insightsbalk5
insightsbalk5

insight items

about study

reports

critiques

insightsbalk5
insightsbalk5

Health risks of nuclear power

November 2010

Abstract

This study starts with a physical assessment of the quantities of the radioactivity being generated and mobilized by the entire system of related industrial processes making civilian nuclear power possible. It assesses the actual and potential exposure of the public to natural and human-made nuclear radioactivity, and it discusses empirical evidence of harmful health effects of these exposures. The biomedical effects of radionuclides in the human body are briefly discussed.

Furthermore this study analyses the mechanisms which may cause the uncontrolled spread of very large amounts of radioactivity into the environment. The study explains some consequences of a basic law of nature (Second Law) for the health risks of nuclear power now and in the future. Misconceptions, uncertainties and unknowns of the nuclear safety issue are addressed. Risk enhancing factors are discussed, along with the consequences of the present economic paradigm for the health risks of nuclear power at this moment and in the future.

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Ian Fairlie for reviewing this report and for his suggestions, Angelo Baracca for his suggestions, and Stephen Thomas and John Busby for their comments. The author notes that this report does not necessarily reflect their opinion.

[download pdf full report]

Contents

Summary

1 Introduction

2 Origin of nuclear health risks

2.1 The nuclear energy system

Nuclear process chain

Nuclear chain as it ought to be

Nuclear chain: the current practice

2.2 Mobilization and generation of radioactivity

Mobilizing natural radioactivity

Generating radioactivity

Nuclear bomb equivalents

Immobilizing radioactivity

2.3 Exponential growth of the mobile radioactivity

Mobile radioactivity and the Second Law

2.4 Engineered safety

Bathtub hazard function

Bathtub curve and nuclear technology

2.5 Immobilization of radioactivity

Isolation

2.6 Solutions from cyberspace

Vitrification

Transmutation

Box 1 Second Law

3 Radioactivity and health

3.1 Radioactive decay of human-made radioactivity

3.2 Radioactivity in the human body

Effects

Biochemical aspects of radioactivity

Non-targeted and delayed effects

3.3 Tritium, carbon-14 and krypton-85 Tritium Carbon-14 Krypton-85

3.4 The KiKK study

Box 2 Nuclear radiation

4 Pathways of nuclear health risks

4.1 Releases of radioactivity into the environment

Routine releases

Unauthorized discharges

Severe accidents

Risk-enhancing factors

Cumulation effects

4.2 Uranium mining

Mine reclamation

4.3 Routine releases of the nuclear chain

Front end

Reactors

Interim storage of spent fuel

Reprocessing plants

4.4 Other sources of radioactive contamination

Depleted uranium

Orphan sources

Cleanup, decommissioning and dismantling of nuclear plants

4.5 Extent of large-scale accidents

4.6 Conceivable sources of large-scale accidents

Reactor

Spent fuel storage

Reprocessing waste

Geologic repository

4.7 Terrorism and MOX

4.8 Risk-enhancing factors

Human factor

Illegal trade, smuggling and criminality

Transport

Armed conflicts

Box 3 Radionuclides in dismantling scrap and debris of a nuclear power plant

5 Views of the nuclear industry

5.1 Safety studies of the nuclear industry

5.2 Reliance on models

Uncertainties in dose estimates

Uncertainties in risk estimates

Troublesome detection of radionuclides

Limited significance of models

About the radiological models used by the nuclear industry

5.3 Entanglement of interests

6 Health risks and economics

6.1 Energy on credit

6.2 Monetary debt

6.3 Economic challenge

Misconception

6.4 Economic pressure

Price-Anderson Act

Deregulation

Relaxation of exposure and activity standards

Standards and quality control

Independency of inspections

6.5 Health risks of nuclear power: an economic notion

Conclusions

References and endnotes

i01

i02

i03

i04

i05

i06

i07

i08

i09

i10

i11

i12

i13

i14

i15

i16

i17

i18

i19

i20

i21

i22

i23

i24

i25

i26

i27

i28

i29

i30

i31

i32

i33

i34

i35

i36

i37

i38

i39

i40

i41

i42

i43

i44

i45

i46

i47