Radioactive Times. Vol.4 No 2 November 2000
Into the abyss
Our readers are familiar with the idea that the usual model of radiation risk at low dose is based on guesswork, but the uncompromising message which a battery of academics delivered to the Society for Radiological Protection in October came as a shock to that body of professionals.
Can I hang onto any of the old certainties? came the plaintive query towards the end of the day. A more relevant question would have been: Where do we go from here?
For several years the Low Level Radiation Campaign has unfalteringly pointed out the weakness of ICRP's model. In what has become a routine in government consultations, we have presented an enormous body of evidence demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that radioactivity in the environment is contributing to the rising tide of cancer and other genetically determined health problems.
The list of evidence grows continuously; two additions are reported in this issue, though for legal reasons we can say little about Green Audit's latest bombshell. All we can say is that official cancer figures from Ireland produce a mirror image of the very high risks along the Irish Sea coast of Wales, which is apparent for all malignancies and in all the available databases. So much for sea dispersion being safe. The only sustainable response is to stop the pollution, but we have always known that this was too much for politicians and civil servants to swallow, for if we are right, then major programmes like Trident, fuel reprocessing, and nuclear electricity will be fatally compromised, and a new approach will have to be found for every area of policy, from Britain's leisurely approach to reducing marine discharges under the OSPAR agreement, to the recycling of materials from dismantled nuclear plant and the standards nuclear operators must observe before walking away from contaminated land.
And the people who sanctioned the creation and use of Depleted Uranium weapons will be considered as war criminals.
No wonder the bureaucrats find it easier to listen to the weasel voices: ICRP are the experts, and there is no epidemiological evidence that their model is wrong; no wonder they are willing to overlook the circularity of the logic: OK, they say, Phenomena like the Seascale leukaemia cluster are real, and Gulf War veterans may be dying too young, but according to ICRP's model the radiation doses are too low to be the cause. ICRP is the rotten prop on which this platform sways, and beneath lies the abyss - a health scandal involving half a century's denials and evasions.
What is to be done?
It's no good looking to NRPB. As LLRC well knows, their dogged adherence to their models means that they are mere technicians making deductions from what they think is known, not scientists open-mindedly looking at real world phenomena. And NRPB is crippled by institutional defects. As this issue of RaT shows, their most senior staff bluff their way through, believing their hearers to be too ignorant to refute them. Their bio-effects specialists refuse to address epidemiology, and their epidemiologists are incapable of addressing anything.
We would argue that there is is no need for further epidemiology - the writing is already on the wall. What is needed now is a programme of well funded laboratory research and case control studies to identify which isotopes, and which chemical and physical forms of them, are the greatest threats to health, for it is possible that some are no more dangerous than ubiquitous natural radioactivity. Even a pro-nuclear government should see advantage in this, but it is an area which has been totally eclipsed by the dominance of the "average energy transfer" model - a concept with no more rationality than describing the effects of being shot in the head by calculating how much your body temperature is raised by the friction between the bullet and your brain. On radioactive emissions Environment Minister Michael Meacher has taken as prudent a line as he is able, but his post doesn't even qualify for a Cabinet seat. This is a Health issue with implications for the MoD and Trade and Industry - ministries dominated by Blairites. And Blair is committed to nuclear technology. Itís easy to see why the DoH has not, so far, been prepared to commission any - repeat any - relevant research. This must change.
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