Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Safety First? Kaiga and Other Nuclear Stories
The November 2009 exposure of employees at the Kaiga nuclear power plant to tritiated water is not the first instance of high radiation exposures to workers. Over the years, many nuclear reactors and other facilities  associated with the nuclear fuel cycle operated by the Department of Atomic Energy have had accidents of varying severity. Many of these are a result of repeated inattention to good safety practices, often due to lapses by management. Therefore, the fact that catastrophic radioactive releases have not occurred is not by itself a source of comfort. To understand whether the dae’s facilities are safe, it is therefore necessary to take a closer look at their operations. The description and discussion in this paper of some accidents and organizational practices offer a glimpse of the lack of priority given to nuclear safety by the dae. The evidence presented here suggests that the organisation does not yet have the capacity to safely manage India’s nuclear facilities.

1 Introduction On 29 November 2009 the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) put out a press release, which is available on its web site even as of January 2010. According to it, An incident of tritium uptake of some workers at the Kaiga Generating Station (KGS) occurred on 24 November 2009. This was noticed during the routine urine sample analysis of workers that is carried out regularly at all nuclear power plants that use heavy water…
All persons working in the plant were checked and personnel found to have received any tritium uptake were referred to the hospital… With this, now only two persons are having tritium in their body that can cause their extrapolated annual radiation exposure to marginally exceed the AERB specified limit of 30 milli-sievert (mSv).
Little or no official news has come out about that event since then. The nuclear establishment has tried to downplay the import of this event. As might be expected of a regulator that is not independent, the AERB ended the press release by stating that it “would like to assure everyone that the incident is well
under control and there is no cause whatsoever for any radiation safety concern”. The chairman and managing director of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), S K Jain, offered the assurance that “NPCIL has very high level of safety compliance and the limits of regulatory authorities are strictly complied with”. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has tried to mollify public apprehensions by describing it as a “small matter of contamination” and claiming that there was “nothing to worry”.
But the history of poor operations, many involving lapses of safety at the many facilities run by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and its sister organisations, indicates that the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities is indeed a matter of concern. Many nuclear reactors and other facilities associated with the nuclear fuel cycle operated by the DAE have had accidents of varying severity.1 That none of these led to catastrophic radioactive release to the environment is not by itself a source of comfort. Safety theorists have argued cogently that this absence of evidence of “accidents should never be taken as evidence of the absence of risk”…and “… just because an operation has not failed catastrophically in the past does not mean it is immune to suchfailure in the future” (Wolf 2001).2 To understand whether the DAE’s facilities are safe, it is, therefore, necessary to take a closer look at their operations. The description of some accidents below offers a glimpse of the lack of priority given to nuclear safety by the DAE.3 Moreover, the evidence that we present here suggests that the organisation has not developed the capability to reliably manage hazardous technologies (Kumar and Ramana in preparation).

2 Tritiated Heavy Water
Kaiga and most of the other atomic power stations in India have what are called pressurised heavy water reactors. As the name suggests, they require heavy water – water with the hydrogen replaced by deuterium, a heavier isotope of hydrogen. The heavy water is used both as moderator (to slow down neutrons emitted during fission so that they have a higher chance of being captured by other fissile nuclei) and as coolant (to carry away the heat produced).
Over a period of time, the heavy water loaded in a reactor becomes radioactive because some of the deuterium nuclei absorb a neutron to become tritium (an even heavier isotope of hydrogenwith two neutrons). It is then called tritiated water. The radioactivity level of the tritiated water depends on the origin of the heavy water (i e, from the coolant or the moderator) and the length of the time it has been in the reactor. Typical values for coolant heavy water are in the range of 0.5-2 curies/kg. Heavy water from the moderator would have about 20-30 times more radioactivity.
Tritiated water is easily absorbed by the body as it is chemically identical to water. In the reactor environment, there could be a number of pathways for tritiated water to enter the body. It could be drunk, absorbed through the skin, or tritiated water vapour could be breathed in. In all these cases, the absorbed tritiated water is rapidly distributed throughout the body via the blood. This, in turn, mixes with extracellular fluid in about 12 minutes after ingestion. A special concern with tritiated water is that when ingested by pregnant women, it can pass through the placenta, and affect the foetus. During this stage, the developing organism (the embryo and fetus) is highly radiosensitive (ICRP 2003). In addition to forming tritiated water, tritium can also displace hydrogen in other types of chemicals, especially organic compounds where it gets bound to carbon. Such organically bound tritium (OBT) remains in the body for long periods of time and therefore contributes to a much greater radiation dose per unit of tritium absorbed (Harrison, Khursheed and Lambert 2002).4 Because of these biochemical properties of tritiated heavy water, the process of cleaning up the spills and recovering the heavy water or flushing it into the environment almost invariably leads to radiation doses to workers and, potentially, the general public.
3 A Partial History of Exposure
The Kaiga episode of this year is not the first time that workers at nuclear power plants have had high radiation doses due to exposure to tritiated water. There have been past cases of such exposures to tritiated water as well as other radionuclides, which demonstrate poor safety practice as well as organisational neglect of worker safety. What are described below are just a few of the many publicly known cases.5 In addition, there could have been many more instances that have not been divulged to the public.
3.1 Kalpakkam 1999
In March 1999, some personnel at the second unit of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) were testing a device called BARCCIS (Bhabha Atomic Research Center Channel Inspection System) that was designed to inspect the reactor’s coolant tubes, which had been routinely plagued by cracks and vibration problems (Rethinaraj 1999). Suddenly a plug that sealed one of the coolant channels, through which heavy water was to flow and remove the heat produced during reactor operations, slipped away and a large quantity of radioactive heavy water leaked out. Reportedly, 42 workers were involved in mopping up the leak and recovering the heavy water (Subramanian 1999). A previous leak of a much smaller quantity of heavy water at MAPS occurred on 5 March 1991, which took four days to clean up (BARC 1992).
For the leak in 1999, it can be shown using standard methods of dose calculation that the radioactive dose to individual workers was on average about 6-8 mSv for each hour of work (Ramana 1999). Even at the lower level, an employee working for over five hours would have received a dose in excess of the annual limit of 30 mSv.  Some weeks after the event, workers union representatives revealed to the press that seven of the workers who helped clean up were placed in the “removal category” and would not be allowed to work in any radioactive areas in the future (Radhakrishnan 1999). This suggests that they did indeed have radiation doses in excess of their annual quotas. Most of the remaining workers were placed in the “caution category”, meaning that they could continue working but they were not allowed their usual radiation dose.
This was not the only such event. On 20 November 2001, there was a smaller leak involving 1.4 tonnes of heavy water at the Narora I reactor; one person involved in the mopping up operations received a radiation dose of around 18 mSv, as reported by the AERB (AERB 2002: 18). There have been numerous heavy water leaks in the DAE’s reactors (Ghosh 1996; IAEA 1998: 301-20; AERB 2001: 13; 2004).
3.2 Kalpakkam 2003
On 21 January 2003, some employees at the Kalpakkam Atomic Reprocessing Plant (KARP) were tasked with collecting a sample of low-level waste from a part of the facility called the Waste Tank Farm (WTF). Unknown to them, a valve had failed, resulting in the release of high-level waste, with much higher levels of radioactivity, into the part of the WTF where they were working. Although the plant was five years old, no radiation monitors or mechanisms to detect valve failure had been installed in that area. The accident was recognised only after a sample was processed. In the meantime, six workers had been exposed to high doses of radiation (Anand 2003).
Apart from the lack of monitoring mechanisms, the greatest cause for concern was the response of management, in this case BARC. Despite a safety committee’s recommendation that the plant be shut down, BARC’s management decided to continue operating the plant. The BARC Facilities Employees Association (BFEA) wrote to the director setting forth 10 safety-related demands, including the appointment of a full-time safety officer.
The letter also recounted two previous incidents where workers were exposed to high levels of radiation in the past two years, and how officials had always cited the existence of an “emergency situation” as a reason for the health physics department’s failureto follow safety procedures. Once again there was no response from management. In desperation, some months later the union resorted to a strike. The management’s response was to transfer some of the key workers involved in the agitation and threaten others with similar consequences; two days later, all striking workers returned to work. The BARC director’s public interpretation was that if the place had not been safe, the workers would
not have returned. Finally, the union leaked information about the radiation exposure to the press.
Once the news became public, management grudgingly admitted that this was the “worst accident in radiation exposure in the history of nuclear India” (Anand 2003). But it claimed the “incident” resulted from “over enthusiasm and error of judgment” on the part of the workers (Venkatesh 2003).  anagement also tried to blame the workers for not wearing their thermoluminescent dosimeter badges, but this has nothing to do with the accident;badges would not have warned the workers about radiation levels until well after they were exposed.
For its part, the BFEA claimed the accident was only to be expected,and that because of the unrelenting pace of work at KARP and “unsafe practices being forced on the workers”, accidents have become regular (Anonymous 2003). Thus, there was no consensus among management and workers on how to run the Kalpakkam plant safely. This pattern of discontent on the part of workers seems to be commonplace. There is a history of poor relations between management and workers, from MAPS, KARP, and IGCAR. A longstanding problem seems to be one of control over safety at theworkplace and outside. For example, in 1997, MAPS workers went on strike for 25 days after the management “suspended five radiation workers who refused to work in (areas with a) high radiationlevel” (HT 1997). In 2005, IGCAR employees had threatened to go on strike on account of a number of unmet demands. Among them was that the road from the plant to the housing area be broadened so that the workers would not get stuck in a traffic jam in the event of an emergency (Anonymous 2003). Organisation theorists who have examined high performing nuclear power plants around the world via in-depth field studies have found that they all share an atmosphere of openness and responsibility in which all employees feel free to point out their observationswithout fear. Unfortunately, DAE’s facilities do not seem to share this feature.
3.3 T emporary Workers
The workers discussed above at least had recourse through their  union to resort to strikes. The lot of  the many temporary workers is worse. The employment of such workers, especially for cleaning tasks in a number of nuclear facilities, has been reported by many others. For example, in connection with the patterns of ill-health observed among villagers living near the Rawatbhata reactor (Gadekar and Gadekar 1996), former AERB chairman, A Gopalakrishnan pointed out that this may be because many villagers in the late 1970s and the late 1980s were used as temporary workers within the power station to clean up radioactive material.
There is no database with RAPS about how many people entered the radioactive area or for how long each was exposed to it. As the chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, I asked for such information. I never received any” (DTE 1999).
The DAE claims that temporary workers have an even lower dose limit (Mishra 2004), but such claims appear to be contradicted by many grass roots and independent accounts of poor working conditions at nuclear facilities. For example, here is a newspaper report on what happened after a major radioactive leak “from ill-mantained pipelines in the vicinity of the CIRUS and Dhruva” reactors at the Bhabha
Atomic Research Centre in 1991 (Chinai 1992). The management, reportedly, set six contract labourers on the task of digging a pit, to reach the burst pipeline, eight feet below the surface. These workers wore no protective gear or radiation monitoring badges… The contract labourerswho had worked for almost eight hours inside the pit on 13 and 14 December 1991, were thereafter hastily pulled out, given a bath, new sets of clothing and packed off home. There is no evidence of the labourers having been subject to radiation monitoring tests (Chinai 1992).
Another example comes from the RAPS. On 27th of July (1991), there were barrels of heavy water  which needed upgrading, standing in a corner of the upgrading plant building. The building was to be whitewashed and a contractor had been assigned the job. One of his labourers, Shri Madholal, who was
to do the whitewashing found that there was no water in the taps. He made the wash in the barrel of  heavy water and then proceeded to put a coat of whitewash on the walls of the room. After finishing his work, Shri Madholal washed his brush and then washed his hands and face with the same heavy water… As soon as information regarding this event reached the authorities, there was consternation and panic amongst them. The new coat of whitewash was scraped off the walls and sent to the laboratory for tritium analysis. 
Shri Madholal immediately disappeared from the scene and his whereabouts were unknown (RP 1991).
High radiation doses to temporary workers seem to have been especially common at the Tarapur  reactors, which was reported in the late 1970s to have areas “so radioactive that it is impossible for maintenance jobs to be performed without the maintenance personnel exceeding the fortnightly dose…in a matter of minutes” (Bidwai 1978: 29). Because of the numerous high radiation areas which had to be serviced, TAPS personnelwere “not capable of handling the larger-than-anticipated volume of maintenance jobs, especially in areas with a large number of hot spots” and so “outsiders…have to brought in so as not to overexpose the already highly exposed TAPS personnel to radiation” (ibid). Many of these “workers do nothave adequate knowledge or understanding of radiation hazards” nor are they “entirely familiar either with the layout of TAPS or the precise nature of the job they are ordered to perform” (ibid).7
There is plentiful anecdotal evidence along these lines of poorsafety practices that frequently cause ill-health to workers. The reason why these are mostly anecdotal is that outsiders do not have access to the health records of DAE workers. Two lessons can be drawn from this brief and partial history of radiation doses to workers. One is that worker health has been compromised repeatedly. The second is that there has been ample discord between management and workers at various facilities.
Thus, it would seem that workers at DAE facilities do have reasons to be disaffected, and this should be borne in mind when thinking about the recent water cooler episode at Kaiga.
4 Poor Safety Management
One essential feature of safely run nuclear power plants around the world is reliable backups in technical operations and in management of personnel, which prevents failures from escalating. At the same time, there is always a belief that present levels of safety are not enough, so that the guard is never let down. This means that such organisations are always exploring what could go wrong, and learning not only from their mistakes but also from others’. In this section, we offer evidence of repeated failures at DAE facilities, which have sometimes led to accidents.
4.1 Kaiga 1994
Danger to the workers at Kaiga began even before the reactor was completed. On 13 May 1994, the inner containment dome – the structure that is supposed to prevent the escape of radioactivity into the environment should an accident occur – of one of theunits of the Kaiga nuclear power plant collapsed during reactor construction. The dome itself had been completed but cabling and other tasks were being carried out (Havanur 1994). The official term for what occurred is delamination, but that does little justice to the approximately 130 tonnes of concrete that fell from the top of the containment (Subbarao 1998). The event happened during the day with workers on site but miraculously only 14 workers were said to have been hurt, that too with minor injuries. Analysts have offered several reasons that shed doubt on this claim that only 14 of the hundreds of workers employed at the site were hurt (Havanur 1994).
At least two underlying factors have been identified for the collapse. The first is faulty design (Pannerselvan 1999). Another is lack of adequate quality control: according to DAE officials, “while inputs such as cement and steel had been tested for quality, that was not the case with the concrete blocks as a whole” (Mohan 1994). This goes against a basic requirement of nuclear safety:“facilities (have to be) constructed to the highest standards” (NEA 1993: 51). Faulty work practices may also have played a role. Such practices led some years later to a fire involving many cans of paint on the same dome (ToI 1999). In addition, one local woman activist, Kusuma Soraba, met with some of the construction workers who accused the contractors of various malpractices in construction (Havanur 1994).
The former head of the AERB has stated: The delamination of the containment dome at Kaiga was an avoidable incident. Senior NPC civil engineers and the private firms which provide civil engineering designs and construction drawings to the DAE have had a close relationship. In this atmosphere of comradeship, the NPC engineers did not carry out the necessary quality checks on the designs they received before passing them on to the Kaiga project team. The AERB also did not check this, because it had almost no civil engineering staff with it. Serious design errors went undetected and these eventually led to the failure of the dome. It was negligence by the NPC civil engineering team that caused this. A distorted NPC report, which tried to cover up this reason, was rejected outright by the
non-DAE members of the AEC, while the AERB report that spelt out in detail the actual reasons was approved (Gopalakrishnan 1999).
The Kaiga dome collapse is unprecedented in the annals of nuclear energy history. It also points to one of the dangers with relying on redundancy as a safety mechanism. The reason for constructing a containment dome is that even if all safety mechanisms within the reactor fail and a severe accident occurs, the strong containment building will be capable of withstanding the high pressures that would accompany the accident and hold(“contain”) all radioactive substances released from the reactor core during the accident. So at face value this makes for greater safety. But as Subbarao argues, if such a collapse had taken place during operation of the nuclear plant, about 130 tonnes of concrete falling from a height of nearly 30 meters would have damaged the automatic control rod drives that lie below the crown of the dome, disabling them and making the safe shutdown of the reactor difficult. The massive weight of concrete might have led to damage to the nuclear coolant pumps and pipes, resulting
in severe loss of coolant. This could have led to nuclear core meltdown and the escape of large amounts of radioactive substances to the environment (Subbarao 1998). Fortunately, at the time of the accident, the reactor had not been fully constructed and the core had not been loaded.
4.2 Narora 1993
The most serious accident at an Indian nuclear reactor occurred on 31 March 1993. Early that morning, two blades of the turbine at the first unit of the Narora power station (two 220 MW PHWRs)broke off due to fatigue. These sliced through other blades, destabilizing the turbine and making it vibrate excessively. The vibrations caused pipes carrying hydrogen gas that cooled the turbine to break, releasing the hydrogen which soon caught fire. Around the same time, lubricant oil had also leaked. The fire spread to the oil and through the entire turbine building. Among the systems affected by the fire were four sets of cables that carried electricity, which led to a general blackout in the plant. One set supplied power to the secondary cooling systems, which were consequently rendered inoperable. In addition, the control room became filled with smoke and the staff was forced to leave it about 10 minutes after the blade failure.
The operators responded by manually actuating the primary shutdown system of the reactor 39 seconds into the accident (Koley et al 2006). Although the reactor was shut down, some operators, concerned about re-criticality, climbed onto the top of the building and, under battery-operated portable lighting, manually opened valves to release liquid boron into the core to slowdown the reaction. It was necessary to do so because even though the reactor was shutdown, it continued to generate heat; the fuel rods in a reactor accumulate fission products – the elements created when a uranium atom splits – and these continue to undergo  adioactive decay and produce heat. While this so-called decay heat is produced at a much smaller rate than when the reactor is operating, it persists even with the reactor shutdown. If not removed promptly, decay heat can cause the fuel to reheat and meltdown.
Thus, the reactor must continue to be cooled even after shutdown. To accomplish this task, operators had to start up diesel fire pumps to circulate water meant for fire control (NEI 1993). It took 17 hours from the time the fire started for power to be restored to the reactor and its safety systems. Operators who were forced to leave the control room because of smoke could not re-enter for close to 13 hours. An attempt was made to take control of the plant from the emergency control room; but, since there was no power available, the Unit 1 control panel of the emergency control room was unusable. Thus, Narora was almost unique in that the operators had no indication of the condition of the reactor and were, in effect, “flying blind” (Nowlen, Kazarians and Wyant 2001).
The Narora accident has been the DAE’s closest approach to a catastrophic accident. More worrisome is the evidence that the accident could have been foreseen and prevented. First, the failure of the turbine blades was avoidable. In 1989, General Electric communicated information to the turbine manufacturer, Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL), about a design flaw which led to cracks in similar turbines around the world. They recommended design modifications, and the manufacturer responded by preparing detailed drawings for NPC, which operated the Narora reactor. In addition to General Electric, the manufacturer of the turbine, BHEL, also recommended that NPC replace the blade design before an accident occurred. However, NPC did not take any action until months after the accident (Gopalakrishnan 1999).
Second, even if the turbine blade failed despite modification, the accident might have been averted if the safety systems had been operating, which they presumably would have if only their power supply had been encased in separate and fire resistant ducts. By the time the Narora reactor was commissioned, this was established wisdom in the nuclear design community and had been ever since the fire at Browns Ferry in the US in 1975.
That accident resulted in a mandate to make significant changes at all US nuclear plants (Ramsey and Modarres 1998: 106). The physical and electrical systems were altered, with built-in redundancies, to prevent fires. Other countries adopted similar measures. All of this took place well before the Narora plant attained criticality in 1989. Nevertheless, the plant was constructed with the four backup power supply systems laid in the same duct, with no fire-resistant material enclosing or separating the cable systems.  Third, the DAE had not taken any serious steps towards fire mitigation despite earlier fire accidents at its own reactors. In 1985, an overheated cable joint at RAPS II caused a fire that spread through the cable trays and disabled four pumps (IAEA 1986: 244; Gopalakrishnan 1999). A few years later, in 1991, there were fires in the boiler room of the same unit and the turbo generator oil system of RAPS I (IAEA 1992: 394-96).
The factors that contributed to the Narora accident were repeatedly present prior to the accident. Excessive vibrations in the turbine bearings were common in Indian reactors. In 1981,RAPS II was shut down twice because oil leakage in the turbine building led to high levels of sparking in the generator exciter (IAEA 1982: 235). After it was restarted, it had to be shutdown yet again when it was found that large amounts of oil had leaked from the turbine governing system. Only when the reactor was restarted a third time, in early 1982, were the high vibrations of the turbine bearings noticed and the failure of turbine blades discovered (IAEA 1983: 250). This led to a prolonged shutdown of  more than five months; even after this problem had apparently been fixed the reactor had to be shut down once again because of high turbine bearing temperatures (IAEA 1983: 230). Again in 1983, high vibrations were noticed in turbine generator bearings and it was revealed that two blades in the second stage of the high pressure rotor had sheared off at the root (IAEA 1984: 292).
In 1985, the first unit of the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS I) was shutdown repeatedly because of high bearing vibrations in the turbine generator (IAEA 1986: 240). RAPS I had to be shutdown due to high bearing vibrations in 1985, 1989, and 1990 (IAEA 1986: 242; 1990: 302; 1991: 298).
Oil leaks have also been common in Indian reactors. In 1988, MAPS II was shutdown due to an oil leak from the generator transformer (IAEA 1990: 288). In 1989, a large spark was observed from slip rings on the exciter end of the turbine in MAPS I; there were also two other fires in the same reactor near the primary heat transport system (IAEA 1990: 298). Oil leaked from a turbine bearing in MAPS II in 1989 (IAEA 1990: 300). In 1992, there was an oil leak in the turbine stop valve in MAPS II (IAEA 1993: 288). In addition in 1992, there were two separate oil leak incidents in the Narora I turbine generator system (IAEA 1993: 289). There was at least one hydrogen gas leak prior to the Narora accident: this happened in 1991 in the generator stator water system of MAPS II (IAEA 1992: 390).  The DAE did not learn from these experiences, and this disregard was in part responsible for the Narora accident. When asked by an interviewer about the recurrence of turbine blade failures at nuclear reactors, AEC Chairman Chidambaram side stepped the issue by suggesting “this kind of failure at Narora has happened for the first time…two blades failing” and then offering the non sequitur, “You must remember that as far as nuclear reactor is concerned, there was no problem at Narora. The reactor worked perfectly according to design” (Chidambaram 1993). By ignoring these early warnings, the DAE set the stage for the Narora failure that led to “widespread damage to the (turbine generator) set, condenser and caused [a] fire which engulfed the cables, the turbine building and control equipment room” (Ghosh 1996: 30).
4.3 R ecurring Patterns
Another indicator of poor safety practices is repeated occurrences of similar accidents. An important example is the set of failures that led to the Narora accident, which have persisted in many reactors. In late 1993, high vibrations and temperature in both Narora-II and RAPS-1 turbine generator buildings led to their being shutdown (IAEA 1994: 333-36). The problems in these reactors persisted into 1994, with Narora-II being shutdown due to high bearing temperatures and RAPS-1 due to turbine bearing vibrations (IAEA 1995: 313-16). In 1995, even after repeated shutdowns supposedly meant to mitigate turbine problems, blades failed in the turbine of Narora-II (IAEA 1996: 314). Even after being restarted following the accident in 1993, Narora-1 was shutdown repeatedly in 1995 because of high vibrations of the turbine generator bearing (IAEA 1996: 312). In 1997, RAPS-1 had to be repeatedly shutdown due to high turbine bearing vibrations (IAEA 1998: 314). In 2000, Kaiga-II suffered from repeated turbine vibration problems (IAEA 2001: 294).
Fires have also occurred repeatedly. In Narora-II in 1996, there was heavy oil smoke from the turbine building (IAEA 1997: 314).  That same year, there was an oil fire in the turbine building of Kalpakkam-Ii (IAEA 1997: 310). The following year smoke was observed in Kalpakkam-Ii, there was a fire in the turbine generator of Kakrapar-I, and smoke was observed from the insulation of the main steam line of the turbine generator in Kakrapar-II (IAEA 1998: 302-08). There was a fire due to an oil leak in Kalpakkam-I in 2000 (IAEA 2001: 300). There have also been numerous oil and hydrogen leaks.  Other examples are regular leaks and heavy water spills. While these leaks are not themselves serious safety hazards, they could be the precursors to more serious accidents, for example involvingcoolant failure. As mentioned earlier, the tritium in the water also poses a health risk to workers.
Such leaks started with RAPS, the first heavy water reactor constructed in India (Ghosh 1996). Despite much effort – understandable because heavy water is expensive and hard to produce – the DAE has not managed to contain the leaks. In 1997 alone, such leaks occurred at the Kakrapar I, MAPS II and Narora II reactors (IAEA 1998: 301-20). The leaks could involve significant amounts of water. For example, on 15 April 2000, there was a leak of seven tonnes of heavy water at the Narora II reactor (AERB 2001: 13). Three years later, on 25 April 2003, there was a six tonne leak at the same reactor (AERB 2004). The 2003 leak occurred while a device called BARCCIS which is used to inspect coolant tubes in reactors, was in operation. After a similar leak in March 1999 at MAPS, the AERB reviewed the BARCCIS system and suggested design changes, operating procedures and training (AERB 2004: 18). But as mentioned earlier, there was a similar leak at the Narora I reactor in 2001 despite these changes. This indicates that there were weaknesses in the implementation of the AERB’s suggestions, fundamental flaws in the technical system, or continued operator errors.
4.4 Inoperative Safety Systems
A second notable and disturbing trend is the frequent failure of safety devices. These are the mechanisms by which control of the reactor ought to be maintained under unanticipated circumstances.
If they do not work as expected, it is more likely that a small event could cascade into a major accident. A related problem is of safety devices left in an inoperative state or neglect of periodic maintenance. An example of how minor failures contributed to escalating an accident was during the 1993 Narora accident discussed earlier. The accident may have been prevented had the smoke sensors in the power control room at Narora detected the fire immediately. Since that did not happen, the fire was detected only when the flames were noticed by plant personnel (Srinivas 1993). A different complication arose three hours and fifty minutes into the accident when the two operating diesel-driven fire water pumps shutdown inexplicably (Nowlen, Kazarians and Wyant 2001). As yet, the cause for this failure has not been identified. A third pump was out of service for maintenance.
Many of these problems are recurring. In 2005, for example, the AERB found instances of failure in fire detectors at Kakrapar and in the power supply for emergency cooling at the MAPS (PTI 2005). Heat transport pumps are also frequently unavailable for many reasons, most commonly because of frequency fluctuations in the electricity grid. In 2004, MAPS-II was shutdown for eight days because the two main primary coolant pumps were unavailable. After it was restarted, the reactor had to be shutdown again because the motor bearings of one of the pumps had to be replaced.
5 Weakness of Safety Regulation
A separate reason to be concerned about the safety of the DAE’s facilities is the regulatory structure that is involved in overseeing safety. The DAE established the AERB to oversee and enforce safety in all nuclear operations in 1983. This was modified in 2000 to exclude facilities involved, even peripherally, in the nuclear weapons programme. The AERB reports to the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), whose chairman is always the head of the DAE. The chairman of NPC is also a member of the AEC. Thus, both the DAE and NPC exercise administrative powers over the AERB. The AERB is financed by the DAE. There are, therefore, institutional limits on the AERB’s effectiveness. This administrative control is compounded by the AERB’s lack of technical staff and testing facilities. As A Gopalakrishnan, the former chairman of the AERB, has observed, 95% of the members of the AERB’s evaluation committees are scientistsand engineers on the payrolls of the DAE. This dependency is deliberately exploited by the DAE management to influence, directly and indirectly, the AERB’s safety evaluations and decisions. The interference has manifested itself in the AERB toning down the seriousness of safety concerns, agreeing to the postponement of essential repairs to suit the DAE’s time schedules, and allowing continued operation of installations when public safety considerations would warrant their immediate shutdown and repair (Gopalakrishnan 1999). Elsewhere, Gopalakrishnan has pointed to an example of direct interference from the AEC, in the context of the collapse of the containment dome in 1994 of one of the reactors under construction at Kaiga, Karnataka. “When, as chairman, I appointed an independent expert committee to investigate the containment collapse at Kaiga, the AEC chairman wanted its withdrawal and matters left to the committee formed by the NPC (managing director). DAE also complained to (the prime minister) who tried to force me to back off” (Pannerselvan 1999).   Finally, the AERB’s recommendations are often ignored. For example,  according to Gopalakrishnan: [The] AERB had directed the DAE to carry out an integrated Emergency Core Cooling System (ECCS) testing in Kaiga I and II as well as RAPS III and IV before start up. It also wanted proof and leakage tests conducted on the reactor containment. And finally, a full-scope simulator was to be installed for operator training. None of these directives have been complied with so far (Pannerselvan 1999).
The AERb is fond of claiming that it has lived up to Homi Bhabha’sinjunction in February 1960, “Radioactive materials and sources of radiation should be handledin the Atomic Energy Establishment [the former name of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre] in a manner which not only ensures that no harm (our emphasis) can come to workers in the Establishment or anyoneelse, but also in an exemplary manner, so as to set a standard which other organisations in the country may be asked to emulate’’
(Mishra 2004: 98). Since Bhabha’s time, it has beenestablished that all radiation brings with an increased risk of cancer and other health damage. This risk is directly proportional to the radiation dose to the body and there is no threshold below which the increased probability of cancer from radiation exposure is zero. Regulatory limits are typically set at some level of cancer risk to workers that is considered acceptable, often by convention.
The largest study of nuclear workers, carried out by a large team of researchers and headed by a team from the International  Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), retrospectively examined the health records of over 4,00,000 workers in 15 different countriesand demonstrated that a small excess risk of cancer exists, even at doses lower than typically mandated by radiation standards (Cardis et al 2005). At the typically mandated radiation standards, workers could receive up to 100 mSv over five years. This would, according to the IARC study, lead to a 9.7% increased mortality from all cancers excluding leukaemia and a 19% increased mortality from leukaemia (excluding chronic lymphocytic leukaemia). Radiation doses that exceed the annual regulatory limits lead to a correspondingly higher risk of cancer. Thus, numerous workers are likely to have been exposed to harmby the nuclear establishment.
At a more general level, while the DAE, like other organizations involved in nuclear activities, often verbalises safety goals, its performance and decision-making often depart from public pronouncements.  9 In its submission to the IAEA as part of its responsibilitiesunder the 1994 Convention on Nuclear Safety, the DAE stated that: Safety is accorded overriding priority in all activities. All nuclear facilities are sited, designed, constructed, commissioned and operatedin accordance with strict quality and safety standards… As a result, India’s safety record has been excellent in over 260 reactor years of operation of power reactors and various other applications (GoI 2007). Alas, the DAE’s historical record is not even acceptable, let alone excellent, a fact that should be borne in mind when drawing lessons to be learned from what happened last year at Kaiga.
1 We use DAE as an umbrella term for referring to both the DAE as well as its many allied organisations, including the Nuclear Power Corporation.
2 Or as James Reason argues, “even the most vulnerable systems can evade disaster, at least for a time. Chance does not take sides. It afflicts the deserving and preserves the unworthy” (Reason 2000).
3 To the extent possible, we derive these descriptions from documents put out by the DAE and its sister organisations. If these are not available, or as a supplement,we use news and media reports. We assume that these are being accurate unless there is some strong reason to not believe the fact. We try
not to place too much stock on any one report.
4 Organically bound tritium also delivers energy more effectively than HTO and therefore imparts a higher radiation dose (Chen 2006).
5 Not included in these, for example, are uranium miners and millers who are exposed to both radon
gas and relatively high levels of dust.
6 These badges measure cumulative exposure over a period of time, and are meant to be submitted to
the health physics department for assessment.
7 Herein lies one problem with the notion of risk as is commonly used – that the hazard possibility that underlies the risk calculation is not precisely determined, the way the association of probability figures would suggest. Rather, the risk involved in an activity depends on the controlexercised by the worker in the workplace. British radiation safety professional DaveRosenfeld offers this example: “ask a worker at the Windscale nuclear fuel reprocessing plant to repair pipework in a high-radiation area unfamiliar to him. Even if there are only a couple of lethal “hotspots” where doses are high, thewhole area appears hazardous. To him (women are not employed in high-radiation zones) a walk in a straight line is like crossing the road  blindfold. As the management gives him a chart of hotspots and a pocket alarm meter, he feels sure to avoid deadly spots, confidently and consistently – as long as experience tells him that the management or union safety committee have assured the chart and meter are reliable”
(Rosenfeld 1984: 43).
8 Listed below are just those from the period between1995 and 2000. Operating records reveal repeated oil leaks occurred in Kakrapar-II in 1995 (IAEA 1996: 306). In 1997, there were oil leaks in Kalpakkam-II and a hydrogen leak in Kakrapar-II (IAEA 1998: 304-08). In 1999, there was another hydrogen leak in Kakrapar-II, as well as one in Narora-II (IAEA 2000: 288-96). In 2000, there were hydrogen leaks in Narora-I, Narora-II and RAPS-III, and oil leaks in RAPS-III and Kaiga-II (IAEA 2001: 294-312).
9 The confidence that permeates within the nuclear establishment is also not conducive to safety. One of the many paradoxes about safety is that “if an organisationis convinced that it has achieved a safe
culture, it almost certainly has not” (Reason 2000).
AERB (2001): Annual Report 2000-2001, Atomic
Regulatory Board, Mumbai.
– (2002): Annual Report 2001-2002, Atomic Energy
Regulatory Board, Mumbai.
– (2004): Annual Report 2003-2004, Atomic Energy
Regulatory Board, Mumbai.
Anand, S (2003): “India’s Worst Radiation Accident”,
Outlook, 28 July, 18-20.
Anonymous (2003): “BARC Says Kalpakkam Reprocessing
Plant Will Soon Be Starting”, Press Trust
of India, 11 July.
– (2005): “IGCAR Employees Serve Strike Notice”,
com 2005 (cited August 30 2009).
Available from
BARC (1992): “National Symposium on Safety of
Power Plants and Other Facilities”, Bhabha
Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, Bombay.
Bidwai, Praful (1978): “Nuclear Power in India –
A White Elephant?” Business India, 4-11 September.
Cardis, E, M Vrijheid, M Blettner, E Gilbert, M Hakama,
C Hill, G Howe, J Kaldor, C R Muirhead,
M Schubauer-Berigan, T Yoshimura, F Bermann,
G Cowper, J Fix, C Hacker, B Heinmiller, M Marshall,
I Thierry-Chef, D Utterback, Y O Ahn,
E Amoros, P Ashmore, A Auvinen, J M Bae, J Bernar
Solano, A Biau, E Combalot, P Deboodt,
A Diez Sacristan, M Eklof, H Engels, G Engholm,
G Gulis, R Habib, K Holan, H Hyvonen, A Kerekes,
J Kurtinaitis, H Malker, M Martuzzi, A Mastauskas,
A Monnet, M Moser, M S Pearce, D B Richardson,
F Rodriguez-Artalejo, A Rogel, H Tardy,
M Telle-Lamberton, I Turai, M Usel and K Veress
(2005): “Risk of Cancer after Low Doses of Ionising
Radiation: Retrospective Cohort Study in 15
Countries”, BMJ, 331 (7508): 77-83.
Chen, Jing (2006): “Radiation Quality of Tritium”,
Prot Dosimetry, 122 (1-4): 546-48.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


IICPH Response to OPA Report,by Marion Odell ( ),.February 28, 2006
Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier,Rm 281 Main Legislative Building,Toronto ON M7A 1A4
Re: IICPH Response to the Ontario Power Authority Proposal

Dear Mr. Prime Minister, McGuinty,
I am writing to express the concern of the Institute of Public Health, for the lack of due consideration of
the health effects of the continued reliance on nuclear power electricity generation as
delineated in the Ontario Power Authority's Integrated Power Supply Plan.
We have a very deep concern with the process whereby the government is making its
decisions so far. Without a full exploration of the health effects from nuclear waste and,
particularly, particulate radiation from nuclear reactors, I fear that the true hazards to
health will not be disclosed. I attended the consultation held in Toronto on the evening
of February 15th, which amply demonstrated to me and to others who attended that the
process was flawed.
Having now received the brochure, "Our Energy, Our Future " in the mail, there is no
doubt that only an inquiry by an independent impartial person such as a judge, where
expert witnesses would be called to give evidence concerning the health safety of
nuclear power plants, will suffice. Otherwise, the interests of Ontarians and others
downwind and downstream will not be served. The bias toward the messages
espoused by the proponents of nuclear generation of electricity is simply too evident.
From accounts I received, very little was discussed about the health effects of
particulate radiation from nuclear power plants. Indeed, there was no opportunity to
refute the statements put forth by a proponent for nuclear as those of us who could
have done so were cut off without a chance to speak by the moderator.
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Setting aside the immense cost of nuclear power plants, their vulnerability to nuclear
accidents, earthquake damage, (Pickering sits on the side of Frenchman's Bay near
two fault lines), terrorist attacks, their need for shutdowns for expensive repairs, the fact
that they leak radioactivity into our environment and as they age, this leakage
increases, setting that all that aside, what is the big problem?
Pickering and Darlington power plants are very close to huge populations, the Greater
Toronto Area, the Golden Horseshoe and some of the most precious farmlands in the
province. What devastation there would be if we had a nuclear accident in this most
important area, not only to the people themselves, but to the whole economy of the
country! Although our nuclear power plants have a good reputation for safety, there are
acts of nature that can cause problems, which if not responded to properly can lead to
a nuclear accident. These include such things as earthquakes, thunderstorms, floods
and unusual wind conditions Human error can play an important role in meltdowns.
There is also the danger of terrorist attacks. Setting all that aside, the most serious
threat is that of nuclear waste. From the mining, smelting, refining and manufacture of
fuel rods to the actual production of electricity, nuclear waste is produced.
Nuclear Power Plants produce dangerous nuclear waste. They emit radioactive
substances into the air and water, in small amounts, but frequently. The solid waste,
used fuel rods, contaminated equipment, protective clothing, etc., the plant itself, when
finally decommissioned, provide a problem for which there is no suitable secure longterm
means of disposal. An organization set up to find a solution, the Nuclear Waste
Management Organization (NWMO), wrestled with this problem. Their
recommendations did not, in our opinion, produce a safe solution. There is none!
Nuclear waste has long been the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry.
Radioactive emissions into air and water at low levels are frequent from nuclear
power plants. These are most troubling because they add to the nuclear radiation that
is already present in our soil, air and water (1). This comes from radiation that occurs
naturally to all the so-called "background radiation", residuals from the atomic bomb,
testing of bombs, nuclear accidents, the mining, refining and transportation of uranium,
the use of radioactive weapons such as depleted uranium, and from the myriads of
nuclear power plants around the world. In the U.S. and I believe, in Canada too, the
radiation emitted from a nuclear power plant in one year is considered "background
radiation" the following year. This is a shell game. It sounds so benign that those
lacking knowledge of the nature of ionizing radiation might think it is gone. Of course, it
is not really gone, just minutely degraded depending on the half-life of the particular
radioisotopes involved. Particulate radiation will remain radioactive depending on the
radioisotope from which it is derived. Some half-lives are exceedingly long.
CANDU (heavy water reactors) used in Ontario's nuclear power plants emit tritium
into the air in puffs of steam from their stacks and into surface water on a regular basis.
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CANDUs emit more than 100 times the tritium released from other reactor designs and
also 40 times more Cesium-141. See the report of the Standing Parliamentary
Committee on Forestry, Energy and Environment called "The Eleventh Hour" released
in January 1988.
Tritium (H-3) is a radioisotope of hydrogen with two neutrons. The rest of the atomic
weight comes from one proton. It has a half-life of 12.5 years. It is emitted from a
nuclear power plant in the white puffs of steam from its stacks and in water discharged
into surface water. Tritium, as a chemical, combines with oxygen just like ordinary nonradioactive
hydrogen, forming tritiated water, HTO. It is of concern because it goes
wherever water goes whether gaseous, surface or ground water. Tritiated water will go
a long way from its source. It is rapidly transported and can travel for long distances. It
easily binds with organic molecules and can concentrate in the DNA (2).
Since most of the human body is made up of water, this is a very great concern. Of the
tritium you inhale or ingest, 90 % leaves the body quickly, whereas 10% can become
joined to organic molecules including proteins and to DNA itself. So here and there
these atoms of tritium are radiating in the human body. Every living thing in our
biosphere is dependent on water. People who live near nuclear power plants are
receiving tritium in the air they breathe and from drinking water on a regular basis.
Since children breathe in proportionally more, they are generally more seriously
affected. They also play in the dirt. Anyone who eats produce or drinks milk from areas
where soil is contaminated by tritium will receive tritium into their bodies. Guess who
drinks a lot of milk? Children, babies and nursing mothers do.
Measuring comparative levels of tritium in water is becoming more difficult as more
areas are contaminated. For instance, in the Screening Report of 2002, the tritium
levels taken from 15 water supply plants in communities across Ontario were used as
background controls for the water specimens used to measure tritium levels from the
effluent from nuclear power plants. Since tritium can travel a long way from its source,
some of the control areas could very well have been within the groundwater/surface
water areas affected by the nuclear power plants. Therefore, their estimates of
"background" would not be accurate.
Regulations and Standards For the most part, the nuclear industry takes direction for
allowable emissions from nuclear power plants from the International Commission on
Radiation Protection (ICRP). These standards are not health based, but rather, a
risk/benefit trade-off. The regulations for the industry are based on cancer deaths and
not on the other myriad health effects of low-level radiation, which include teratogenic
and genetic effects and autoimmune diseases. Dr. Bertell believes that it is clear from
study of the atomic bomb research that focusing on fatal cancers was a research
simplification, chosen for simplicity of calculation, and it was not meant to claim that the
only health effects from exposure to radiation were cancers (3).
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There is also serious discussion among radiobiologists about the inadequacy of the
ICRP model for dose and dose-response, based on the physics model. There is
growing agreement that it is inappropriate for application to internal alpha emitters (4).
Both NATO and the Institut de Radioprotection et de Sureté Nucléaire (IRSN) (5), the
French Official Radiation Protection Association, have found the ICRP methodology to
be faulty. The Report of the European Committee for Radiation Risk (ECRR)
presents a more up-to-date model for calculating health risks. Unlike the ICRP, the
ECRR uses evidence from the more recent research and new discoveries in radiation
biology and human epidemiology, to create a system of calculation which gives results
that are in agreement both with the mechanism of radiation action at the level of the
living cell and observation of disease in exposed populations.
The ECRR considers the present risk model of the ICRP essentially flawed. "The
Committee concludes that the ICRP justifications are based on outmoded philosophical
reasoning, specifically the averaging cost-benefit calculation of utilitarianism." Dr.
Rosalie Bertell in her article "Can the ICRP be Trusted to Set Radiation Standards?"
states, "The regulations are not a demarcation between safe and unsafe. They are just
an arbitrary decision as to how much the public should be willing to tolerate for the
benefit of the activity" (6).
As early as the 1950s and 60s, some physicists and other scientists were looking at the
possible connections to radiation of mutations and autoimmune diseases. The
following quote is taken from Chapter 11 of Principles of Radiation Protection, a
textbook written for Health Physicists edited by Karl Z. Morgan (7), and J.E. Turner
published by John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1961. It is taken from Chapter 11 Section
11-7 written by P.R.J. Burch, formerly of the Dept. of Medical Physics, University of
Leeds, U. K. The quote in turn references himself and R.G. Burwell in the Quality
Review of Biology, Vol.40, p. 252, 1965.
"If radiation is capable of inducing the same type of mutation as that which occurs
spontaneously, then the problem of assessing the effects of radiation on initiation of
autoimmune diseases is entirely analogous to the problem of radiation carcinogenesis
described in Section 11-6. ... Nevertheless, it seems quite likely that rather similar
spontaneous and radiation mutational mechanisms (spontaneous and induced DNA
strand switching) are implicated in the pathogenesis of both autoimmune and malignant
conditions" (7).
The official NATO report was dated August 1992, and was submitted to the Defence
Ministry in Paris on June 29, 2005.
The Hormesis Theory Consideration of the health effects of nuclear power generation
in the industry appears to be influenced by the Hormesis Theory, which advances the
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opinion that low dose exposure to ionizing radiation induces "beneficial" effects. Dr.
Bertell, in the above noted document, (Ref. 3) page 16, states, "Claims of low dose
hormesis have frequently been based on high dose observations, and the only
mechanisms offered for these effects has been speculation on repair overshoot at the
cellular and genome level. Cell growth as hormetic is the most troubling claim, since
illicit growth stimulation signifies catastrophe to biological organisms ... In order to
produce one "good" effect, one must endure many other unwanted "bad" effects which
will in the long run claim a physiological price perhaps significant, although they evolve
to a clinically observable level more slowly."
Some scientific discoveries that support the presence of health effects at lowdose
In the 1960s, women were sometimes given abdominal x-rays in the first trimester of
pregnancy. There was anecdotal evidence of an increase in leukemia in the children of
these mothers. Dr. Alice Stewart of the UK conducted a pioneering study that showed
that a single x-ray in the first trimester increased the chance of childhood leukemia by
50%. Alice Stewart published her first paper in 1955, before there was a nuclear
industry. These findings were attacked by medical doctors and radiologist and also by
the nuclear physicists who were "managing" the nuclear weapons. Her results have
been amply confirmed by the medical data since then (8).
In 1972, Dr. Abram Petkau, a Canadian physician and biophysicist at the Atomic
Energy of Canada Ltd. Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment, completely
overturned all conventional ideas on the biological damage produced by extremely low
doses of radiation. This was first published in the March 1972 edition of HEALTH
PHYSICS in an article called, Effect of Na-22 on a Phospholipid Membrane. He
reported that cell membranes which could withstand radiation doses as large as tens of
thousands of rads when exposed to a short burst of X-rays without breaking, ruptured
at less than one rad when subjected to low intensity protracted radiation such as that
produced by radioactive chemicals. This finding was completely contrary to all previous
observations. This is termed the Petkau Effect. Subsequent investigations by Petkau
and their co-workers showed that the cell membrane damage was due to a completely
different biological mechanism than the direct hit on the DNA in the nucleus of the cells
that had been observed at the high dose.
In his book, The Petkau Effect (9), Ralph Graeub states,
"Over a period of time, such as chronic exposures from inhaled or ingested
radioactive materials can be hundreds of thousands of times more effective in
destroying cell membranes than the same doses given in a short time as in the
case of diagnostic x-rays."
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This important discovery sparked subsequent activities by a good number of
other researchers but was ignored by regulatory agencies.
In his foreword to the second edition of The Petkau Effect, Ralph Graeub of Germany
"Almost twenty years ago when I published the book The Gentle Killers: Nuclear
Power Stations Unmasked", the nuclear establishment contemptuously branded
me as a lone wolf in the wilderness. Since then, the wilderness has fortunately
become much more populated, thanks to the many concerned scientists that have
joined the battle against the threat of nuclear power all over the world, mobilized
first by the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and then the Chernobyl disaster in
1986. Today, one survey after another indicates that there has been a complete
turnaround in public opinion, so that both in the United States and other countries,
those opposed to nuclear power have become a significant majority".
Physicist, Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass (10) wrote an article on his research on low-level
radiation about the increased incidence of leukemia from fallout that was published in
SCIENCE in 1963. The Atomic Energy Commission dismissed his findings stating that
his statistics weren't good enough. The statistics he used came from the U.S. Bureau of
Vital Statistics. At the time he was director of the Department of Radiological Physics at
the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. Hardly what you would call a "kook" but
some did call him just that according to Leslie Freeman's book, Nuclear Witnesses:
Insiders Speak Out.
Karl Z. Morgan, known as the father of health physics, wrote for and edited a textbook,
Principles of Radiation Protection, published by John Wiley & Sons, New York, in 1967.
He looked at such questions as the ratio of alpha to gamma radiation dose in terms of
the relative biological effectiveness (RBE) as the dose moves toward zero (low dose
range). It states the damage to the cells (RBE) tends to a maximum as the dose
becomes smaller in the low ranges. Thus there is more damage to cells at the lower
doses of radiation than expected. There is more survivable damage to cells from alpha
particles at the lower doses of alpha radiation. That is, the cells are not destroyed, but
are damaged. Uranium, radium and thorium are alpha particle emitters
In Chapter 11 of Morgan's text, he discusses not only carcinogenesis and leukogenesis
but also the large number of other forms of disease (morbidity) and life-shortening
effects based on American radiologists and Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors. He
notes increases in certain non-malignant diseases, the most important group being the
degenerative diseases of the cardiovascular and renal systems. "The actual surplus of
deaths among the United States radiologists is higher in the cardiovascular-renal group
than in the cancer group" (11) and (12).
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Other effects, premature aging (13), alpha particles affecting the immune system (14),
heredity (genetic effects) (15) are shown in the references below. There are many more
studies, a selection of which you can find in the accompanying references.
Most Recent Corroborative Evidence: the Extended Techa River Cohort (ETRC)
From 1949 to 1956, the rural villagers who lived along the Techa River in Russia were
subjected to both internal and external low-level radiation from a spill into the river from
a plutonium production complex upstream from their villages. Their exposure mainly
came from consuming water, milk and local food products.
Although some work was done earlier to look at the health effects of those involved, the
most comprehensive work has been done in the past ten years. The results of the
study of almost 30,000 people born before 1950 who lived near the river some time
between 1950 and 1960 provide strong evidence of the correlation between low-level
exposure and cancer (16).
Chernobyl Disaster Revisited In September 2005, the WHO, IAEA and UNDP made
a joint press release called "The Heritage of Chernobyl: medical, ecological, social and
economic consequences" which tried to demonstrate that the health consequences of
the Chernobyl accident had been exaggerated. This prompted a stern response from
the governments of Russia, Ukraine and Belorus. In their press release in repudiation
of the WHO/IAEA/UNDP report, they stated,
"This cynical profanation of the consequences of the biggest technogenic disaster
in the history is a sacrilege towards numerous Chernobyl victims; it pushes a new
round of pro-nuclear propaganda aimed by the restoration of NPP (nuclear power
plant) construction programs. This is the main reason why nuclear industry wishes
the whole world to forget Chernobyl."
It states that the report "openly ignores, tendentiously interprets, and even sometimes
falsifies the results of the research of thousands of specialists from the Ukraine,
Belarus and Russia ... it dissembles the data on the impact of Chernobyl to the
countries beyond former USSR borders."
Dr. Bertell has written a critique of the WHO/IAEA/UNDP press release where she
disputes the "science of the findings" (17).
There are a plethora of other important studies. I am mentioning only a few:
1. Radiation Risk to low fluences of Alpha particles may be greater than we thought,
(18), Centre for Radiological Research, College of Physicians and Surgeons and
Environmental Health Sciences, School of Public Health of Columbia University;
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2. Confirmation that Ionizing Radiation can Induce Genomic Instability: What is
Genomic Instability, and Why Is It So Important, (19), John Gofman, M.D., Ph.D. and
Egan O'Connor, Committee for Nuclear Responsibility;
3. How Many Bystander Effects Are There? (20), by Eric J. Hall and Stephen A.
Mitchell, Columbia University
The genetic inheritance from the present use of nuclear power plants already exists
and will soon become manifest as it increases with each generation.
l I think it is abundantly clear that low levels of ionizing radiation are not benign or
beneficial. It is clear from the huge amount of scientifically based peer-reviewed
information already available. More and more proof of the deleterious effects of
low level ionizing radiation will come to light in the months and years ahead as
those who have been affected become ill or pass on their damaged genes onto
the next generation.
l The health hazards produced from the use of nuclear power to boil water to
produce electricity, if fully understood by the general public from the outset, would
have led to the rejection of the use of nuclear electricity power plants.
Unfortunately, that did not happen.
l The mounting evidence of the health effects of low-level ionizing radiation calls out
for a change in direction away from the use of nuclear power generation.
l The Institute strongly urges the government to call a properly constituted
independent inquiry of the type suggested above before making any decision
about continuing to use nuclear power for generation of electricity or for any other
As a people, it is time for us to look at the evidence with a dispassionate eye not
blinded by the mantle of authority of the entrenched interests. The present format
consists of day-long open houses followed by evening public input sessions. There is
no way such a format can result in meaningful discussion of the concerns with the OPA
report. The Canadian public are tired of these "public inquiries" that mean nothing. Only
an open, public inquiry with a specific mandate with specific terms of reference to hear
and take into account the views of a broad spectrum of experts and concerned citizens,
presided over by a judge such as in the case of the Walkerton Inquiry, can satisfy the
imperatives of our democratic right to full disclosure.
There is an alternative, and it is feasible. There is no need to build nuclear power
plants or lengthy transmission lines! Alternative renewable environmentally benign
sources along with conservation can result in less ionizing radiation being added to
what has already been produced. Developing renewable energy resources throughout
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Ontario would lead to a cleaner environment for all. The leadership provided by
Germany, Spain and Denmark should be an example. They have demonstrated the
important role that government can play to bring about a strong renewable energy
system. More and more of the public are becoming aware of the health effects of not
only coal-fired plants, but also of nuclear power plants. In spite of the advertisements of
the Canadian Nuclear Association to promote "NUCLEAR" as "CLEAN", more and
more people are coming to understand the dangers of low-level ionizing radiation.
The IICPH recommends that the present Ontario government move to phase out the
use of nuclear power to generate electricity and move to renewable energy sources as
soon as possible The current policies intended to support renewable energy should be
greatly magnified. It takes political will at the provincial and federal level to achieve the
rates of adoption of renewable energy that are possible and necessary in Ontario. The
Province of Ontario could be the vehicle for bringing about the necessary change in
direction. It would not be long until the benefits would accrue towards a cleaner
environment. You would have the satisfaction of setting a trend that other jurisdictions
could follow.
If we love our children and grandchildren, if we recognize that we are stewards of our
biosphere, we must not turn a blind eye to the hazards from nuclear radiation. The
health risks from even very low levels of radiation need to be recognized. No one is
protected from the effects of ionizing radiation. In this 21st century, we are all at risk.
Marion Odell
International Institute for Public Health
cc Hon. Donna Cansfield, Minister of Energy
Hon. George Smitherman, Minister of Health
(1) BEIR 19900 Health Effects of Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: ISBN 0-
309-03995-9 National Academy of Sciences; No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a
Radioactive Earth by Rosalie Bertell. Available through IICPH
(2) Tritium, Properties, Metabolism, Dosimetry, Carcinogenic, Mutagenic,
Teratogenic and Transmutational Effects of Tritium
(3) No Immediate Danger:
Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth by Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., G.N.S.H., biometrist and
epidemiologist. Still available through IICPH
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(4) ECRR Recommendations of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, Chris
Busby, ed., Regulator's Edition.
(5) The official NATO report dated August 1992, which was submitted to the Defense
Ministry in Paris on June 29, 2005 and made public by France on July 1, 2005.
(6) ECRR2003 (ISBN 1 897761 24 4) can be obtained from the publisher at a Green
Audit price of EU 75.00. Email to for information. The quote can
be found at Dr. Bertell's article is at
(7) Karl Z. Morgan See other documents in "Human Radiation Studies: Remembering
the Early Years"
(8) Alice Stewart, Low-level Radiation: The Effects, Human and Non-Human,; One Hundred Years After
Roentgen, Proceeds of the International Congress, Berlin, 1995, Low Level Radiation
Exposure Effects in the Tri-State Leukemia Study, Rosalie Bertell, pages 48 - 59,
published 1997.
(9) The Petkau Effect
(10) Ernest J. Sternglass
(11) Radiosensitivity Mechanisms at Low Doses: Inflammatory Responses to
microGray Radiation Levels in Human Blood, G.Vickers, Dept. of Biology, University of
Bremen, Journal, International Perspectives in Public Health, Vol. 9, pp. 4-20 1993.
(12) X-Ray Exposure and Premature Aging, Rosalie Bertell, Roswell Park Memorial
Cancer Institute, Journal of Surgical Oncology, Vol. 9, 379 - 391 1977.
(14) Alpha Particles
(15) Heredity
(16) SCIENCE Vol. 310, 11 November 2005,
(17) Statement of the Russian Political Parties
Rosalie Bertell responds to the 2005 WHO/IAEA/UNDP Press Release on Chernobyl
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Nuclear Power is NOT OK! "On
Internal Irradiation and Health Consequences of Chernobyl Accident" Chris Busby
(18) Radiation Risk to low fluences of Alpha Particles
(19) 100 Years after Roentgen, Proceeds of the International Congress, Berlin, 1995;
“Low Level Radiation Exposure Effects in the Tri-State Leukemia Study”, Rosalie
Bertell, pp. 48-59, published 1997.
(20) "How Many Bystander Effects Are There?"
From the IICPH Resource Centre
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