass or rate of cell division. Comparing the 0-5 years group, the boy and girls in that age group are about the same size (if anything girls are bigger) and ostensibly growing at roughly the same rate. Again, adult women compared to adult men may be somewhat smaller as a group, but that cannot explain a 50% difference.

What also cannot be explained are federal regulators in possession of the same data who persist in setting radiation standards based only on the part of the human life-cycle that is most resistant to radiation's dangers. Some men get sick from radiation; some men die from cancer caused by radiation, but as a group, being more resistant to harm than all other parts of the life cycle means that they should be on a lower tier of consideration when it comes to radiation and protection. Women and children may be characterized as "more vulnerable"--but this implies that there is something wrong with us. There is nothing wrong with us. Dumping ionizing radioactivity into our air, our water, our food, and our bodies is a criminal act. Since our bodies are less resistant, we must resist this insanity more at the social level.

Once I had this information about disproportionate impact of radiation in hand it became incumbent upon me, and NIRS to share it. We now ask you to pick up this task. Women have a right to know; parents have a right to know; husbands, fathers, sons and brothers need to know. We provide to you a factsheet "Women and Children Require More Protection From Ionizing Radiation than Men" in this edition of the Monitor for your use in educating others. To put this bluntly: I am talking about all girls, all women, worldwide; and all ionizing radiation: natural, medical, commercial and military atomic industries, waste; you name it.

We know; and BEIR VII and many other studies, some of which are noted in this issue of the Monitoraffirm that there is no safe dose of radiation. We must stand up to protect ALL of us.

The articles in this edition on the prospective deregulation and release of radioactive metals into commerce, recycling and ordinary garbage and the changes in radiation standards are prime opportunities to act on this concern. These indiscriminate elevations of random radiation exposure to uninformed members of the civilian population and spread of radioactivity into all our systems are irreversible, as is the potential for destruction--twice as high risk for female children than male children--all children many times over adults--and fifty percent more for adult women than men. Again, there is no safe dose--so there should be no increase over natural radiation levels. Zero.

The National Geographic Daily News in 2011 reported that there have been millions fewer girl children born and posits that this may be due to radiation from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests and large nuclear reactor accidents. One of these years we will also admit that a big portion of the cancer epidemic comes from these radiation sources. 

As the research as to why continues, we must not only stand, but rise. We need a healthy future together. It is time to base all policies in the public sector on the simple (and sane) assumption that the most vulnerable is the one exposed.



Radioactive spikes from nuclear plants − a likely cause of childhood leukemia

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Ian Fairlie

When nuclear reactors are refueled, a 12-hour spike in radioactive emissions exposes local people to levels of radioactivity up to 500 times greater than during normal operation, writes Ian Fairlie. The spikes may explain infant leukemia increases near nuclear plants − but operators provide no warnings and take no measures to reduce exposures.

Nuclear operators should inform local people when they intend to open up their reactors, and they should only do so at night-time and when the winds are blowing out to sea.

On 23rd August, The Ecologist published very clear evidence of increased cancers among children living near nuclear power stations around the world, including the UK.1 The story sparked much interest on social media sites, and perhaps more importantly, the article's scientific basis (published in the academic peer-reviewed scientific journal the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity) was downloaded over 500 times by scientists.2

Given this level of interest and the fact that the UK government is still pressing ahead with its bizarre plans for more nuclear stations, we return to this matter − and examine in more detail an important aspect which has hitherto received little attention: massive spikes in radioactive emissions from nuclear reactors.

Refueling releases a huge radioactive emissions plume

Operating nuclear power plants (NPPs) contain large volumes of radioactive gases at high pressures and temperatures. When their reactors are depressurised and opened to refuel every 12-18 months, these gases escape creating a spiked emission and a large radioactive plume downwind of the station lasting for 12 hours or so.

However the emissions and plumes are invisible, and no advance warning is ever given of these spikes. The public is effectively kept in the dark about them, despite their possible health dangers.

For years, I had tried to obtain data on these spikes, but ever since the start of the nuclear era back in 1956, governments and nuclear power operators have been extremely loath to divulge this data.

Only annual emissions are made public and these effectively disguise the spikes. No data is ever given on daily or hourly emissions.

Is this important? Yes: these spikes could help answer a question which has puzzled the public and radiation protection agencies for decades − the reason for the large increases in childhood leukemias near NPPs all over the world.

Governments have insisted that these increased leukemias could not be caused by radioactive emissions from NPPs as their estimated radiation doses were ~1,000 times too low. But these don't take the time patterns of radioactive emissions into account, and so are riddled with uncertainties.

500 times more radiation released than during normal operation

This situation lasted until September 2011, when the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in Germany released a press notice. For the very first time anywhere in the world, half-hourly data on releases of radioactive noble gases from an NPP were made public.3 The chart4 showed that the normal emission concentration (of noble gases) during the rest of the year was about 3 kBq/m³, but during refuelling on September 22 and 23 this sharply increased to ~700 kBq/m³ with a peak of 1,470 kBq/m³: in other words, a spike.

Primarily, the spike includes radioactive noble gases and hydrogen-3 (tritium) and smaller amounts of carbon-14 and iodine-131.

This data shows that NPPs emit much larger amounts of radioactive noble gases during refuelling than during normal operation in the rest of the year.

From the new data, Nuremberg physicist and statistician Dr Alfred Körblein has estimated that, at its maximum value, the concentration of noble gas emissions during refueling was 500 times greater than during normal reactor operation. He also has estimated that about two-thirds of the NPP's annual emissions occur during refuelling.

20-100 times dose increases to local populations

In May 2011 in Germany, Green MPs entered the Bavarian State Parliament (Landtag) for the first time where they formed the Government in coalition with the German Socialist Party (SPD). After several requests, the new Bavarian Government insisted that the state nuclear regulator release non-averaged data on emissions. The highly reluctant nuclear regulator was compelled to respond.

In other words, the Green MPs obtained the data because they had the political power to force its release: there is a lesson here for British environmentalists.

So could these spikes help explain leukemia increases near nuclear plants? Yes they could. People living near nuclear power stations and downwind from them will be exposed to high doses of radiation during these emissions spikes − estimated to be 20-100 times higher than from the tiny releases during the rest of the year.

In 2011, the UK National Dose Assessment Working Group published guidance on 'Short Term Releases to the Atmosphere'.5 This stated that "... doses from the assessment of a single realistic short-term release are a factor of about 20 greater than doses from the continuous release assessment."

An older German study indicated that these doses could be 100 times greater.6

A dramatic increase in individual doses

Some scientists think that the time pattern is unimportant and only the population dose is relevant, but this turns out not to be the case. The reason is partly related to the duration of the release, as short releases produce very narrow plumes (plume widths vary non-linearly as a fractional power of the duration).

The result is that individual doses increase dramatically per Bq emitted. Another reason is that spikes result in high concentrations of organically bound tritium and carbon-14 in environmental materials and humans which have longer retentions and thus higher doses.

The precise amount will depend on many factors, including source term, proximity to the reactor, wind speed, wind direction, and the diets and habits of local people.

Even before the new data, official sources didn't have a good handle on these doses to local people. Official estimates of radiation doses from NPPs already contain many uncertainties, that is, they could be many times larger than admitted.

This was shown in the 2004 CERRIE Report7, a UK Government Committee which showed that dose estimates from environmental releases depended on many computer models and the assumptions they contained. The new information on radioactive spikes adds to these uncertainties.

Therefore higher doses from emission spikes could go a long way to explaining the increased incidences of child leukemias near NPPs shown by the KiKK findings.8

'Especially at risk are unborn children'

IPPNW Germany warned of the probable health impacts of such large emission spikes. Dr Reinhold Thiel, a member of the German IPPNW Board said:

"Especially at risk are unborn children. When reactors are open and releasing gases, pregnant women can incorporate much higher concentrations of radionuclides than at other times, mainly via respiration. Radioactive isotopes inhaled by the mother can reach the unborn child via blood with the result that the embryo/ fetus is contaminated by radioactive isotopes.

"This contamination could affect blood-forming cells in the bone marrow resulting later in leukemia. This provides a plausible explanation for the findings of the KiKK study published in 2008 that under-fives living near NPPs are considerably more at risk of cancer, particularly leukemia, than children living further away."

In the light of the German data, it is recommended half-hourly emissions data from all UK reactors should be disclosed and that the issue of childhood cancer increases near NPPs be re-examined by the Government.

Nuclear operators should inform local people when they intend to open up their reactors, and they should only do so at night-time (when most people are indoors) and when the winds are blowing out to sea.

Dr Ian Fairlie is an independent consultant. He has a degree in radiation biology from Bart's Hospital in London and his doctoral studies concerned the radiological hazards of nuclear fuel reprocessing. He was formerly a UK government civil servant on radiation risks from nuclear power stations. From 2000 to 2004, he was head of the Secretariat to the UK Government's CERRIE Committee on internal radiation risks.

Reprinted from The Ecologist:







6. Hinrichsen K, 2001, Critical appraisal of the meteorological basis used in (German) General Administrative Regulations (re dispersion coefficients for airborne releases of NPPs). See Annex D page 9: Radiation Biological Opinion. in–vollstaendig.pdf (in German)



Dangerous hypocrisy of Dutch nuclear legislation

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Evert van Amerongen − mechanical engineer, metallurgist, and whistleblower

Why do you bother, you will die sometime! That was the incredible remark of the employer when the link was made between my health problems and the handling of small industrial cobalt-56 point sources in 1983. The same can be said about the attitude of legal authorities towards small point source type debris particles with very high activity concentration.

Involved radiation experts concluded that the cobalt-56 incident resulted from a failure to comply with safety regulations. The result was a complete depression of the body, heavy infection of the swollen hands, a lot of hair falling out, mouth infection, teeth loosened and falling out, liver disturbance, stomach aches, and intestinal bleedings. Despite still-existing health problems, it could have been worse − cobalt-56 is a beta-emitting radionuclide with a short half-life and relatively low radiotoxicity.

A criminal complaint was lodged. After 2.5 years of opposition, further prosecution was cancelled on the basis of expected changes in Dutch legislation in 1986. The activity concentration of small point sources was no longer limited. This exemption clause was in conflict with Euratom Council Directive 80/836.

A more dangerous issue in the public domain is the use of americium-241 point sources, which are freely available for purchase. Americium-241 is an artificial radioisotope which is produced in nuclear reactors. The small debris particles of americium-241 oxides − from radioactive Ionisation Chamber Smoke Detectors (ICSDs) − emit alpha radiation with very high activity concentration and very high radiotoxicity. Radioactive debris particles are included in the waste incineration component of the filling substances of asphalt. About 20% of the so-called "fine dirt" in the air along the roads is formed by the wear products of the asphalt and those oxide particles may be inhaled by members of the public. In physical contact with the well-blooded tissue of mucous membranes and lungs, this radioactive dust can cause fatal cancers.

Along with other small point sources, ICSDs were covered by the exemption clause in Dutch legislation. Much later, in 2006, the sale of ICSDs was banned in the Netherlands. Thus the Netherlands joined a small group of countries − including France, Luxemburg and Switzerland − banning ICSDs in favour of safe optical smoke detectors.

Still there are other problem areas, such as when steel waste scraps are recycled with radioactive oxide slag included in the recycled steel. Radioactive particles can become free when machining and can be inhaled.

Returning to my story − my exposure to cobalt-56 point sources in 1983 was the start of a very long road in politics. In 1987/88 the subject was discussed in the Dutch Parliament. The Minister of Environment did not give correct answers and he delegated the subject to Social Affairs and Employment because employment issues were involved. The chairman of the Committee of Petitions refused in the Second Chamber of Parliament to dispute the integrity of the expert institutes involved. The exemptions regarding activity concentrations of small point sources were used to avoid taking appropriate action.

On seven occasions, written questions regarding the activity concentration of small point sources were put in the Second Chamber, but still no correct answers were provided. Questions were also put in the Euro-Parliament, but a Dutch Director General on behalf of the Board of the European Committee protected the Dutch authorities.

In June 2000, the Dutch RIVM Institute released a report with estimates of radiation exposure from consumer goods. The result was bizarre − abnormal applications and handling of radioactive sources were not taken into account because they could not be implemented in an analytical model by these so-called scientists. So those issues were simply forgotten.

In the General Consultation − the formal discussion between the Parliament with the minister − in October 2001, the rigid attitude of the responsible officials in answering the Second Chamber could no longer be maintained and it resulted in the announcement of a prohibition of ICSDs which was eventually enforced in 2006.

The speaker of the Second Chamber noted with satisfaction that the additional exemption clause was no longer present in the new decree − after 15 year of arguing. The minister concluded: "It will be emphasized that the ICSD's are safe and that this ... is not inspired by unsafe considerations, etc. There is no reason for panic at all!"

However the minister agreed that risks associated with incorrect application and handling conditions could be an argument to hasten replacement of ICSDs. Is this ambiguous or what?! An information campaign to inform the public was later cancelled.

A whistleblower acting in the public interest is not appreciated by a multinational. It cost me my job as a mechanical engineer in the European Research Centre of a Swedish multinational in the Netherlands, my house and income.

Appreciation from the political system was also lacking, all the more so as the political system made dangerous errors time and time again. One of the links between corporate power and the inadequate political response was a Dutch senator who was also a member of the board of the Swedish multinational.

Fukushima Fallout: Updates from Japan

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Some of these news items are taken from the twice-weekly updates produced by Greenpeace International. You can subscribe to the updates at: or

Public health

Australian public health expert Assoc. Prof. Tilman Ruff has written an important, detailed article, titled 'A Public Health Perspective on the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster', in the Oct−Dec edition of the Asian Perspective journal. It neatly summarises recent (and not-so-recent) research regarding the health effects of ionising radiation and applies that knowledge to the case of Fukushima. We won't attempt to summarise a wide-ranging article here. One point that illustrates the risks: "To provide a perspective on these risks, for a child born in Fukushima in 2011 who was exposed to a total of 100 mSv of additional radiation in its first five years of life, a level tolerated by current Japanese policy, the additional lifetime risk of cancer would be on the order of one in thirty, probably with a similar additional risk of premature cardiovascular death."[1]

Tadamori Oshima, head of the government's task force on disaster reconstruction, says that a target to reduce contamination of land around the Fukushima plant to a level equivalent to annual exposure of 1 mSv may be "informally" relaxed. "After we bring ambient radiation (down) to between 5 to 10 millisieverts and complete the decontamination, we will take thorough measures to manage individuals' dosage and safeguard their health. But a new radiation target would be difficult to publish because it would create a big problem," he said. Radiation levels in the area vary greatly. For example, Tomioka, a township about 12 kms south of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, had ambient radiation levels equivalent to annual doses ranging from 1 to 50 millisieverts by March 2013.[2]

Hot spots

TEPCO said on December 2 it had found radioactive contamination 36,000 times permissible levels in water taken from an observation well. The readings were taken from the well east of reactor #2 and 40 metres from the sea. The contamination measured 1.1 million becquerels per litre. TEPCO says no major changes in the levels of radioactive contamination in the sea have been detected.[3]

TEPCO has also found extremely high radiation levels in an area near a ventilation pipe. TEPCO found the radiation levels − equivalent to exposure levels of up to 25 sieverts per hour − on a duct which connects reactor buildings and the 120-metre-tall ventilation pipe. The estimated radiation level is the highest ever detected outside reactor buildings. A TEPCO official said materials derived from melted nuclear fuel likely entered the piping during venting soon after the accident occurred in March 2011 and have remained there.[4,5]

Water worries

It has emerged that the water storage tanks that have caused so many problems this year were built in part by illegally hired workers. Workers were told to lie about being hired by third party brokers. "Even if we didn't agree with how things were being done, we had to keep quiet and work fast. People didn't have contracts, so when they weren't needed any more, they were cut immediately," said Yoshitatsu Uechi, a former Fukushima worker who lodged a complaint with labour authorities. His account was confirmed by other workers. One said: "Yes, we did a shoddy job. The quality of what we did was low, but what else would you expect? We had to race to finish up the tanks."[6,7]

A panel established by Japan's industry ministry has warned that plans to deal with the water crisis are still inadequate and that space to store contaminated water will run out in within two years if matters are not addressed. The panel made a number of suggestions including the construction of giant tanks and laying asphalt on the site to help prevent rainwater from entering the ground and flowing into the damaged reactor buildings where it is then contaminated. The panel also warned that some water storage tanks have been built on weak ground that could sink and their stability should be addressed.[8]

TEPCO is currently storing 390,000 tons of contaminated water, growing by several hundred tons each day. There is an ongoing discussion about partially decontaminating the water then releasing it into the Pacific Ocean. It is estimated that it will take at least seven years to partially decontaminate the water already being stored.[9]

Evacuees and decontamination

Japan's parliament passed a bill on December 4 extending the length of time victims of the Fukushima disaster have to claim compensation from three to ten years. The new legislation also says that a person can now claim compensation for any health problems resulting from the accident for 20 years after their symptoms appear rather than for 20 years after the accident occurred as was the case previously.[10,11]

Meanwhile, a science and technology ministry screening panel has compiled a plan to set a cap on compensation to residents who face prolonged evacuation, angering evacuees. The panel on disputes for nuclear damage compensation wants to set limits ranging from 10 million yen to 14 million yen ($97,000 to $136,000).[12]

A survey by Japan's Reconstruction Agency of people who were evacuated from two towns close to the Fukushima plant found that 67% of 2,760 households from Okuma and 65% of 1,730 households from Futaba have said they will not return to their homes. Those numbers are up from 42% and 30%, respectively, in a January survey, which used slightly different wording. Those surveyed cited fears about radiation exposure and the length of time the repopulation process was taking. The latest survey found that only 9% of respondents from Okuma and 10% from Futaba said they want to return.[13,14]

Many of those evacuated from towns close to Fukushima are still living in temporary accommodation. Occupancy rates of the temporary housing built in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in the aftermath of the disaster are at 85%. "We haven't been making progress in building public housing for disaster victims and acquiring land for projects to relocate entire communities," an Iwate housing official said. "Family members live apart and it's no good. Since we can't go back to our hometown, this is like a living hell. Nothing will change even if we complain," said Yoichi Matsumoto, a resident in temporary accommodation in Iwaki. It is not expected that the situation will improve soon. "There is a strong likelihood that it may take five years or more after the quake to see all occupants move out," said an Iwate official.[15]

By the end of October, only 28.5% of houses, 33.2% of roads and 12.3% of forests around the Fukushima plant had been cleaned, according to the Fukushima Department of Environment. The Japanese government has extended the time-frame fpr the clean-up of the exclusion zone around the plant, initially due to be completed by March 2014, until 2017. Officials have cited several difficulties as reasons for pushing back the timetable, including finding space to store contaminated waste. Endo Kouzou, Supervisor for Decontamination Operations at the Fukushima Department of Environment, said: "It is very hard to earn support from locals in terms of where to put the contaminated materials. This is the biggest problem. Another thing is that, despite various decontamination operations, radiation cannot be eliminated once for all."[16]

State secrecy bill

The lower house of Japan's Parliament approved a state secrecy bill on November 27 that imposes stiffer penalties on bureaucrats who leak secrets and journalists who seek them. The bill was approved after hours of delay due to protests by opposition lawmakers. The bill allows heads of ministries and agencies to classify 23 vaguely worded types of information related to defense, diplomacy, counterintelligence and counterterrorism. Critics say it might sway authorities to withhold more information about nuclear power plants. Under the bill, leakers in the government face prison terms of up to 10 years, up from one year now. Journalists who obtain information "inappropriately" or "wrongfully" can get up to five years in prison.[17]

The legislation has triggered protests from Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Journalists, the Federation of Japanese Newspapers Unions, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and many other media watchdogs. Academics have signed a petition demanding it be scrapped.

Reporters Without Borders accused Japan of "making investigative journalism illegal". It said in a statement: "How can the government respond to growing demands for transparency from a public outraged by the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear accident if it enacts a law that gives it a free hand to classify any information considered too sensitive as a state secret?"[18]

During deliberations in November, Masako Mori, the minister in charge of the bill, admitted that security information on nuclear power plants could be designated a state secret because the information "might reach terrorists."[17,19]

Residents of Fukushima Prefecture are angry over the railroading of the bill through the lower house. At a public hearing in Fukushima on November 25, all of the seven local residents who were invited to state their opinions voiced opposition to or concerns about the bill.[20]

Elsewhere in Japan

More than 1,900 people have joined a law suit against Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) demanding the company permanently shut down its Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, western Japan. The suit was filed with the Kyoto District Court last November.[21]

[5] 7 Dec 2013, 'Record outdoor radiation level detected at Fukushima plant',
[7] Antoni Slodkowski, 5 Dec 2013, 'Insight - Fukushima water tanks: leaky and built with illegal labor',
[12] 10 Dec 2013, 'Panel sets limit on compensation to Fukushima evacuees',
[14] 7 Dec 2013, 'Over 60% of evacuees from Fukushima towns don't plan to return home',
[16] 4 Dec 2013, '1,000 days after Fukushima: residents of crisis zone frustrated by slow clean-up',
[17] David McNeill, 26 Nov 2013, 'Japan cracks down on leaks after scandal of Fukushima nuclear power plant',
[18] Justin McCurry, 6 Dec 2013, 'Japan whistleblowers face crackdown under proposed state secrets law',
[19] Mari Yamaguchi, 26 Nov 2013, 'Japan secrecy law stirs fear of limits on freedoms',
[20] 27 Nov 2013, 'Fukushima residents furious at lower house passage of contentious secrecy bill',


Nuclear News

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Radiation can pose bigger cancer risk for children − UN study
Infants and children are at greater risk than adults of developing some cancers when exposed to radiation, according to a report released in October by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and presented to the UN General Assembly.

Children were found to be more sensitive than adults for the development of 25% of tumour types including leukaemia and thyroid, brain and breast cancers. "The risk can be significantly higher, depending on circumstances," UNSCEAR said.

"Because of their anatomical and physiological differences, radiation exposure has a different impact on children compared with adults," said Fred Mettler, chair of an UNSCEAR expert group on the issue.

USA: Bad record keeping hindering clean-up of nuclear sites
The US government's decades-long effort to rehabilitate hundreds of sites around the country where nuclear weapons development and production has taken plan has been hampered by sloppy record-keeping. Documentation has been so uneven that the Energy Department says it lacks adequate records on several dozen facilities to be able to determine whether they merit clean-up. Additionally, in excess of 20 sites that were cleaned up and announced to be safe ended up needing more rehabilitation after lingering traces of nuclear contamination were found. The final price-tag of the clean-up effort is estimated to cost US$350 billion.[1]

Meanwhile, who − and what pot of money − would drive clean-up after a nuclear power plant incident is a question still left unanswered by the federal government, New York state officials said in a recent legal filing with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Under the Price-Anderson Act, the nuclear power industry's liability in the event of a catastrophe is limited, and in any case NRC officials said in 2009 that Price-Anderson money likely would not be available to pay for offsite clean-up − a revelation made public a year later when internal EPA documents were released under the Freedom of Information Act. Another three years have gone by and the federal government has yet to provide a clear answer, the New York Attorney General's office says. In 2012, NRC Commissioner William Magwood acknowledged that there "is no regulatory framework for environmental restoration following a major radiological release."[2]

[1] NTI Global Security Newswire, 30 Oct 2013, 'Bad Record Keeping Hindering Cleanup of Ex-Nuclear Sites: Report',
[2] Douglas P. Guarino, 25 Sept 2013, 'New York Wonders Where Nuclear Cleanup Funds Would Come From',

Areva signs uranium deal with Mongolian state
French utility Areva has signed a deal with Mongolia's state-owned Mon-Atom to develop two uranium mines in the Gobi desert. A company will be created, 66% owned by Areva, 34% Mon-Atom, and Japan's Mitsubishi Corporation will take an equity interest. Areva said exploration had discovered two uranium deposits with estimated reserves of 60,000 tonnes.

Mongolian protesters had warned before the signing that a deal could lead to the contamination of water resources in the area. Selenge Lkhagvajav, a protest leader, said: "We are not against cooperation with France. But we just say 'no uranium exploration in Mongolia', as not having it is the best way to prevent radioactive pollution and contamination."

Scotland: Dundrennan depleted uranium protest
Campaigners held a walk-on at the Dundrennan range in protest at the test firing of depleted uranium (DU) weapons into the Solway Firth. It was part of an international day of action and followed concerns about serious health issues resulting from the use of such weapons in war zones. The last DU tests at the south of Scotland range were in 2008. DU Day of Action events were also held in Finland, Japan, Norway, Costa Rica and elsewhere.

UK: Inadequate nuclear regulation
The UK government's nuclear safety watchdog has named the five UK sites that need the most regulation because of the safety problems they pose. They are the reprocessing complex at Sellafield in Cumbria, the nuclear bomb factories at Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire, the nuclear submarine base at Devonport in Plymouth and the former fast breeder centre at Dounreay in Caithness.[1]

These sites have been highlighted by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) in its 2013 annual report as requiring an "enhanced level of regulatory attention" because of the radioactive hazards on the sites, the risk of radioactive leaks contaminating the environment around the sites and ONR's view of operators' safety performances.[1]

Sellafield was rated unacceptable in one inspection because a back-up gas turbine to provide power to the site in emergencies was "at imminent risk of failure to operate" because of severe corrosion. "Failure would reduce the availability of nuclear safety significant equipment, and also potentially injure or harm the workforce," says ONR.[1]

At Aldermaston, corrosion in a structural steelwork was discovered in 2012, resulting in the closure of the A45 building which makes enriched uranium components for nuclear warheads and fuel for nuclear submarines.[1]

In May, AWE admitted one count of breaching the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 in relation to an August 2010 accident and fire at Aldermaston. A worker was injured when the mixing chemicals in a bucket caused an explosion and a fire which led to the evacuation of staff and nearby residents. Bernard Thorogood, prosecuting on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive, said an investigation into the fire revealed a "constellation of failures" relating to health and safety regulations which put employees at risk.[2]

[1] Rob Edwards, 5 Nov 2013,
[2] Basingstoke Gazette, 23 May 2013,

Italy: radioactive waste dumped illegally by Mafia blamed for cancer increase
The Italian Senate is investigating a possible link between buried radioactive waste and a rise of almost 50% in tumours found in the inhabitants of several towns around Naples. The illegal trafficking of hazardous waste came to light in 1997. A Mafia clan had run a profitable operation dumping millions of tonnes of waste on farmland, in caves, in quarries, on the edge of towns, in Lake Lucrino and along the coast.

Radioactive sludge, brought in on trucks from plants in Germany, was dumped in landfills, said Carmine Schiavone, who was involved in the illegal activities before becoming a whistle-blower. "I know that some is on land where buffalo live today, and on which no grass grows," he said.

Hannah Roberts, 1 Nov 2013, 'Toxic nuclear waste dumped illegally by the Mafia is blamed for surge in cancers in southern Italy',

UK: Dungeness power lines damaged by storms
EDF's Dungeness nuclear power station has been reconnected to the National Grid after power lines were damaged when storms battered southern Britain. The Kent power plant's two reactors were automatically shut down when electricity to the site was cut off on 28 October.[1] More than 60,000 homes and businesses were left without power.[2]

The Dungeness plant was in the media earlier this year when Freedom of Information documents revealed that ministers rejected advice from the Office for Nuclear Regulation to restrict development near nuclear plants. That advice was overridden when the government approved the expansion of Lydd airport, a few miles from the Dungeness plant. Dungeness was also in the news earlier this year when it was revealed that tritium leaks beyond the statutory limit had occurred.[3]

[1] BBC, 6 Nov 2013,
[2] Utility Week, 29 Oct 2013,
[3] 'Dungeness Airport Threat & Tritium', May 2013,

Fresh revelations cast doubt over reliability of Iraq birth defect study

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Trust in the findings of a study into rates of congenital birth defects in Iraq, undertaken by the WHO and Iraqi Ministry of Health, has continued to decline after interventions from three former UN officials. The International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) continues to argue that full transparency is the only way for the WHO and Iraqi Ministry of Health to rebuild the study's credibility.

The interim results of the study which, following a BBC documentary earlier this year had been expected to make a link between increased incidence of congenital birth defects and areas subject to heavy fighting, found completely the opposite. The study claimed that, although rates across Iraq had increased since the early 90s, they are now largely similar to those seen in the EU. The exceptions were Basrah and Fallujah, where, it was claimed, rates are around half that expected in high income settings. The results contrasted starkly with those from previous studies.

Critics, including Dr Keith Baverstock, have questioned the study methodology's reliance on household questionnaires instead of analysis of hospital records, which are typically seen as more accurate. Baverstock, who worked for the WHO on radiation and health for 13 years, told The Guardian that the report "is not of scientific quality. It wouldn't pass peer review in one of the worst journals."

Baverstock said: "The way this document has been produced is extremely suspicious. There are question marks about the role of the US and UK, who have a conflict of interest in this sort of study due to compensation issues that might arise from findings determining a link between higher birth defects and DU. I can say that the US and UK have been very reluctant to disclose the locations of DU deployment, which might throw further light on this correlation."

Meanwhile Neel Mani, who served as the WHO's Iraq director between 2001 and 2003 has shed light on previous examples of political interference in Iraq's public health research. In an article for The Huffington Post, Mani argues that while he does not feel that WHO staff have ever sought to block or downplay research, "it is clear that the imbalances that exist in its funding, particularly for those public health projects that go beyond its regular country budgets, are open to state influence. In a system in which the financing is so disparate among member states, it is obvious that those who influence the purse influence the spend."

Mani had direct experience of political interference in health research in the country during his tenure when UN Security Council members repeatedly blocked his attempts to fund research into rates of cancers and birth defects in Iraq. He writes: "any project that proposed to investigate abnormal rates of birth defects in southern Iraq and their relation, if any, to environmental contamination, never got through the Security Council's approval process." In his article, Mani accuses Security Council members of appalling cynicism and the Coalition Provisional Authority of arrogance.

Speaking to The Guardian about the study findings, a third UN official, the former UN assistant secretary general and UN humanitarian coordinator for Iraq Hans von Sponeck, said: "The brevity of this report is unacceptable... Everybody was expecting a proper, professional scientific paper, with properly scrutinised and checkable empirical data. Although I would be guarded about jumping to conclusions, WHO cannot be surprised if people ask questions about whether the body is giving into bilateral political pressures."

Von Sponeck said that US political pressure on WHO had scuppered previous investigations into the impact of DU on Iraq: "I served in Baghdad and was confronted with the reality of the environmental impact of DU. In 2001, I saw in Geneva how a WHO mission to conduct on-spot assessments in Basra and southern Iraq, where depleted uranium had led to devastating environmental health problems, was aborted under US political pressure. ... It would not be surprising if such US pressure has continued. There is definitive evidence of an alarming rise in birth defects, leukaemia, cancer and other carcinogenic diseases in Iraq after the war. Looking at the stark difference between previous descriptions of the WHO study's findings and this new report, it seems that someone, somewhere clumsily decided that they would not release these damning findings, but instead obscure them."

ICBUW supports Fallujah paediatrician Dr Samira Al'aani's call for the full dataset to be released and for the open and independent peer-review of the study's findings and methodology.

Abridged from a 15 October 2013 International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons web-post,
With additional material from: Nafeez Ahmed, 14 Oct 2013, 'How the World Health Organisation covered up Iraq's nuclear nightmare',
See also: Neel Mani, 15 Oct 2013, 'Iraq: Politics and Science in Post-Conflict Health Research'

Yellowcake submarines

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The UK Office for Nuclear Regulation has issued an improvement notice on the Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth after a report revealed lapses. The naval base is operated by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and government engineering contractors Babcock Marine. On 29 July 2012, the electric-power source for coolant to submarine reactors failed and then the diesel back-up generators also failed, according to a heavily redacted report from the MoD's Site Event Report Committee.[1]

Babcock launched an internal investigation after the incident, blaming the complete loss of power on a defect in the central switchboard and acknowledging that the event had "potential nuclear implications". Among a number of "areas of concern" uncovered by Babcock was what was described as an "inability to learn from previous incidents and to implement the recommendations from previous event reports".[1]

The Office for Nuclear Regulation issued an improvement notice for three alleged breaches of health and safety legislation, and of Section 24 of the Nuclear Installations Act – regarding "operating instructions".[1]

The MoD's Site Event Report Committee report notes that there had been two previous electrical failures at Devonport − the loss of primary and alternative shore supply to nuclear submarine HMS Talent in 2009, and the loss of "AC shore supply" to the nuclear submarine HMS Trafalgar in 2011.[1]

Regarding the July 2012 loss of power incident, independent nuclear consultant John Large said: "It is unbelievable that this happened. It could have been very serious. Things like this shouldn't happen. It is a fundamental that these fail-safe requirements work. It had all the seriousness of a major meltdown – a major radioactive release." Large warned that if a submarine had recently entered the base when the failure occurred the situation could have been "dire" because of high heat levels in its reactor.[1]

The loss of power incident is one of 11 incidents in the past five years at two nuclear submarine bases, the MoD has revealed. Radioactive waste has been spilled, workers exposed to radiation, power supplies lost, safety valves wrongly operated and a bag of waste mistakenly dropped overboard. Six of the incidents happened at Faslane in Scotland, five at Devonport. The incidents have been admitted by UK defence minister, Philip Dunne, in response to a parliamentary question.[2]

According to the MoD, six incidents since 2008 at Faslane have been defined as "category B", the second-worst rating, involving "actual or high potential for a contained release within building or submarine or unplanned exposure to radiation". In 2008, valves on board a submarine were shut "in error" at Faslane, causing a loss of power. In 2009, there were two problems with cranes at Faslane being used more often than they should be without authorisation. In 2010, the melting of an ice plug caused by the failure of a liquid nitrogen supply resulted in radioactive coolant leaking into a submarine reactor compartment at Faslane. In the same year, a bag of potentially contaminated clothing fell overboard. Last year, maintenance workers entered an area next to a reactor compartment "without the proper radiological controls in place and hence received an unplanned exposure to a radiological dose," the MoD said.[2]

The five incidents at Devonport include a spillage of reactor coolant "into the environment" in 2008, the operation of two submarines without key safety valves in 2010 and an overflowing radioactive waste tank in 2011. The July 2012 loss of power incident is also included in the list. Although the MoD described what happened in 10 instances, it refused to give details of one event at Devonport because "disclosure would be likely to prejudice the capability, effectiveness or security of the armed forces".[2]

UK Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator report

The 2012−13 report of the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator (DNSR) revealed:[4,5,6]

  • Cracks in reactors and nuclear discharges, directly attributable to the Royal Navy's oldest Trafalgar Class SSNs (Ship Submarine Nuclear) remaining in service beyond their design date.
  • Faults with the new Astute Class submarines that will delay their entry into service, forcing the Navy to continue sailing the ageing and potentially dangerous Trafalgars.
  • The Atomic Weapons Establishment failed to notice or rectify corrosion to a nuclear missile treatment plant in Berkshire.
  • Nuclear-qualified engineers are quitting the Navy in droves over poor pay and conditions, creating a skills crisis.


DNSR head Richard Savage wrote: "Significant and sustained attention is required to ensure maintenance of adequate safety performance and the rating [Red] reflects the potential impact if changes are ill-conceived or implemented. The inability to sustain a sufficient number of nuclear suitably competent personnel is the principal threat to safety. Vulnerabilities exist in core skill areas, including safety, propulsion, power and naval architects."[4]

In March 2007, two sailors were killed on HMS Tireless when an oxygen generator exploded during an Arctic exercise. An inquest heard that there was a significant possibility the generator was salvaged from a hazardous waste depot in a cost-cutting bid by the MoD. HMS Tireless leaked radioactive coolant from its reactor for eight days in February 2013 including six days at the Devonport dockyard in Plymouth.[4,6]

The DNSR report states: "Inspection programmes have not been as comprehensive as regulators would expect. As an example, corrosion in the structural supports of a building was not identified as early as would be expected which resulted in the Office for Nuclear Regulation issuing a Safety Improvement Notice." AWE admitted corrosion had affected its uranium component manufacturing facility.[4]

Meanwhile, there are fears that two major naval bases (Devonport and Rosyth, Fife) sited near large British cities could become nuclear waste storage facilities by default after it was revealed the MoD proposes to remove low-level radioactive waste from the UK's nuclear submarine fleet. The first of Britain's fleet of 27 nuclear submarines is due to be dismantled within five years. But according to minutes of the Submarine Dismantling Project Advisory Group, there is "uncertainty running to several decades" over a long-term storage solution for radioactive waste. There are seven retired subs at Rosyth and eight at Devonport.[3]


A fire broke out on a Russian nuclear submarine undergoing repairs, according to news reports in September, but no injuries or radiation leaks were reported. Russian news reports said the fire on the Tomsk submarine at repair yards in the Pacific coast city of Bolshoi Kamen had been extinguished with foam on September 16. The Tomsk, capable of firing cruise missiles, has been undergoing repairs since 2010. Reports said all its weaponry had been removed and the reactor was shut down, although it was not clear if any nuclear material remained in the reactor.[7]

Large-scale Soviet nuclear tests, dumping of spent fuel and two scuttled nuclear-powered submarines are a major source of pollution in the Arctic ocean. There are 17,000 containers and 19 vessels holding radioactive waste submerged in the Kara Sea, as well as 14 nuclear reactors including five that still contain spent nuclear fuel, and 735 other pieces of radioactively contaminated heavy machinery. In addition, the Soviet nuclear submarine K-27 was scuttled in 1981 in the Kara Sea. The K-27, equipped with two nuclear reactors (and their irradiated fuel), was filled with bitumen and concrete before being sunk, to ensure that it would lie safely on the ocean floor for 50 years.[8,9,10]

As the Arctic thaws under the influence of global warming, oceanic currents in the region could hasten the spread of radioactive materials. But according to Bellona's Igor Kurdrik, an expert on Russian naval nuclear waste, the Russian state has another interest: "We know that the Russians have an interest in oil exploration in this area. They therefore want to know were the radioactive waste is so they can clean it up before they begin oil recovery operations."[10]


The US Navy has decided to scrap the USS Miami instead of fixing the nuclear submarine, which a civilian shipyard worker set fire to in 2012. The submarine was commissioned in 1990 at a cost of US$900 million. It sustained US$450 million in damages after Casey James Fury, a shipyard worker, set the 23 May 2012 blaze.[11]

The fire damaged forward compartments including living quarters, a command and control centre and the torpedo room. Weapons had been removed prior to the fire, and the fire never reached the rear of the submarine, where the nuclear propulsion components are located. Fury said he was suffering from anxiety and having problems with his ex-girlfriend and set the fire in order to get out of work early. It took 12 hours and the efforts of more than 100 firefighters to extinguish the fire. Seven people were hurt. Fury is serving 17 years in federal prison.[11]

[6] DNSR Annual Report 2012−13,

Birth defects: Did the occupation of Iraq leave a toxic legacy?

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Doug Weir - Coordinator of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons

During the occupation of Iraq, the city of Fallujah bore witness to some of the most intense US combat operations since Vietnam, with 2004's Operation Phantom Fury widely condemned for its ferocity and disregard for international law.[1]

Paediatrician Dr Samira Al'aani has worked in the city since 1997.[2] In 2006 she began to notice an increase in the number of babies being born with congenital birth defects (CBD). Concerned, she began to log the cases that she saw. Through careful record keeping she has determined that at Fallujah General Hospital, 144 babies are now born with a deformity for every 1000 live births. This is nearly six times higher than the average rate in the UK between 2006 and 2010, and one strong suspicion is that contamination from the toxic constituents of munitions used by occupying forces could be the cause. Now a new nationwide study by the Iraqi Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, has the potential to catalyse efforts to understand and confront the issue, but only if science can be allowed to rise above politics.

The politicisation of health research in Iraq has deep roots. In April 2001, plans were beginning to be put in place for a framework agreement between the WHO and Iraqi government that was intended to establish projects aimed at improving public health care in the country.[3] Among the projects were plans to improve the recording and registration of cancers and congenital malformations, and efforts to identify substances in the environment that might be responsible for the increases in those diseases reported since the 1991 Gulf War. Controversially for some states, depleted uranium from US and UK munitions was among the environmental risk factors to be investigated.

After six months, the plans were in disarray. While Baghdad had initiated the project, after consultation the WHO had announced that any costs associated with the projects would need to be borne by Iraq itself. "None of these projects can really start until funding has been found for them, and funding, it has been agreed, will be at the Iraqi initiative," said Neel Mani, incoming director of the WHO's Iraq programme at the time.[4] The Iraqi government, convinced that the health problems had been caused by the 1991 Gulf War and were thus the fault of the US and its allies, refused to cooperate. Political concerns had trumped the needs of the Iraqi people.

The United States has long been the WHO's largest single state donor and the institution has not been free of the criticism directed at other international bodies, such as the World Bank, in recent years that it is disproportionately influenced by its largest patron. The reality is that vast sums of money are involved and state donors have been keen to see returns that are consistent with their interests and principles, whether this is protection of Big Pharma's intellectual property rights or promoting neoliberal approaches to health care provision. Yet in order to be effective the WHO must be, and be seen to be, genuinely independent. The WHO's governing body, the World Health Assembly, reopened the issue of reform back in 2009 but progress has been slow, particularly as different parties are pushing the reform agenda in different directions.

When the WHO announced in 2011 that it was to work with Iraq's Health Ministry on a nationwide study to assess the rates and geographic spread of CBDs in the country, optimism began to build that this could be a significant first step in the long path towards reducing harm and providing assistance to affected families.[5] Prior to the announcement, studies into rates had been limited in scope to a single hospital, and questions were raised about their methodology. Taken in isolation these studies were insufficient to generate the political will for action. Additionally, concerns were expressed over Iraq's internal bureaucracy and power struggles after researchers reported that medical staff were being pressured into not speaking out. Gradually, hopes began to fade that effective research would ever see the light of day.

From the outset, phase one of the project was never due to consider causality – a fact that has drawn criticism from some quarters. Its original aim was to gather baseline data from selected districts and analyse spatial and temporal trends in the incidence of CBDs. Progress on the project was slow, with data collection hit by repeated delays, but during 2012 the WHO, which had posted a FAQ on the project in response to growing interest from the public and media, announced that: "The data collection process has been recently completed and the results are being analysed by the Ministry of Health and WHO. The data analysis process will conclude at the end of 2012 following which time the report writing process will start." [6]

The FAQ was notable in that it pre-empted questions on causality. Of these the possible link between depleted uranium use and CBD rates was covered; the tone was exasperated: "Is the study looking at a possible link between prevalence of child birth defects and the use of depleted uranium? No, absolutely not. The study is only looking at the prevalence of congenital birth defects in selected governorates."

This was understandable, the term birth defect covers a diverse spectrum of disorders; causes include single gene defects, chromosomal disorders, multi-factorial inheritance, environmental teratogens, maternal infections such as rubella and micronutrient deficiencies. Amidst the wreckage of post-war Iraq, there was no shortage of potential risk factors.

In March 2013, BBC World broadcast a documentary on the story. As with other media reports, Born Under A Bad Sign visited the hospitals and spoke with parents and doctors – all of whom were convinced that the health problems they were witnessing were linked to the war.[7] Journalist Yalda Hakim took this up with staff from the Ministry of Health and was able to discuss the CBD data with them. Although nervous, and reluctant to provide too many answers, citing political pressure, they confirmed that the study would find a link between increased incidence of CBDs and areas subject to the most intense fighting in 2003.[8]

If true, this is a hugely significant and profoundly political outcome, and while it doesn't identify a single causal factor for the increase in CBD rates, it narrows the field considerably. While the long-term impact of explosive remnants of war such as landmines and cluster bombs are familiar to most, questions are increasingly being asked about the public health legacy of toxic remnants of war.[9] While the two most notorious examples are depleted uranium and the dioxin contaminated Vietnam-era herbicide Agent Orange, an analysis of commonly used military substances – from heavy metals to explosives − demonstrates significant potential for harm from a range of materials.

Unfortunately data on the toxicity, environmental behaviour and dispersal of these substances is limited as militaries have often only undertaken research into the effects on their own troops or when faced by domestic regulations over emissions from firing ranges. This lack of data and the unpredictability of conflict means that accurately predicting the risk to civilians is enormously challenging. That no system of comprehensive post-conflict environmental assessment exists will ensure that many of these data gaps will remain.

Broadcast of the BBC report in March was followed by updates to the WHO's FAQ. Gone was the petulant 'No, absolutely not' from the line on depleted uranium and the first of a series of procedural delays was announced as committees were formed and new analyses proposed.[10] For campaigners seeking disclosure of the data as a first step towards focused research and humanitarian assistance in Iraq, the delays were worrying.

By July, further delays were announced, with the WHO's FAQ stating: "It was established that this large data set has a great deal of potentially valuable information and that additional analyses not originally conceived of should be done."[11] The WHO added that: "... in addition to further analyses, it was determined the work should also undergo the scientific standard of peer review. A team of independent scientists is now being recruited to review the planned analyses."

The political ramifications of the study are obvious and, while the alterations to the project may be scientifically justified on the basis of the dataset, it was felt that the best way to ensure confidence in the findings was to call for the study and analyses to be subject to genuinely independent and transparent peer review in an open-access journal. The WHO has used open-access journals in the past so the request is not without precedent. Crucially, any experts involved would be selected independently of the WHO.

So how can civil society and individuals influence an organisation as monolithic and apparently compromised as the WHO? On July 31, Dr Al'aani launched an online petition through ( − with the associated twitter hashtag of #Act4Iraq) calling for the WHO to immediately publish the collected data for independent peer review, so that scientific conclusions can be drawn and the affected parents can finally understand what has happened to their children.[12] For them, and for Dr Al'aani, the unfolding health crisis concerns far, far more than a debate over numbers and statistics. For those of us who are citizens of the states that invaded Iraq, it is vital to understand whether we carry a share of responsibility for those parents' suffering, and to demonstrate to Iraqis that the world has not forgotten about their country.


Doug Weir is Coordinator of the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons and manages the Toxic Remnants of War Project (, which explores the link between conflict toxics and civilian and environmental harm.

This article is reprinted from New Left Project.