Downplaying the hazards
Long time lag
Quantification of the relationship between exposure to radioactivity and the (allways adverse) effects is problemic. Usually it is hardly possible to prove unambiguously the relationship between a once contracted dose of radiation with an individual and carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic effects, for several reasons:
• long incubation periods, months to years or decades
• stochastic character of the biological effects
• basic biomedical unknowns.
The long time lag between exposure and observable health effects - for example the heritable damage to egg cells in young women may only become evident after some 30 years - forces the medical sciences to employ special methods to assess the hazards of nuclear power.
The long time delay gives the nuclear industry the opportunity to downplay the effects and even to deny in many cases that radioactivity caused the observed adverse health effects. Other factors are blamed to be the cause of observed disorders, sometimes even psychosomatic factors: ‘radiophobia’, the angst of radiation. Of course assertions of this kind come from people living far from radioactive-contaminated areas.
From a purely scientific point of view above assertions are fundamentally flawed. When it is not possible to unambiguously prove that radioactivity is the cause of the adverse health effects observed at a given time in a given region, then you have to prove that radioactivity cannot be the cause. Just on base of such a falsification procedure one may assert that radioactivity is not the cause but other factors are.
During many years the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), World Health Organization (WHO) and the nuclear industry claimed that the death toll of the disaster at Chernobyl was 31, later rised to 64. Apparently only the victims of non-stochastic effects, who died within days, have been counted. The death toll world wide of the Chernobyl disaster is estimated at nearly one million people, based on publications from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, which the IAEA and WHO did not study. In addition to these victims there are innumerable people with incurable diseases and malformations following the disaster in 1986.
At present the nuclear world is strongly downplaying the gravity of the Fukushima disaster, which is classified as 'non-catastrophic' or even having 'no ill effects'. The worst effects in the industrial view are economic losses and less support for new nuclear power stations.
Reliable investigation of the effects of radioactivity in the human evironment needs the registration of cases over a long time span. By means of epidemiological studies an independent assessment of the consequences of exposure, especially chronic exposure, to radioactivity is possible. Unfortunately such registrations usually remain undone, intentionally or for economic reasons.
Epidemiological studies are also needed to analyse the effects of permanent exposure to low doses of radionuclides via water and food in contaminated areas, not only after a large accident, but also near nominally operating nuclear power plants en reprocessing plants.
Major independent epidemiological studies in Germany and France found a strong connection of the incidence of cancers with young childern and the proximity of their living location to nominally functioning nuclear power plants. The existing models of dose-effect relationships cannot explain the results of these studies.
The IAEA, WHO, UNSCEAR and nuclear industry [more i01] are now playing down the consequences of the Fukushima disaster of people living in the contaminated regions. Assertions as 'no casualities', 'no ill effects' or 'no ill effects expected' are seriously misleading, if not untruthful, because they are not underpinned by an elaborate and independent epidemiological investigation among the affected people. Such an investigation should be continued for many years, for reason of the long incubation times of diseases caused by exposure to radionulides.
Future investigations of the health effects with the involved people are seriously hampered by the fact that systematic and relevant measurements of contamination by different kinds of radionuclides are left undone. All biologically active radionuclides should be monitored, such as tritium, carbon-14 and the actinides, not just cesium-137.
Health risks resulting from downplaying
The habit of the nuclear industry to downplay health hazards posed by radioactivity in the human environment greatly enhance the health risks the public is exposed to, not only in case of accidents, but also during nominal operation of nuclear installations. Necessary measurements may remain undone, measures to avert avoidable esposures may be left undone.