Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nuclear power and radiation related illness and death

i have concluded, after review of the evidence, that conventional nuclear power is safe both relative to the health and safety consequences of nuclear compared to conventional fossil fuel energy sources, and in terms of the absolute health and safety problems which the use of nuclear leads too. This does not mean that nuclear safety cannot be improved, but it does mean that improvements in nuclear safety are unnecessary from the standpoint of health and safety consequences of nuclear power use. The impressive health and safety record of the nuclear power industry is the result of relatively expensive technological fixes to nuclear safety problems. Future reactor health and safety improvements will achieve the same impressive health and safety record that the nuclear industry now enjoys, but at a lower cost.

Public exposure to radiation coming from fossil fuel related sources, has always been greater than public exposure to radiation from nuclear plants. Epidemiological studies indicate that there are adverse health consequences for populations living in close proximity to coal fired power plants. In addition to toxic substances like arsenic, coal fired power plants emit radon and other uncontrolled radioactive substances.

Coal fired power plants also emit particulates that are known to both cause and aggravate lung disease. Natural gas, piped into American homes for space and water heating contains significant amounts of radioactive radon gas. Radon found in natural gas used for electrical generation is simply released into the environment.

in contrast, power reactors are designed with a system of barriers designed to prevent the release of radioactive materials into the environment. These barriers are very effective. The annual exposure to radiation from nuclear power plants to people living close to them, is far less than the average exposure of those people to radiation coming from medical and dental sources.

Millions of people routinely undergo medical procedures, that involve the direct injection of radioactive fission products into their bodies. These procedures are deemed safe and are rarely questions by people who make claims about the health problems caused by accidental exposures to far less radiation from fission products coming from nuclear power plants.

Millions of people are exposed to above average levels of natural background radiation that are far higher than the average emissions form nuclear power plants. Epidemiological studies of these populations do not demonstrate adverse health consequences from high levels of exposures to background radiation.

Commercial Aircraft crews and frequent passengers are exposed to high levels of background radiation coming from cosmic rays. Again there is no evidence that these high levels of exposure lead to adverse health consequences.

Finally epidemiological studies of populations living close to American nuclear plants fail to find evidence that exposures to radioactive material coming from American power reactors leads to adverse health consequences for people living in their vicinity. Epidemiological studies of populations living in near the reactors of the Savannah River Project, where high levels of radioactive tritium were known to have occurred, did not shown that they had suffered from adverse health consequences.

The fact that cancer and other illnesses occurs near nuclear power facilities is neither frightening nor in itself reason for concern. There has to be some evidence that health problems are are linked to radiation exposures triggered by proximity to nuclear facilities. Arguments that move from proximity to causal relationship without demonstration of a causal link are examples of the questionable cause or Harvey Wasserman fallacy. Mr. Wasserman assumes that the death of people living near the Three Mile island accident died from causes that were directly related to that accident. In fact repeated epidemiological studies of populations living in the Three Mile Island area have failed to demonstrate any adverse health consequences from radiation exposures from that accident.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Domestic nuclear power should enjoy parity with other sources of power generation with regard to safety. Currently, our laws hold nuclear power to a much higher standard. If a level of safety equal to the standards imposed on oil, gas, coal, and renewables were the same for nuclear power, nuclear power would be competitive without government subsidies or loan guarantees. Our economy would greatly benefit from a lowered dependence on foreign fuel.

John Tjostem


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