Saturday, May 30, 2009

Oliver Tickwell discovers an X-file conspiracy at the WHO

Oliver Tickell is the son of a British diplomat, and a writer who has published a book in support of the Kyoto climate accord. He was a Green Party candidate for Membership in the UK Parlement from Henley in 2001, and received 2.58% of the vote. Tickell appears to have regular access to the Guardian's notorious internet Comment is Free pages. In addition to his climate concerns Tickell also runs tfX, the UK campaign against trans fats in food. Tickell's bio lists 4 years spent at Oxford during the 1970's, which would be consistent with a BA or BS level education. He is regarded by other Bristish journalists as having an association with the Guardian, but it would appear that he is at best a stringer. His very briuef biographies describe him as a campaigner, on environmental and health issues,

On May 28, Comment are Free posted an essay by Tickell titled "Toxic Link the WHO and the IAEA." Tickwell wrote
Fifty years ago, on 28 May 1959, the World Health Organisation's assembly voted into force an obscure but important agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency – the United Nations "Atoms for Peace" organisation, founded just two years before in 1957. The effect of this agreement has been to give the IAEA an effective veto on any actions by the WHO that relate in any way to nuclear power – and so prevent the WHO from playing its proper role in investigating and warning of the dangers of nuclear radiation on human health.
The agreement seems quite ordinary as Tickwell describes:
Under the agreement, whenever either organisation wants to do anything in which the other may have an interest, it "shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement". The two agencies must "keep each other fully informed concerning all projected activities and all programs of work which may be of interest to both parties". And in the realm of statistics – a key area in the epidemiology of nuclear risk – the two undertake "to consult with each other on the most efficient use of information, resources, and technical personnel in the field of statistics and in regard to all statistical projects dealing with matters of common interest".
Tickwell thus would clearly be engaged in making a cause célèbre out of the ordinary. Interagency cooperation agreements are the rule rather than the exception, and surely the son of a diplomat would understand this. But Tickell claims that the WHO IAEA has had a sinister effect because
it has used the agreement to suppress the growing body of scientific information on the real health risks of nuclear radiation.
This is quite a charge. And it would appear to be a rehash of charges made by Alison Katz, in Le Monde Dipolomatique. Katz is an ex-employee of the WHO. Katz had charged that the WHO and the IAEA were involved in a coverup of the impact of low level radiation on children who received some radiation as the result of the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Epidemological research published to date suggests that the illness and death rate among people who were exposed to Chernobyl related radiation was far smaller than expected. This finding has troubled European Greens, because it is inconsistent with their "Nuclear is Evil" religious dogma.

In addition to an alleged IAEA orchestrated WHO coverup of the heath consequences of the Chernobyl accident, Tickwell charges, linking to a study by Dr. Keith Beverstock, that WHO is covering up evidence that soldiers exposed to depleted uranium suffer from radiation related illnesses.
At the conference, research was presented indicating that as many as a million children across Europe and Asia may have died in the womb as a result of radiation from Chernobyl, as well as hundreds of thousands of others exposed to radiation fallout, backing up earlier findings published by the ECRR in Chernobyl 20 Years On: Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident.
And as if all this is not bad enough, Tickwell adds:
the standard risk models for radiation risk published by the International Committee on Radiological Protection (ICRP), and accepted by WHO, underestimate the health impacts of low levels of internal radiation by between 100 and 1,000 times.
according to the European Committee on Radiation Risk.

For those who are familiar with the Guardian's Wacked out "Comment is Free" Tickwell's allegations were simply par for the course. Comments are Free is perhapse the worst possible example of the totally irresponsible abandonment of fact, practiced by 21st journalists. Rather than do any fact checking on its own, the Guardian now leaves fact checking to its readers. Fortunately CiF readers rose to the challenge. CommanderKeen stated:
So all those peer reviewed publications independent of the WHO and IAEA that have been published over the last 50 years are all part of the conspiracy of "to suppress the growing body of scientific information on the real health risks of nuclear radiation."?

If you want to make an argument about nuclear it helps not to lapse into crazy crank conspiracies and assert that the views of individuals are somehow on parity with the scientific consensus.
EvilTory checked out the Link to the Beaverstock study on depleted uranium exposures, and made a startling discovery.
God almighty, you linked to a scientific paper but obviously didn't read the thing.

he states and I quote "that this effect is mediated by radiation, but is rather a chemically mediated genotoxicity." In other words, radiation is NOT the hazard here, the toxic effects of uranium oxide are.

But of course, you are rather more interested in playing up scare stories of radiation poisoning, because you are opposed to nuclear power. (How that squares with your complaints about CO2 and global warming is another issue but we'll leave it aside for the moment.) . . .

Professor Baverstock is therefore entirely correct when he states "For me, as a scientist, it is the fact that this evidence is IGNORED, as opposed to being ADDRESSED and if appropriate discredited, through rational scientific debate that is worrying."

Your article is not, however, rational scientific debate.
EvilTory also stated
Chernobyl was a one-off, and the Greens have been trying to use it as a club ever since. But it was a consequence of poor design, appalling maintenance and overall ineptitude in a totalitarian state where no-one was allowed to question any practices that might be dangerous. This is hardly the same situation as applies in this country or elsewhere in the West.

So tell me, how many people in France have died from nuclear power? In the UK? Come on, how many are provably dead with exposure to nuclear power generation as primary cause?
And how does that stack up compared to other causes of death, even to those related to other forms of power generation? Because I agree, it is a decision that needs to be made, and that is the information we need. A rational assessment of risk.

Now, for the record, by exactly how much should we cut our energy use? 10%? 20%? More?

And what should we cut out to make those cuts? Hospitals? Sewerage? Water pumping? Transport? Heating? Manufacturing? Agriculture? Because they all use energy, and those requirements are not likely to decrease any time soon.

I'd really like to know exactly how you propose to run a modern industrialised country with major reductions in energy use. So, you want a debate, let's hear your argument. Prove to me it is possible. I'll listen; I may not agree, but I'll listen. If you have a rational argument, put your case. No scaremongering, no garbage about a one off accident that happened in a foreign country with a reactor type never used here, nor even considered as a possibility.
HowardD notes Tickwell's simplistic message
So... nuclear bad, windfarms good, eh?
Freeport applies a heavy dose of reality
Jumping past the X-Files stuff of its all a conspiracy....

The reality is that if we're going to deal with Co2 then nuclear is going to be a lot more important to us. Alternatively we could go back to the 18th century with horses, windmills and dying at 35. As that is unlikely to be popular outside of the nuttier end of the Green movement any time in the near future its probably best to go with reality.
Freeport added:
he major advantage the nuclear industry has is that its pretty much the only existing option for us to continue to remain a modern industrial power with such delights as being clean, eating decent food and heating (other than hoped -or options such as magical elves, fusion power, or Dr Manhattan from Watchmen making nuclear power less essential). The green alternatives offered all seem to rely on there being a lot less people doing a lot less of being alive or some major change in the laws of physics. I'd hope that neither is likely.

Any attempt to argue the risks of nuclear power has to factor in the discussion the problem that global warming is probably going to kill by starvation, thirst and weather a lot more people around the world, especially in Africa, than Chernobyl managed. This accident killed maybe 4,000 if we go really wild on the numbers (46 firemen for real, after that its educated guesses). Bhopal, a non-nuclear chemical accident, did eight thousand people for certain. Presumably we should ban chemicals - particularly pesticides - first. Starving to death is a good thing, right?

On that basis the discussion of risk is completely in the "win" box for the nuclear industry.
Freeport then turned to Thorium:
its a lot more abundant than uranium and which would, when combined with the thorium energy amplifier reactor be a lot more efficient. If it works, known thorium reserves would run six to nine billion people at American levels for forty to sixty thousand years - slightly longer than human history. The other delights are a lot less waste and a complete inability for the reactor to go critical - if it goes bad we simply cut power to the amplifier and wait for the reaction to stop. The other plus side is that - in theory - we can set the accelerator to reduce plutonium (hence the reduction in weaponisation you mentioned), which eliminates a great deal of the long lived stuff.
Brollachain notes
The short point here is that no-one who has bothered to read the mountains of research on nuclear energy (or even tried to tackle a few of the foothills) could possibly fail to reach the conclusion that the original concerns expressed about it were grossly exaggerated. Nuclear power is by far the safest energy source in large scale use.

Opponents are therefore forced back onto a variety of conspiracy theories, of which this is just another example.
MrDismal points to radiation hazards that are unrelated to nuclear power:
It's not just nuclear power stations that occasionally pollute the environment.with radioactive substances. Fertiliser can do that too.
Danot commented:
What a bizzare article, conflating the military use of DU and civil generation of power. Then taking the flimsiest of "evidence" and the devastating revelation that the IAEA exists to promote the use of nuclear energy, which you can find in the first paragraph of their "about us" statement on their own web site. Finally we are informed that the accident at Chernobyl was a nasty one with long term consequences for the area which was news back in 1986 when it happened. This is why the Greens have never evolved beyond a minority political joke.

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