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Radiation and reason: the impact of science on a culture of confusion

A summary and brief explanation of the origins, history and current dialogue concerning evidence that there are grounds for an urgent re-evaluation of the link between ionising radiation and health problems, particularly in children and young people (June 2020 update).

This report was commissioned by Children with Cancer UK. It hasn't yet been finally signed off but is available now, as a preliminary report, to inform the present debate on the advisability of granting Electricité de France a licence to dump 780,000 tonnes of mud and rock in the Severn Estuary adjacent to Cardiff. Such licences are a prerogative of the Welsh Government.
The report was updated in June 2020 with the addition of a new part to reflect publication of correspondence in the scientific literature that explicitly identifies a Scientific Revolution in progress. The new information relates to evidence that inhaled radioactive particles are far more dangerous than predicted by official risk estimates.

Inhalation risk

The concern is that the mud is to be dredged from the Severn at the Hinkley Point nuclear site to facilitate development work for the new ‘C’ station. This mud is very likely to be contaminated with particles of uranium and plutonium which could be re-suspended in the atmosphere by well-known wave action mechanisms. They would be blown inland and be inhaled by people in South Wales.

Subverted science

The report tells how, from 1943 onward, the developing science of radiation protection was subverted to protect nuclear weapons projects and nuclear power. It presents evidence, including the authors' own experience, of how the long debate about radiation risk has been plagued by avoidable complexity and downright evasion. It is intended for non-specialist readers and therefore uses accessible language to explain relevant concepts and terminology.

The key message

Evidence of disease associated with routine reactor operation, accidents, fuel reprocessing and nuclear weapons testing shows far more harm than official risk factors predict. Rates of cancer, leukaemia and congenital malformations are all higher than expected on the basis of estimated doses. The report explains that this is because official risk factors conceive radiation as an average dose to body tissue, but particles of alpha-emitters such as uranium and plutonium emit a quality of radiation which can travel only a tiny distance. This means that when a particle is in the body (following inhalation, for example) it can only affect the few cells nearby. Each particle deposits very high densities of energy into that volume of cells with a high potential to damage their genetic material, but the rest of the body gets no dose at all.

Official ignorance

None of the four environment agencies in the UK holds any data on inhalable particles although the report has micro-photographs of particles found by volunteers on beaches near Sellafield and in car engine filters from Hinkley Point. The methods proposed by Natural Resources Wales for testing the Hinkley Point mud are incapable of detecting inhalable particles of uranium and plutonium.

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27 June 2020