You are here


Misleading claims about nuclear energy

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Dr. Mark Diesendorf ‒ Honorary Associate Professor, Environment & Governance Group, University of New South Wales

This article is a reply to claims made by Prof. Gerry Thomas on national radio on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Science Show on 2 November 2019.1 In her presentation with the theme that fear of ionising radiation and nuclear power is 'irrational', she made several misleading statements and serious omissions and at least one scientifically irrational statement. For example:

1. Chernobyl deaths

Thomas focused on rapid deaths from acute radiation exposure and only the least dangerous cancer, thyroid cancer.2 Her prediction of about 160 cancer deaths from Chernobyl, apparently all thyroid, is dwarfed by the estimate of all cancer deaths excluding thyroid by a team from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (Cardis et al. 2006).3 Their prediction covers the period up to 2065. It is made up of 14,100 (95% UI 6200-32,100) for all cancers excluding leukaemia, thyroid cancer and nonmelanoma skin cancer (Cardis, Table I) plus about 1700 from leukaemia (Cardis, p.1230).

Thomas omits to mention the IARC results, which carry more scientific credibility than hers re cancers other than thyroid.4 Instead, the listener was led to compare her claim with the straw person of a popular film about Chernobyl, played at the beginning of the interview. Comparing a scientific presentation with a popular one, instead of with another scientific one, misleads listeners.

The generally poor quality of health and radiation exposure data in eastern Europe entails that even a much larger number of non-thyroid cancer deaths resulting from Chernobyl would be undetectable against the much larger background of cancers due to other causes.

2. "Nuclear has far less illness associated with it [compared with renewables]"

The studies upon which this claim is based use techniques such as ignoring the vast majority of cancers induced at Chernobyl (Item 1), omitting risks with (possibly) low probability but very high impacts (see Item 5), and exaggerating the land use of renewables and minimising the land-use of nuclear (see Item 7). For example, the claims by Brook and Bradshaw5, that nuclear is better than renewables on environmental, safety, health and land use grounds, have been refuted in three independent peer-reviewed responses including mine.6-8

3. Thomas' claim that 'green' electricity is mostly hydro, or hydro plus nuclear

Misleading! Denmark already generates about 50% of its electricity from wind, supplemented by some bioenergy from agricultural residues. It is on track towards its target of 100% renewable electricity and heat by 2035. It has no nuclear.

South Australia generates about 50% of its electricity from wind, balanced by gas turbines, a low-capacity interconnector to Victoria, a few large batteries and (soon) off-river pumped hydro. It is heading for 100% renewables by 2030. It has no nuclear.

Scotland generates the majority of its electricity from wind, supplemented by hydro and nuclear.

Germany and five US states each already generate over 30% of their electricity from renewables, mostly wind.

Nuclear power is a poor partner for wind and solar PV, because it is inflexible in operation. Better complements with fast responses are hydro (both once-through and pumped), batteries, concentrated solar thermal, open cycle gas turbines using renewable fuels and demand response.

4. Irrational claim: "If our bodies couldn't deal with radiation, we wouldn't be here"

This piece of simplistic pro-nuclear propaganda is bad science and reveals that Thomas' desire to campaign for radiation exposure and nuclear power sometimes overrides her scientific knowledge. She must know this is nonsense, yet she utters it. Homo sapiens continues to exist despite many harmful natural agents, e.g. malaria, poisonous snakes and mushrooms, arsenic contamination of groundwater.

5. Omission of the contribution of nuclear power to the proliferation of nuclear weapons

Several countries have already used nuclear power as a cloak to either develop nuclear weapons ab initio (India, Pakistan, North Korea, South Africa) or to supplement their military nuclear weapons stockpile (UK, France).

In addition, the following countries have attempted to use nuclear power as a cloak for developing nuclear weapons, but fortunately discontinued their programs before completion: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Libya, South Korea and Taiwan. In most cases they planned to use spent fuel from nuclear power stations, although in a few cases they followed the uranium enrichment pathway. This is documented in detail by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) and the Nuclear Weapons Archive; for Australia in books by Richard Broinowski and by Wayne Reynolds.

A realistic perspective on proliferation is that the more countries that have nuclear power à the more countries have the capacity to develop nuclear weapons à the greater the risk of nuclear war.

A scientific approach to risk expresses it as the probability of an event multiplied by its impact. It's possible that the above probability may (or may not) be small, but the potential impact could be huge. Deaths and injuries from the blasts, firestorms and radiation exposures of a nuclear war could be counted in hundreds of millions, but deaths from Nuclear Winter's impact on global agriculture could be counted in billions.

Most proponents of nuclear power take an unscientific approach to risk by simply ignoring potential events that they want to believe have low probability, despite the enormous potential impacts of such events. The latter include major nuclear accidents as well as nuclear war resulting from proliferation of nuclear weapons.

6. Trivialising the risks of nuclear power

Thomas does this by using a true but trivial statement, namely that low-level radiation from coal-fired power stations is greater than from normally operating nuclear power stations, to deflect attention away from the principal radiation risks of nuclear power: exposure to low-, medium- and high-level radiation from nuclear accidents (see Item 1), managing high-level nuclear wastes, and the contribution of nuclear power to the proliferation of nuclear weapons and hence increased probability of nuclear war (Item 5).

7. Land use

Thomas mentioned that nuclear power plants are compact in terms of land use. However, this has been achieved by failing to allow for an adequate exclusion zone to reduce the impact of major nuclear accidents. Taking an exclusion zone of radius, say, 20 km (as at post-accident Fukushima), would make nuclear power quite a large land user.5

Some proponents of nuclear power, who are also critics of renewable energy, exaggerate the land use by renewable energy as follows:

  • They count the area of land spanned by a wind farms instead of the land actually occupied. The latter is typically 1-3% of the former. Agricultural land between wind turbines is farmed.
  • They ignore the fact that a large proportion of solar systems is on rooftops and so occupies no land.
  • Although ground-mounted solar farms generally occupy significant land, there is a move to mount future solar farms that are built on agricultural land on higher support structures, thus allowing animals to graze beneath them.


Thomas' interview contains several misleading statements and serious omissions and the irrational statement that "If our bodies couldn't deal with radiation, we wouldn't be here". Therefore, it has low credibility.



2. Thyroid cancer can be prevented by filling the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine before exposure to radioactive Iodine-131.

3. Cardis E et al. 2006. Estimates of the cancer burden in Europe from radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl accident. International Journal of Cancer 119:1224–35,

4. Thomas’ expertise on cancer appears to be limited to thyroid cancer, a trivial part of the risk from Chernobyl.

5. Brook BW & Bradshaw CJA. Key role for nuclear energy in global biodiversity conservation. Conservation Biology 2015;29:702–12. doi:10.1111/cobi.12433,

6. Diesendorf M. Subjective judgments in the nuclear energy debate. Conservation Biology 2016;30:666–9. doi:10.1111/cobi.12692,

7. Henle K et al. Promoting nuclear energy to sustain biodiversity conservation in the face of climate change: Response to Brook and Bradshaw 2015. Conservation Biology 2016;30:663–5. doi:10.1111/cobi.12691,

8. Hendrickson O. Nuclear energy and biodiversity conservation: Response to Brook and Bradshaw 2015. Conservation Biology 2016;30:661–2. doi:10.1111/cobi.12693,

The Banana Equivalent Dose of catastrophic nuclear accidents

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Jim Green ‒ Nuclear Monitor editor

The 'Nuclear for Climate' lobby group recently attended the UN COP23 climate conference armed with bananas, in order to make specious comparisons between radiation exposures from eating bananas and routine emissions from nuclear power plants.

One of the reasons the comparison is specious is that some exposures are voluntary, others aren't. Australian academic Prof. Barry Brook said in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster: "People don't understand that they live in an environment that is awash with radiation and they make decisions every day which affect their radiation dose ‒ they hop on an airplane or eat a banana or sit close to the TV.''1 True ‒ but people choose to hop on an airplane or eat a banana or sit close to the TV, whereas radiation doses from nuclear plants and nuclear accidents are usually involuntary.

Another reason why the comparison made by 'Nuclear for Climate' is specious is that it ignores spikes in radioactive emissions during reactor refueling. Radiation biologist Dr Ian Fairlie notes that 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.2 The spikes may explain infant leukemia increases near nuclear plants − but operators provide no warnings and take no measures to reduce exposures.2

The specious comparison between bananas and nuclear power plants also ignores the spike in emissions and radiation doses following catastrophic accidents. So, what's the Banana Equivalent Dose3 (yes, that's a thing) of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters?

According to the IAEA, the collective effective dose from Chernobyl was 600,000 person-Sieverts.4 The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation estimates radiation exposure from the Fukushima disaster at 48,000 person-Sieverts.5,6

Combined, exposure from Chernobyl and Fukushima is estimated at 648,000 person-Sieverts. Exposure from eating a banana is estimated at between 0.09‒2.3 microSieverts.3 Let's use a figure of 0.1 microSievert per banana. Thus, exposure from Chernobyl and Fukushima equates to 6,480,000,000,000 Banana Equivalent Doses ‒ that's 6.48 trillion bananas or, if you prefer, 6.48 terabananas or 6,480 gigabananas.

End-to-end, that many 15-cm (6-inch) bananas would stretch 972 million kilometres ‒ far enough to reach the moon 2,529 times over, or the sun 6.5 times over.

Potassium cycle

Another reason the comparison made by 'Nuclear for Climate' is specious is explained by Dr Gordon Edwards from the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility:7

"[T]he body already has a lot of "natural" potassium including K-40 [which is unavoidable], and any new "natural" potassium ingested is balanced by eliminating a comparable amount of "natural" potassium to maintain the "homeostasis" of the body. In other words the body's own mechanisms will not allow for a net increase in potassium levels – and therefore will not allow for an increase in K-40 content in the body.

"Here's what the Oak Ridge Associated Universities has to say; (ORAU was founded in 1946 as the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies.): 'The human body maintains relatively tight homeostatic control over potassium levels. This means that the consumption of foods containing large amounts of potassium will not increase the body's potassium content. As such, eating foods like bananas does not increase your annual radiation dose. If someone ingested potassium that had been enriched in K-40, that would be another story.'

"The same argument does not work for radioactive caesium, or for any of the radioactive pollutants given off by a nuclear power plant, because most of these materials do not exist in nature at all – and those that do exist in nature are not subject to the same homeostatic mechanism that the body uses to control potassium levels. Consequently any foodstuffs or beverages containing radioactive caesium or other man-made radioactive pollutants will cause an additional annual dose of ionizing radiation to the person so exposed."

Likewise, Linda Gunter explained in a 16 November 2017 article:9

"At the COP23 Climate Talks currently underway in Bonn, a group calling itself Nuclear for Climate, wants you to slip on their false banana propaganda and fall for their nonsensically unscientific notion that bananas are actually more dangerous than nuclear power plants! I am not making this up. Here is the picture.

"The oxymoronic Nuclear for Climate people are handing out bananas complete with a sticker that reads: "This normal, every-day banana is more radioactive than living near a nuclear power plant for one year." ...

"If you smell something rotten in this banana business, you are right. So let's peel off the propaganda right now. In short, when you eat a banana, your body's level of potassium-40 doesn't increase. You just get rid of some excess potassium-40. The net dose of a banana is zero.

"To explain in more detail, the tiny radiation exposure due to eating a banana lasts only for a few hours after ingestion, namely the time it takes for the normal potassium content of the body to be regulated by the kidneys. Since our bodies are under homeostatic control, the body's level of potassium-40 doesn't increase after eating a banana. The body just gets rid of some excess potassium-40.

"The banana bashers don't want you to know this and instead try to pretend that the potassium in bananas is the same as the genuinely dangerous man-made radionuclides ‒ such as cesium-137 and strontium-90 ‒ that are released into our environment from nuclear power facilities, from atomic bomb tests and from accidents like Fukushima and Chernobyl.

"These radioactive elements, unlike the potassium-40 in bananas, are mistaken by the human body for more familiar elements. For example, ingested radioactive strontium-90 replaces stable calcium, and ingested radioactive cesium-137 replaces stable potassium. These nuclides can lodge in bones and muscles and irradiate people from within. This is internal radiation and can lead to very serious, long-lasting and trans-generational health impacts."

An unfortunate incident in Goiania, Brazil in September 1987 illustrates the hazards of cesium-137, a fission product. Two people stole a radiotherapy source from a disused medical clinic. A security guard did not show up to work that day; he went instead to the cinema to see 'Herbie Goes Bananas'.10 The radiotherapy source contained 93 grams of cesium-137. It was sold to a junkyard dealer. Many people were exposed to the radioactive cesium and they spread the contamination to other sites within and beyond the town. At least four people died from exposure to the radiation source and, according to the IAEA, "many others" suffered radiation injuries.11 Those injured included eight patients who required surgical debridments, amputation of the digital extremities and plastic skin grafts.12 The incident was rated Level 5 ('Accident with Off Site Risk') on the 7-point International Nuclear Event Scale.

Terrorists don't arm themselves with bananas

Bananas ‒ and the potassium in bananas ‒ are of no interest to nuclear weapons proliferators. There's no Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Bananas, no Comprehensive Banana Test Ban Treaty. Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump aren't threatening each other with bananas; not yet, at least. Conversely, there is a long history of nuclear power plants being used directly and indirectly in support of nuclear weapons programs.13

Nuclear historian Paul Langley notes that terrorists don't arm themselves with bananas:14

"The potassium cycle in humans is no excuse for nuclear authorities anywhere on the planet to claim any benefit or natural precedent for the marketing of nuclear industry emissions contaminated food.

"The fission products are not nutrients. Do not eat them. The nuclear industry promises to keep its radioactive sources sealed. When the industry invariably fails in this undertaking, it turns around and claims that the residue of its pollution is like a banana. Crap. The residue is like the residue of a rad weapon. Fact. It's the same stuff. Terrorists do not attempt to arm themselves with bananas. They are not dangerous.

"Radio Strontium, Radio Iodine, Radio cesium have NO PLACE in food. Nuke is not clean, it is not green and it relies on lies it has concocted over decades. ... The more the nuclear industry claims eating plutonium, strontium, cesium, iodine and other fuel and fission products is OK because bananas exist and because the potassium is a needed nutrient, the more I consider them to be blatant liars."


1. Daniel Wills, 17 March 2011, 'Nuclear fallout', The Advertiser

2. Ian Fairlie, 29 Sept 2014, 'Radioactive spikes from nuclear plants − a likely cause of childhood leukemia',

3. Wikipedia, accessed 9 Dec 2017, 'Banana equivalent dose',

4. IAEA Bulletin #381, 'Annual Dose from Natural Radiation Sources in the Environment',

5. UNSCEAR, '2013 Report: Sources, Effects and Risks of Ionizing Radiation: Volume I, Report to the General Assembly Scientific Annex A: Levels and effects of radiation exposure due to the nuclear accident after the 2011 great east-Japan earthquake and tsunami',

6. Ian Fairlie, Feb 2014, 'New UNSCEAR Report on Fukushima: Collective Doses',

7. Gordon Edwards / Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, accessed 9 Dec 2017, 'About Radioactive Bananas',

8. Paul Frame, Oak Ridge Associated Universities, accessed 9 Dec 2017, 'General Information About K-40',

9. Linda Gunter, 16 Nov 2017, 'The Pro-Nuclear Lobby in Bonn is So Desperate, They've Gone Bananas!',

10. 8 May 2015, 'How "Herbie Goes Bananas" Led to a Radioactive Disaster',

11. IAEA, 1998 'The Radiological Accident at Goiania', /

12. CCEN, GSF, IAEA, EC, May 2000, 'Restoration of environments affected by residues from radiological accidents: Approaches to decision making',

13. Nuclear Monitor #804, 28 May 2015, 'The myth of the peaceful atom',

14. Paul Langley, 30 Aug 2012, 'Nukers promoting contaminated food – the falsehoods of the Potassium excuse',

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

Startling news for reactor communities: radiation spikes during refueling

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) reported in August 2012 on some sleuth work by its affiliate in Germany that turned up documentation of a short-term spike 200--500 higher amounts of radioactive gases being released from the Gundremmingen reactor site in Southern Germany. The investigators established that this rise was associated with the opening of the reactor vessel, as is routinely done for reactor refueling and inspections. Further, the group reported that the elevation of radioactive pollution persisted for the next week, well above usual levels during ongoing operations.

The numbers for concentrations of noble gases reported by IPPNW are: 3 Bq/m3 for usual operations; the spikes were 700 Bq/m3 increasing to a peak of 1470 Bq/m3 in the initial hours after the vessel was opened, then tapering down to an average of 100 Bq/m3 for the next week. 

Every reactor generates radioactive gases during normal operation, including noble gases, tritium, carbon-14, iodine and small amounts of volatile cesium and strontium. Reactor vessels are not designed to capture the gases that are present in the core prior to opening for activities like refueling or maintenance and inspections. When the core is opened, these gases escape.

The IPPNW's Reinhold Theil points out that these airborne emissions are of particular risk for women and pregnant women in the vicinity since women are at elevated risk for cancer, and the embryo and fetus suffer the greatest impacts from radiation exposure during gestation; the female fetus is at the highest risk. Tritium has the potential to cross the placental barrier to enter the fetus directly. Gamma emissions from noble gases are also a threat since these inert elements, if inhaled, are likely to be stored in fat deposits of the mother, typically near to the abdomen.

This situation has remained secret, or at the least invisible for the last six decades of reactor operation worldwide because the regulators allow self-reporting of emissions rather than publicly available real-time monitoring, and because regulations allow averaging over the reporting period. Since the NRC requires only annual reports, that allows the US reactor operators to hide these 500 times higher spikes above "usual" by leveling it in the typically lower levels of release.

Source: security.html?expa nd=707&cHash=8752881e4a

IPPNWGundremmingen KRB-AGundremmingen-BGundremmingen-C

New on the web: links to radiation monitoring systems around the world

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, many people have grown more interested in accessing data on radiation levels in their communities. This task has often proven difficult due to the lack of an organized internet directory of monitoring data. In order to facilitate the public's access to radiation data, NIRS has created a webpage with links to real-time and historical monitoring data from around the world. This webpage is called Radiation Monitoring and can be accessed at

NIRS has compiled two monitoring directories: one for data from locations in the United States, and one for international data. Each entry in these directories contains the link to the data, information on the monitoring location and the person, organization, company, or agency conducting the monitoring. When possible, NIRS has also included information on the medium sampled (including groundwater, seawater, drinking water, precipitation, foodstuffs, milk, and air) and the specific type of radiation sampled for (inclu-ding alpha, beta, and gamma radiation, or the radionuclides such as uranium, iodine, strontium).

One of the entries in the directory is a link to RadNet, radiation data posted by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA's air monitors measure for beta and gamma radiation and sample air at a flow rate of roughly 60 cubic feet per hour. The air monitors report their data hourly to the EPA's National Air and Radiation Environmental Laboratory (NAREL) in Montgomery, Alabama. NAREL also analyzes milk, precipitation, and drinking water samples, as well as samples of air particulates that are collected from filters on air monitors. According to its website, RadNet usually publishes these air data within two hours. There are also 40 air monitors in storage that can be deployed at any time, although the EPA inexplicably ordered that these not be deployed during the post-Fukushima emergency. Yet as far as NIRS can tell, the only near-real-time air data on the website are very recent data. NIRS' searches for drinking water, precipitation, and milk data turn only scant information since June 2011. It is unclear whether this information has not been posted or whether the EPA has not monitored at all in the intervening time. All in all, NIRS has found that the RadNet website is difficult to use; it contains three separate descriptions of the EPA's monitoring protocol, but they contradict each other and fail to unambiguously state exactly how often the EPA monitors for radiation, or for which isotopes it samples.

NIRS' directory also provides links to data collected by concerned citizens groups such as Safecast, a website that posts radiation data collected by trained volunteer monitors around the world, mostly in Japan. Safecast's volunteers monitor air radiation by strapping standard 2" pancake sensors to cars and driving through towns street-by-street. They have taken this approach because it is clear that radiation levels can differ wildly between houses on the same street; by taking measurements every five seconds, they hope to give individuals a good idea of radiation levels at their own home. Safecast measurements are taken 1.5 meters off the ground, much lower than many stationary air monitors, since this is the level at which people are most likely to be exposed. There is little information on the presence of specific radioisotopes, since Safecast does not have access to an isotope lab. They monitor for alpha, beta, and gamma radiation.

C-10 Research and Educational Foundation, funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, operates in the ten-mile radius surrounding the Seabrook reactor in New Hampshire. It monitors the air at 16 sites throughout northeastern Massachusetts and southeastern New Hampshire, and in fact began monitoring before the power plant came online in 1990 in order to obtain data on the normal background radiation in the area. C-10 also monitors radiation levels in mussels near the plant's cooling tunnel outfall. In addition to collecting radiation data, C-10 monitors incidences of human cancer within the ten-mile radius of the plant. Its data is available upon request, and contact information can be found by clicking on the link in NIRS' directory. 

RadNet, Safecast, and C-10 are just a few of the more than 60 websites listed on NIRS' monitoring directory. We are still looking to add to this list and ask that you please contact us with information on any databases that we may have missed. 

Send corrections and additions to


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.

U.S., DOE, Studsvik, new green push processing/release of radioactive metal

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

The nuclear establishment clearly has no real appreciation of the dangers of ionizing radiation, yet it is once again planning to disperse radioactive metal into commercial metal recycling to make items with which we and our children come into close, daily contact--be it Christmas toys, zippers on our pants, belt buckles, silverware, pots and pans, jewelry, cars---or maybe doggie bowls, tissue holders and bicycle baskets.

The last three items were recently found to be so radioactive they had to be tracked down and recalled. This has happened in past years as well—a cheese grater (after years of use in a home kitchen), fences, La-Z-Boy recliner chairs and table legs were found to be radioactive. One Christmas in the UK a kids’ Santa-land was found to be radioactive. Whether from deliberate release of nuclear metal into recycling or accidental melting of radioactive material into the mix, the goal needs to be prevention. But government agencies around the world are moving in the other direction.

The US Department of Energy (DOE)’s mission is to promote nuclear technology. With over a dozen weapons complex sites to manage, DOE and its sister agency National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) handle enormous amounts radioactive materials and wastes constantly. Their clean-up plans appear much cheaper if they can sell radioactive metal into recycling instead of pay for trying to isolate it from the environment for the decades to millennia it will remain radioactive. 

In 2000, public attention was focused on several nuclear industry and regulatory to make it legal to let nuclear waste out of control and into everyday commercial recycling. Public opposition was loud and clear in the U.S. and resulted in a victory for the public, but to DOE and NNSA it was apparently just a long set-back on the unrelenting desire to not take proper care of nuclear waste. Then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson blocked the release of thousands of tons of volumetrically radioactive contaminated metal into everyday ecycling. It was a further success for the public and metal industry when he suspended the release of all scrap metal from radioactive areas of the US nuclear weapons complex from going into commercial recycling.

The DOE moratorium and suspension on release of radioactive metal into recycling for the past 13 years has prevented exposure to transport workers, metal workers, the public and the environment that cannot be quantified. But NNSA and DOE, tired of managing the waste and not wanting to pay the costs of disposal, are now moving to do away with the bans and resume dispersing radioactive metal into our lives.

The agencies expect to release an Environmental Assessment (EA 1919) for public comment before the end of 2012. It is expected to try to provide the authority to the DOE to approve the release of radioactive scrap metal into commercial recycling using either site specific or preapproved “authorized” limits, as if DOE and NNSA have the moral authority to contaminate the metal supply for the sake of costs. When the Secretary Richardson suspended recycling of scrap metal, he cited poor record keeping, unverifiable detection procedures, incomplete historical knowledge and inadequate or nonexistent documentation. Research carried out by NIRS in 2003 to 2007 confirmed these problems. Some are inherent and cannot be solved.

The fact that radiation is more harmful to women cannot be remedied by any amount of record keeping. The fact that kids are even more at risk makes this the radiation fight of our lives.

The Metal Industries Recycling Coalition, comprised of most metal industries’ trade associations (except aluminum), has opposed the release of radioactive metal into the recycling stream due to public concerns, worker concerns and enormous costs to decontaminate their facilities. They have worked hard to recycle as much as possible and persuade the public of the positive value of recycling, so don’t want to mix in any radioactive waste. Will DOE be able to convince them and the public that the metal from contamination areas is actually clean? Are we back to the conflict of interest inherent in the owners/managers of the waste being trusted to detect and isolate or release some detectable level of radioactivity? Will they choose some allowable contamination level or set the detectors so nothing detectable can get out. Neither is full prevention when there is no safe level of exposure.

The nuclear interests in the European Union demanded that all member states adopt, by 2004, “clearance” levels from the 1996 European Commission Directive 96/29/Euratom. The industry selected 10 microSieverts (or 1 millirem)/year as a clearance level but allowed an unlimited number of waste streams or truckloads--each of which could be released, making these unenforceable and unverifiable exposures.

In the U.S., efforts by the DOE, NRC and EPA were repeatedly stopped so, at the advice of the National Academy of Sciences, these efforts were moved to decentralized deregulation of wastes. Thus Tennessee became a major center taking nuclear waste for processing.” Without public knowledge, increasing amounts of nuclear waste have been going to regular trash landfills, some already leaking. Numerous radioactive incinerators operate in the state. Another has started in Washington near Hanford and there is one for medical research waste in Florida. In 2012, another processor opened shop on Lake Erie in Ohio, NewGreen. The owner is inviting the Bruce Steam generators to Ohio for processing. It is not clear whether New Green can send metal to commercial recycling, but it is also unclear how to prove they and the Tennessee processors are not doing so.

Following a series of setbacks due to public opposition, and under the guise of “harmonization,” U.S. agencies joined forces with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international industry groups to use their industry recommendations as justification for weakening U.S. standards. The NRC sought the authority of the National Academy of Sciences, hiring them to study how to let the waste out of regulatory control. 

In 1988 without public knowledge, DOE adopted Internal Order 5400.5 and referred to Order 5820.2A which directed that some radioactivity could be considered “Below Regulatory Concern” (BRC), consistent with the BRC policy of the NRC. But Congress revoked NRC’s BRC policies in 1992 because of public, state and other industry opposition. DOE continued to use Chapters 2 and 4 of 5400.5 to release radioactively contaminated materials and property other than metal from DOE controls at higher levels than NRC had attempted (some at up to 100 millirems/year, or 1 milliSievert/year) if there were no other sources of exposure and in some cases for limited number of years, 500 millirems/year or 5 mSv/year. In 2011 DOE replaced 5400.5 with DOE Order 458.1 clarifying allowable releases. The new DOE Order is allegedly the justification for overturning the DOE bans. 

A Sample Resolution is available against radioactive transport and melting into commercial metal. It started as an effort to stop steam generators from the Bruce Nuclear Power reactors in Canada being shipped through the Great Lakes, St Lawrence Seaway, Atlantic Ocean, and treacherous passages to the Baltic Sea for alleged cleaning and melting into metal for the everyday metal supply. Hundreds of organizations, individuals and many local governments came out against releasing nuclear waste into regular trash and recycling. It is time to reactivate and expand the knowledge about this unacceptable threat.

Source: Out of Control — On Purpose pp, 23-27.)

Profiles in monitoring: a quick round-up in global leadership in gathering radiation data

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

M. Kaltofen -- Natick, Ma, uSa
Mr. Kaltofen, a professional engineer, is president of Boston Chemical Data Corporation and participates as a technical expert for environmentally regulated activities and in legal actions, having arrived at this work as a natural progression from Project Coordinator for Greenpeace UK and founder and principal at Citizen's Environmental Laboratory that performed services for people, local governments and others impacted by contaminated sites.

Marco's work since Fukushima has displayed a rough-and-ready creativity that has made detection of radiation much easier and less costly and therefore more accessible. The air filter from an automobile offers a very good analog to respiration by lungs--and can be cut open and laid on photographic film for an immediate assessment of levels of "hot particles."


S. Gavutis, c-10 research and education Foundation, Newburyport, Ma, uSa
In the 1970's a large network of activists known as the Clamshell Alliance opposed the construction of nuclear power reactors, with a primary focus of nonviolent direct action on the Seabrook site in New Hampshire. In 1986, as the construction of Seabrook 
moved forward, a group known as Citizens Within The 10-Mile Radius formed--and more than 5000 members challenged the evacuation plans for the site. In 1991 Sandy, supported by this strong community, founded C-10 as an ongoing nexus for a citizen monitoring network in Massachusetts and New Hampshire which continues to this day. 


D. Sythe -- International Medcom, Sebastapol, CA and one of the Safecast team
A globe trotter with a long history of creative innovation and service to the needs of humankind, Dan is the principle founder of the California-based International Medcom which provides the basic, relatively affordable "RadAlert" and also more sophisticated digital radiation monitors. When Fukushima melted down, Dan was, of course, mobilized to assist people in Japan with the daunting task of acquiring reliable information about radiation levels. There is a very interesting (long) "origin story" for Safecast, but suffice it to say, Dan's hardware genius was taken hand by the digital kings and queens of the planet, and Safecast was born as a way to track radiation levels using sensors on the outside of a car or bike. This campaign has normalized the collection of data on ambient radioactivity to where, at long last, we have a large body of data available that is "apples being compared to apples" not that old "orange" problem.

Source: .

C. Courbon and B. Chareyron -- CRLLRAD, Valence, France
CRIIRAD, the "Commission for Independent Research and Information about Radiation" led by Christian and Bruno, have organized visits and measurements in areas located in the vicinity of uranium mines in Namibia; Chernobyl and its fallout across Europe; and now Fukushima. This team was one of the first publishing independent evaluations of radiation levels in Fukushima see:
They have an enormous catalog on YouTube, primarily in French, but this item (in English) on detecting radiation in food is a classic:

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 

Startling News for Reactor Communities: Radiation Spikes During Refueling

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) reported in august 2012 on some sleuth work by its affiliate in Germany that turned up documentation of a short-term spike 200--500 higher amounts of radioactive gases being released from the Gundremmingen reactor site in Southern Germany. the investigators established that this rise was associated with the opening of the reactor vessel, as is routinely done for reactor refueling and inspections. Further, the group reported that the elevation of radioactive pollution persisted for the next week, well above usual levels during ongoing operations.

The numbers for concentrations of noble gases reported by IPPNW are: 3 Bq/m3 for usual operations; the spikes were 700 Bq/m3 increasing to a peak of 1470 Bq/m3 in the initial hours after the vessel was opened, then tapering down to an average of 100 Bq/m3 for the next week.

Every reactor generates radioactive gases during normal operation, including noble gases, tritium, carbon-14, iodine and small amounts of volatile cesium and strontium. Reactor vessels are not designed to capture the gases that are present in the core prior to opening for activities like refueling or maintenance and inspections. When the core is opened, these gases escape.

The IPPNW's Reinhold Theil points out that these airborne emissions are of particular risk for women and pregnant women in the vicinity since women are at elevated risk for cancer, and the embryo and fetus suffer the greatest impacts from radiation exposure during gestation; the female fetus is at the highest risk. Tritium has the potential to cross the placental barrier to enter the fetus directly. Gamma emissions from noble gases are also a threat since these inert elements, if inhaled, are likely to be stored in fat deposits of the mother, typically near to the abdomen.

This situation has remained secret, or at the least invisible for the last six decades of reactor operation worldwide because the regulators allow self-reporting of emissions rather than publicly available real-time monitoring, and because regulations allow averaging over the reporting period. Since the NRC requires only annual reports, that allows the US reactor operators to hide these 500 times higher spikes above "usual" by leveling it in the typically lower levels of release.

Source: security.html?expand=707&cHash=8752881e4a


U.S. EPA and NRC Reducing Radiation Protection Standards Parallels seen to Japanese Industry collusion with “Regulators” to Weaken Standards

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

As Nuclear Monitor readers know, the International commission on radiological Protection (IcrP) is a self-appointed, self-perpetuating, nuclear power-promoting organization that set itself up to give the world the impression they are independent experts.

In 2007, the ICRP published 103 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protectionwith input from the nuclear establishment around the world. Since then, nuclear governments around the world have been adopting the parts that their own nuclear industry likes best. U.S. agencies are in the midst of this activity. Although it is much of the basis for the world’s radiation standards, the report is not free to read. Only an except is available for free on the web. (1)

It was recently revealed by Associated Press that Japanese nuclear utilities fund the Japanese representative to the ICRP. (2) This is routine procedure but not publicly known. Members of the ICRP are without exception strong nuclear advocates.

In 2004, NIRS recommended two public interest members (Dr Judith Johnsrud and Dennis Nelson, both from the U.S.) be added to the ICRP, specifically the committee making recommendations on allowable environmental releases and exposure to non-human species. We were told we have to raise our own money to send them to the meetings but even after we committed to that the ICRP refused to acknowledge or consider nuclear critics.

In the U.S., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are undertaking major radiation regulation changes, both weakening radiation protection for the public and environment. The Department of Energy (DOE) already adopted changes to its internal orders, adopting some of the provisions that the public and metal industry strongly opposed in the late 1990s.

The same EPA offices that are pushing to weaken U.S. radiation standards, the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air and the Office of Emergency Management, are advising the Japanese on cleanup and allowable contamination levels. They seem to be using a new Protective Action Guide even though that Guide has not been adopted in the U.S. and ignoring the EPA's traditional risk range and advising higher exposures. These offices were part of the team with DOE, NRC and others that advised the Department of Homeland Security to adopt Dirty Bomb cleanup guidance (3) in 2008 that that would allow people to move back into areas that dosed them with up to 10 rads/year. National Academy of Sciences BEIR VII risk numbers show that allowing habitation in a radiation field of that level would cause cancer in 1 in 3 people living there for years.

The EPA may also be pushing to increase the allowable maximum contamination levels in drinking water above those currently allowed, radionuclide by radionuclide. In a previously proposed version of the Protective Action Guidance, which was pulled back in 2009, the allowable concentrations of radionuclides were increased hundreds to hundreds of thousands of times.

The NRC staff is recommending to the five Commissioners that they selectively adopt the parts of the ICRP recommendations that the nuclear industry wants, rather than the whole thing.(4) There is no acknowledgement of the public interest and public health comments evident in their ongoing document preparation. The U.S. still allows workers to get 2 ½ times more exposure than ICRP recommends (5 rems/year vs 2 rems/year). ICRP recommends “clearance,” exemption and exclusion of some radioactive waste and materials so their doses are not even considered and they can be released from controls. NRC wants to adopt this but the public opposition is still strong so they are finding other, more secretive ways of letting the waste out of controls. Watch for more on NRC rulemaking, ignoring the most vulnerable in future Nuclear Monitors.

In 1970, when the EPA was created by Congress, one its responsibilities was protecting the public and the environment from ionizing radiation. Congress had not expressly ruled that it is legal to kill people from exposure to chemicals, radiation or other pollutants, but the EPA adopted an “acceptable risk range,” committing to keep contamination low enough to cause only 1 cancer in a million people exposed over their lifetime. If that is not possible, EPA can permit higher risks—1 in 100,000 or, at the worst, 1 in 10,000 people exposed to get cancer. This has been supported by the courts and has been the basis for Superfund cleanup levels, site decommissioning and the drinking water standards. Like all the other agencies, EPA uses risk numbers based on the “standard man” rather than protecting the most vulnerable—women, children, the fetus, those with reduced immunity or high accumulations of radiation in their bodies already and the elderly. So everyone other than the standard man or the averaged adult (average of men and women’s risk) is actually at even higher risk than 1 in 10,000. Regardless, EPA’s radiation standards for water are generally much more protective than other radiation standards in the U.S. Thus they are a target for the nuclear industry which needs ever higher allowable release levels to continue operating and to manage its waste.

During the years that George W. Bush was president, the EPA devised a plan to “update” –read gut—EPA’s Protective Action Guidance (PAG) for protection of the U.S. population from radiation. On his very last day in office the proposal was sent to the Federal Register to be published. To their credit, at that time, the-new EPA Director Lisa Jackson, under newly elected President Obama, pulled the PAGs back. Because the proposed contamination levels and subsequent risks were so high, a coalition of national organizations met with all of the EPA Deputy Administrators to ask that the Bush-era PAGs be completely withdrawn. But they appear to have lived on. Now, at the tail end of 2012, a version of these PAGs is at the Office of Management and Budget, which is the last step before apublic comment period and adoption by EPA. This is expected to be one of several radioactive 2012 holiday gifts to the U.S. public from the agencies charged with protecting us from radiation.

The following analysis comes from the presentation made to the EPA Administrators (5)

Although the specifics of the proposed Protective Action Guidance is not public as of this writing, indications are that it is very similar, possibly worse in some ways, than the one pulled back in 2009.

Keep in mind that 1 cancer in 10,000 (1x 10e-4) is the EPA’s traditional highest allowable risk. A cumulative (not annual) dose of 100 millirems or 1 milliSievert gives a risk higherthan 1 in 10,000. According to EPA’s own Blue Book, EPA 402-R-11-001, Radiogenic Cancer Risk Models & Projections for the U.S. Population, (6) 87 millirems or .87 milliSievert will cause ~1 in 10,000 over their lifetime to get cancer. [Calculation is 0.087 rem x (1.16 x 10e-3 {the NAS BEIRVII risk}) cancers per rem = 1 x 10e-4]. Again this is for standard men or averaged adults, not women, who get 50% more cancer than men from the same amount of radiation, nor for kids-- especially baby girls--who are at greatest risk. According to EPA’s own Blue Book data, exposures before age 30 produce ~1.8 times more cancers than to older people. To be within the risk range, no one should get more than a few millirems (or a few tens of microSieverts) per year exposure.

100 millirem/year for 30 years would, according to EPA’s own risk figures, result in cancer incidence about two orders of magnitude higher than the highest end of EPA’s risk range. NRC’s general limits are, in fact, 100 mrem/year. DOE’s are 100 to 500 mrem/year.

Radiation exposure to a female infant, according to EPA, will result in 4-5 times the cancer risk than the age- and gender-averaged risk used in the regulations. This doesn’t take into account that the same amount of radioactivity ingested or inhaled can result in a much higher dose in an infant because of the small body size.

So, exposure to 2000 mrem or 20mSv per year--the controversial Japanese emergency standard for kids during school hours, and the existing US level for the intermediate period after a dirty bomb or other radiation incident--would result, according to EPA’s official risk figures, in a radiation-induced cancer risk of 2.3 in 1000 which is about one in five hundred, an order of magnitude higher than EPA’s 1 in 10,000.

The 2007 EPA draft Protective Action Guide would have allowed inadequate cleanup of a radiation event by permitting options from a range of benchmark cleanup levels: 

  • 0.1  rem (100 mr or 1 mSv), 
  • 1 rem (1000mr or 10 mSv) 1 or 
  • 10 rems/year (10,000 mr or 100 mSv).

It is believed that these benchmark levels are not expressly listed in the current EPA PAG proposal but that they are implied as options to be considered if and when needed.

Over 30 years of exposure at these rates, the risks are respectively, 7 in 1000, 7 in 100 and 7 in 10 people getting cancer over their lifetimes. Obviously these are much greater risks than EPA’s 1 in a million to 1 in 10,000 range.

The ICRP-recommended process of “Optimization” would still be used, but might not be stated as such. “Optimization” is a calculation done by the licensee or waste generator to keep exposures as low as reasonably achievable, taking economic and social factors into account. Differing, greater health impacts to various members of the population do not have to be considered when “optimizing” allowable exposures. NIRS has commented to ICRP against this manipulation from its inception. DOE has embraced it in its recent internal radiation orders.

Details of the Multi-group presentation to EPA re upcoming Protective Action Guides and inadequate response to Fukushima is at

(3)  Federal Register Volume 73, Number 149 (August 1, 2008) Pages 45029-45048
(5)  (

Low-Dose Radiation Impact -- New analysis takes "Radiation is good for you" head-on and says "No"

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Moller and Mousseau

Anders Møller and timothy Mousseau are a research team routinely looking at the impact of radiation from both chernobyl and Fukushima on plants and animals (see radiation Shorts in this issue for further coverage). their considerable and growing body of work has turned up questions about variability in radiation impact on different species. this year, in part to provide baseline information on this issue of variability, the two turned their considerable quantitative skills to the question of whether 1000-fold differences in ambient levels of radiation around our planet, due to differences in elements in the soil and rocks at these locations have impacted evolutionary processes in plants and animals. In addition, the two squarely ask: if there is any impact, is it harmful or beneficial? 

"The flipside of negative fitness consequences is evolutionary adaptation to radiation...Here we suggest that the documented consequences of naturally increased levels of background radiation have important implications for hormesis. In particular, we would expect that radiation hormetic effects should be found in areas with higher levels of natural background radiation because of adaptation to such enhanced levels of radiation, and we predict that on average radiation should have positive effects on the wellbeing of humans and other organisms if hormesis operates at naturally occurring low-dose radiation." 

Since industry-paid experts persist in bringing forward hormesis (the notion that some radiation exposure can be good for you), this study provides a powerful reply not from cells in a dish in a laboratory, but from nature, and over the timescale where one would expect to be able to measure the benefits if they are there--evolutionary time.

Variations in natural background radiation result from variation in radioactivity in Earth's rocks and soils, either due to geological processes or, and in some cases, large extraterrestrial impacts. In this study the authors are explicitly not looking at sites with radioactivity from atomic military or industrial activity.

"The effects of natural variation in background radioactivity on humans, animals and other organisms"published in November 2012, is a "meta-analysis" in which Møller and Mousseau identified about 5000 previously published papers on this subject, and from these selected 46 to apply statistical analysis. Spanning multiple continents, many species and a variety of focal points of research, the two conclude that natural low-level radioactivity is damaging, even in the long time frames in which adaptation is possible. This finding is important since contamination from human atomic activities (nearly all within the 20th and 21st centuries) has not had sufficient time to produce the long-term consequences that radiation-induced selection on the study sites, where evolutionary time frame has passed.

"...this review attempts to provide baseline information concerning the potential consequences of nuclear accidents like those at Chernobyl and Fukushima."

Møller and Mousseau expressly looked for, but did not find, positive effects from radiation in 46 studies that looked at a control population and a population exposed to elevated radiation where the levels of radiation were monitored in both groups. The studies varied in focal point but included including findings on rates of mutation, DNA repair, physiology, morphology, disease rates, shifts in immunological function, sex ratio and fecundity in human beings, other animals, plants and fungi. The statistical analysis made possible from aggregating the populations across 46 studies is very powerful and enabled very clear findings that were not due to "random chance" (i.e. statistically significant) in every dimension examined, and those findings are that radiation causes harm, even at very low levels, and even over very long periods of time when any adaptation that was going to happen would have happened.

Because claims of hormesis from industry employed experts are again becoming a drumbeat, we offer this lengthy excerpt from Møller and Mousseau:

“Hormesis is defined as a beneficial effect of normal background radiation on life-history traits such as fecundity and longevity compared to levels achieved in the complete absence of radiation (reviews in Kondo, 1993; Luckey, 1991). If hormetic effects of radiation on fitness exist, we should expect that the optimal level of radiation should increase with background radiation level. If hormesis has evolved as a consequence of local adaptation to specific levels of radiation, we might even find that all populations should perform best at some local level of radiation; exceeding their performance in the absence of radiation. The latter scenario would suggest that fitness should be independent of level of natural background radiation. In either case we should not expect to find increased mutation rates, impaired immune function, increased incidence of disease and increased mortality in areas with higher levels of normal background radiation. Our findings are clearly inconsistent with a general role for hormesis in adaptation to elevated levels of natural background radiation.”

Indeed, across the 46 studies included, the authors found elevated rates of deleterious mutation, aberrant morphology, and disease (including cancer in humans) resulting from multiple measurable impacts of radiation, including impaired immuno-function and reduced rates of DNA repair. The pair chose to exclude radon exposure, explaining that there is a large literature that could dilute the studies of other types of exposure, and radon studies are reviewed elsewhere. Interestingly, the authors do note cases of radiation resistance--reduced rates of damage--which is differentiated from hormesis. The theory of hormesis is that radiation confers benefit. The discussion of resistance to radiation focuses on lower animal/bacteria and likely increased resistance to oxidation. Plants, where one might assume to see greater adaptation, actually show the highest level of harm from growing in more radioactive soils. The authors do note, however, that "there is no evidence of radio-tolerance or radioresistance in humans."

Paper reviewed here:
Anders P. Møller, Timothy A. Mousseau. the effects of natural variation in background radioactivity on humans, animals and other organisms. Biological Reviews,2012

Other reporting on this study:
Science Daily reports University of South Carolina. "Even lowlevel radioactivity is damaging, scientists conclude."ScienceDaily,13 Nov. 2012. Web. 2 Dec. 2012.
Archive of the studies underlying this paper: 
Archive of Møller and Mousseau (et al) papers on Chernobyl:
Initial study of Fukushima by Møller and Mousseau


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.

US warned Kodak, not us, about radioactive fallout (John LaForge)

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
John LaForge

In the 1950s and '60s, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) doused the United States with thyroid cancer-causing iodine-131 − and 300 other radioisotopes − by exploding atomic and hydrogen bombs above ground in Nevada. To protect the dirty, secretive bomb-building industry, the government chose to warn the photographic film industry about the radioactive fallout patterns, but not the public.

In 1951, Eastman Kodak Co. had threatened a federal lawsuit over the nuclear fallout that was fogging its bulk film shipments. Film was not packed in bubble wrap then, but in corn stalks that were sometimes being fallout-contaminated. By agreeing to warn Kodak, etc., the AEC and the bomb program avoided the public uproar − and the bomb testing program's possible cancellation − that a lawsuit would have precipitated. The settlement kept the deadliness of the fallout hidden from the public, even though the government well knew that fallout endangered all the people it was supposed to be defending.

This staggering revelation was heralded on September 30, 1997, in the New York Times headline, "U.S. Warned Film Plants, Not Public, About Nuclear Fallout." The article began, "(W)hile the government reassured the public that there was no health threat from atmospheric nuclear tests. ..." The fallout's radioactive iodine-131 caused thyroid doses to virtually all 160 million Americans.

According to the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma Park, Md., which discovered the cover-up, children were especially affected and received higher doses because they generally consumed more milk than adults and since their thyroids are smaller and growing more rapidly. The "milk pathway" moves radio-iodine from grass, to cows, to milk with extreme efficiency − a fact known to the government as early as 1951. Ingested iodine-131 concentrates in the thyroid gland where it can cause cancer. Doses to children averaged 6 to 14 rads (0.06−0.14 Gy), with some as high as 112 rads (1.12 Gy). Before 1997, the government claimed that thyroid doses to children were 15 to 70 times less.

Radioactive fallout spread to every corner of the US
My friend Steve O'Neil of Duluth, Minn., who was born in 1951, has been a public-spirited political activist all of his adult life, an advocate for the homeless and a campaigner against the causes of homelessness. As a St. Louis County commissioner in his third term, Steve made headlines by announcing that he has been attacked by an aggressive form of thyroid cancer. Steve is not alone in his affliction − more than 60,000 thyroid cancers will be spotted this year in the US. Tens of thousands of them have been caused by our government's nuclear weapons establishment.

The National Cancer Institute disclosed in 1997 that 75,000 thyroid cancer cases can be expected in the U.S. from just 90 − out of 235 − above-ground bomb tests and that 10% of them will be fatal. That year, the cancer institute said, about 70% of the thyroid cancers caused by iodine-131 fallout from those 90 tests had not yet been diagnosed but would appear years or decades later.

Its 14-year study said the 90 bomb blasts produced more than 100 times the radioactive iodine-131 than the government had earlier claimed. The cancer institute estimated that the tests dispersed "about 150 million curies of iodine-131, mainly in the years 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1957." The study reported that all 160 million people in the country at the time were exposed to iodine-131 (the only isotope it studied out of more than 300 dispersed by the blasts.) Children under 15, like Steve O'Neil, were particularly at risk.

High doses of fallout were spread nationwide. Wind patterns and local rainfall caused "hot spots" from Montana and Idaho to South Dakota, Minnesota, and Missouri and beyond.

In 1962, according to IEER, officials in Utah and Minnesota diverted possibly contaminated milk from the market when iodine-131 levels exceeded radiation guidelines set by the Federal Radiation Council. The council reacted harshly and declared that it did "not recommend such actions." It also announced that its radiation guidelines should not be applied to bomb test fallout because "any possible health risk which may be associated with exposures even many times above the guide levels would not result in a detectable increase in the incidence of disease." IEER's scientists condemned this fabulously implausible assurance, writing: "Since thyroid cancers can develop many years after radiation exposure and are therefore not immediately detectable, this reassurance was highly misleading."

Thyroid cancers are tip of bomb test cancer iceberg
The cancer institute's 1997 study said about 16,000 cases of thyroid cancer were diagnosed in the U.S. annually, and that 1,230 would die from the disease. It was a gross understatement.

Today it reports that 60,220 cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in the US this year, and that 1,850 of them will be fatal.

The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation says that iodine-131 doses comprise only 2% of the overall radiation dose from weapons testing. Ninety-eight percent of the fallout dose is from 300 other isotopes produced by the bomb. It is not idle speculation to suggest that the cancer pandemic afflicting the U.S. has been caused by our government's deliberately secret and viciously reckless weapons program.

This article appeared earlier in the Las Vegas Review Journal.
Author: John LaForge works for Nukewatch, a nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin, USA, edits its Quarterly newsletter and is syndicated through PeaceVoice.