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i25

Health risks of nuclear power

Reliance on models

The official radiation dose-effect standards are based on a sequence of (old) models, which are hard to understand, even for scientists, and are based on a number of more or less arbitrary assumptions. The estimates resulting from these models have a large uncertainty range. Any model has its limitations and if one model generates the input for a subsequent model the uncertainties may cumulate considerably [more i45].

The official standards do not cover mechanisms of biochemically active radionuclides emitting soft or no gamma radiation, which enter the human body by inhalation of gases and/or dust, or by ingesting via drinking water and food, and do not incorporate insights and evidence from the last decades.

What was the original purpose of the exposure and dose-effect models? To estimate the acute radiological risks for military personel in wartime, or to estimate the health risks for the public chronically exposed to radioactivity from civilian nuclear power? Health risk estimates should be based on published and verfiable scientific evidence, not on computer models originating from the closed nuclear world and based on secret data. Independent epidemiological studies proved the official models to be unable to explain the observed results.

History shows that the official standards for allowable doses and radioactive content of drinking water and food can easily be relaxed under economic pressure, recently during the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. These relaxations were not based on sound scientific evidence, but were established merely for economic reasons [more i26].

Pathways of radioactive discharges

Hazardous radioactive materials can enter (and are entering) the environment via many pathways [more i17]:

• Authorized intentional releases

• Unauthorized and often unnoticed releases, small-scale accidents,

• Illegal trade, smuggling and criminality involving radioactive materials.

• Transport of radioactive materials,

• Terrorism,

• Armed conflicts, also with conventional weapons,

• Severe accidents.

The probability of unauthorized releases of radioactive materials and severe accidents grows with time, due to the ever increasing amounts of man-made radioactivity and the progressive ageing and unavoidable deterioration of the storage facilities and shielding materials of spent fuel and other radioactive wastes. The laws of nature are relentless.

Risk enhancing factors

In addition to the probability of random technical failures of nuclear-related installations, there are a number of risk-enhancing factors, such as:

• Human factor: sloppy maintenance, bad management, flawed problem identification and resolution programs, shortages of qualified personel, violation of safety specifications, etcetera.

• Illegal trade, smuggling and criminality. Detection of radioactive scrap is troublesome and can easily be disguised. Nuclear-related materials are often of high value on the free market. With time the amounts of suspect materials on the market increases.

• Political instability may evoke terrorism and armed conflicts. Also a conflict with conventional weapons could cause large radioactive contamination if nuclear installations are involved.

• Questionable independency of inspections and safety control.

• Insufficient possibilities of detection of dangerous radioactive materials.

• Insufficient monitoring of food and drinking water on dangerous radionuclides, for example tritium and carbon-14.

• Insufficient knowledge of the chronic effects of permissable releases from nuclear power plants and ,to a greater extent, the permissable releases from reprocessing plants.

• False sense of safety - when people erroneously think radioactivity poses no danger - may result in the omission of precautionary measures by authorities and individuals. A false feeling of no danger can result from the absence of adequate measurement and/or insufficient or even incorrect information.

• The often long time lag between exposure to radioactivity and the first observable effects may also cause a false sense of safety.

• Downplay of the health risks by nuclear experts and/or authorities, for reason of financial and/or political interests.

• Creeping relaxation of the permissable exposure to radioactivity. A permissable standard defined as x units above 'background level' is not unambiguous: the background level rises when radioactivity is being released over longer periods, for instance by routine releases.

• Unpredictable natural events.

• Economic priorities [more i26].

Long time lag

Nuclear safety may easily become an ostensible safety, due to the often long time lag (months, years, decades) between cause (inhalation or ingestion af radioactive material) and observable health effect [more i22]. This time lag gives the opportunity to downplay the dangers associated with radioactivity, unfortunately a common pheneomenon within the nuclear world. For that reason the time lag contributes to the unsafety of nuclear power.

Cumulation effects

The amounts of radioactive substances routinely discharged in a given year into the environment may perhaps seem relatively insignificant, however, year over year the released radionuclides can regionally build up to significant concentrations in groundwater and soil. Moreover a number of long-lived radionuclides accumulate in the food chain to high concentrations, even in a medium at very low concentrations of radionuclides (e.g. seawater). Cumulation of radionuclides into the food chain greatly amplifies the health risks of routine or accidental discharges of radionuclides. This mechanism is not addressed in detail in this study, to limit its scope.

Health risks of nuclear power and economics

Inherently safe nuclear power is inherently impossible and there are no unambiguous nuclear health and safety standards possible based on unambiguous scientific and medical empirical evidence. This observation and the issues addressed in this study are pointing to the conclusion [more i14, i15,i26]:

Health risks of nuclear power are an economically defined notion.

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TC14pathv3

Figure 25-1. Pathways of contamination with tritium and carbon-14.

Pathways of radioactive hydrogen (tritium) and radioactive carbon-14 into the human metabolism. Both radionuclides are routinely released into the environment by operating nuclear power plants. The pathways are similar. It is generally assumed that damage to DNA molecules cause adverse health effects. Cell damage turns out to be not limited to the cells directly hit by radiation, due to non-targeted effects and the bystander effect. It is not known if and how radiation damage to other biomolecules could cause adverse health effects.

T = tritium, HTO is radioactive tritiated water, OBT is organic bound tritium. 14C = carbon-14, H14CO2 = radioactive hydrogen carbonate dissolved in water, OBC = organic bound carbon-14.