LLRC Journal Radioactive Times. Vol.4 No 1

Hiroshima standard criticised

Report from Radioactive Times Volume 4, Number 1, June 2000 (content not updated)

Bomb survivor studies "outdated as basis for radiation protection standards"

Radiation protection standards rely too much on studies of A-bomb survivors, according to American researcher Steve Wing, whose team analysed the relative strengths of data from two exposed populations -- A-bomb survivors and nuclear plant workers.

Results appear in a special section on "The Science and Politics of Radiation Studies" in the current issue of the scientific journal New Solutions. They found that the interpretation of health data for nuclear workers depends on "an increasingly outdated emphasis" on studies of A-bomb survivors, although studies over two decades suggest that relying on bomb survivor studies may mean that cancer risks among exposed populations are seriously underestimated..

The new paper appears just after the start of the National Research Council's reassessment of the consequences of exposure to low-level radiation, a project that may take as long as three years to complete. It is of special interest in light of the US government's stunning admission in the last week of January that workers at 14 nuclear weapons plants were exposed to radiation that caused cancer and premature death.

The authors examined why the A-bomb survivor studies have dominated the field. They noted the influence of military and industrial interests in such research, the problems of access to data and the difficulty of obtaining funding. Further, they say,

" ... researchers investigating radiation health effects among nuclear workers will have to overcome the constraints imposed by this scientific culture upon hypothesis generation, design, analysis and interpretation of occupational studies."
Scientific attention to studies of nuclear worker should increase in the future, they said.
"Longer follow-up and larger numbers of deaths will increase their statistical power and opportunities for analysis of rare causes of death, disease latency and influences of age at exposure and other aspects of susceptibility. Greater attention to historical records at DOE (Department of Energy) facilities should allow better measurement of radiological and other exposures.
"As researchers and policy-makers come to appreciate the unique advantages of studies of nuclear workers, these studies should make a greater impact on occupational and environmental exposure standards."
Wing has conducted studies of nuclear industry workers at Oak Ridge, Hanford, Los Alamos and Savannah River. He is currently involved in a study of Hanford workers and a project focusing on environmental injustice in Eastern North Carolina. Co- authors are Dr. David Richardson, visiting scientist at the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, and Dr. Alice Stewart, professor of public health and epidemiology at the University of Birmingham in England.

LLRC talked to Richardson and Wing in Germany last year and noted that their epidemiology is based on external radiation hazard. So although the nuclear workers may provide more accurate risk results than the A-bomb survivors, the internal dose risk still cannot be calculated from their data.

Note: Wing can be reached at 919-966-7416. Contact: David Williamson, 919-962- 8596. For copies of the Wing paper, call Mary Lee Dunn at 978-934-3263.

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