Both the great Truths and the great Falsehoods of the twentieth century lie hidden in the arcane, widely inaccessible, and seemingly mundane domain of the radiation sciences

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Trial of the Cult of Nuclearists: EXHIBIT F continued

What follows is the continuation, in serial form, of a central chapter from my book A Primer in the Art of Deception: The Cult of Nuclearists, Uranium Weapons and Fraudulent Science.

EXHIBIT F continued:

When confronted with evidence that radionuclides emitted from nuclear installations do cause leukemias and other cancers, nuclear apologists parry the attack with the observation that those studies which do demonstrate a correlation between radionuclide exposure in the environment and illness involve relatively small population samples and the frequency of observed illnesses are not statistically significant. In many cases, this is a valid criticism which, for over half a century, has successfully prevented liability being assigned to those who discharge radiation into the environment. However, as research continues to accumulate, this position is becoming increasingly less tenable. Although small studies may produce statistical anomalies that fail to prove a rule, the cumulative power of numerous small studies, all confirming heightened incidence of childhood leukemia and cancer in contaminated areas, has to be respected as evidence that some real effect is being observed.

In Europe, a number of epidemiological studies have been carried out to examine the relationship between nuclear pollution and ill health. In geographical areas where isotopes have been found to accumulate, the local inhabitants have consistently faced greater risks of developing leukemia and cancer than predicted by ICRP models. Coastal communities in Ireland and Wales in proximity to the Irish Sea have been investigated due to the accumulation in that body of water of fallout, discharges from nuclear fuel-reprocessing (Sellafield) and dumping of radioactive waste (Sellafield and nuclear reactor facilities.) Along certain shorelines, radionuclides — most notably plutonium-239, cesium-137 and strontium-90 — have contaminated mudbanks, estuaries, and intertidal sediment (the sediment lying between high tide and low tide marks). Studies have shown that the radioisotopes discharged into the Irish Sea bind preferentially to fine silts. While afloat on the water surface, the action of wind and waves resuspends this fine particulate matter and blows it ashore. Alternatively, radioactive sediment trapped in the intertidal zone during low tide dries and is swept into the air by wind. In either case, the end result is that radionuclides from the sea contaminate inland air where it is available for inhalation by populations living along the coast. This hypothesis is supported by a number of observations. Airborne plutonium was collected in muslin screens set at various distances from the Irish Sea. The highest concentration of plutonium was found in those screens closest to the coast with a rapid falloff occurring within a few kilometers inland and then flattening out further into the interior. Analysis of plutonium in deciduous teeth showed the same gradient. Residents close to the coast bore a higher burden of plutonium contamination in their teeth than their neighbors living slightly further inland. As distance from the coast increased, plutonium concentrations decreased. A study of plutonium concentrations in sheep feces bore witness to the same phenomenon. Another study looked at the concentration of plutonium and cesium-137 in autopsy specimens. Again, a correlation was established between the distance of a person’s home from the Irish Sea and the extent of the body burden of contaminants. In this study, it was observed that the highest levels of radionuclides were found in the lymph nodes draining the lung, suggesting that inhalation was the route of exposure. This evidence of differential exposure to radiocontaminants diminishing with distance from the Irish Sea strongly suggests that sea-to-land transfer is the best explanation for the phenomenon. This radioactivity in the environment correlates with observations of a high incidence of cancers in certain coastal communities. In Ireland, a significant excess of childhood leukemia was discovered in a strip three miles wide along the east coast [1]. An excess of breast cancer was also observed among Irish women living close to the coast [2]. As noted in the CERRIE Minority Report: “The trends in cancer risk by distance from the sea correlated well with inland penetration by sodium chloride and concentrations of plutonium in air as measured by Harwell [Nuclear Research Establishment] workers in the late 1980s [3].”

The period of peak emissions from Sellafield, coinciding with the highest level of radioisotope pollution along the coast of Wales, occurred between 1974 and 1989. According to the Green Audit Irish Sea Research Group, the incidence of cancer in Wales for most age groups was significantly higher among people living in population areas centered within a 800-meter wide strip stretching along the coast of the Irish Sea. Compared with the combined population of England and Wales, a 4.6-fold excess of leukemia in 0-4 year olds was discovered in this coastal area [1]. The risk of contracting cancer was found to fall off as one moved west from the coast, first of all falling sharply, then showing a slight rise inland at the mountains, and then steadily decreasing toward the border with England where rates then became comparable with English rates.


[1] Busby C., Kocjan B., Mannion E., Scott Cato M. Proximity to the Irish Sea and Leukemia Incidence in Children at ages 0-4 in Wales from 1974-1989: First Report of the Green Audit Irish Research Group. Green Audit Aberystwyth, Wales. Occasional Papers 98/4. August 1, 1998.

[2] CERRIE Minority Report. Minority Report of the UK Department of Health / Department of Environment (DEFRA) Committee Examining Radiation Risk from Internal Emitters (CERRIE). Aberystwyth: Sosiumi Press; 2005.

[3] Eakins J.D., Lally A.E. The Transfer to Land of Actinide-Bearing Sediments from the Irish Sea by Spray. Science of the Total Environment. 1984; 35:23-32.