Health Risk Analysis of nuclear power

Ethics of Nuclear Energy  Abu-Dayyeh (P.hD) Amman – H.K. of Jordan E_case Society (President)  [Extract]

“…..2- Health Risk Analysis

If “risk” is defined as the product of probability of an accident happening with its severity, we ought to start this title by considering first major commercial nuclear accidents of level 7 on the INES scale, as a priority in analysis, so we must consider 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe where “Emissions from Chernobyl reactor exceeded a hundredfold the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki(10).

The latest New York Academy report on Chernobyl catastrophe has published horrendous facts of more than a million causalities; the new book concludes: Chernobyl death toll: 985,000, mostly from cancer (11). A paper by Kristina Voigt and Hagen Scherb also showed that after 1986, in the aftermath of Chernobyl, around 800,000 fewer children were born in Europe than one might have expected. The overall number of “missing” children after Chernobyl could have reached about one million (12); not to mention that the researchers have not covered all countries in their count!

According to UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation), adding to the latter casualties, between 12,000 and 83,000 children who lived in the vicinity of Chernobyl were born with congenital deformations, and also estimate that around 30,000 to 207,000 genetically damaged children were born worldwide (13). Amongst the interesting findings was that only 10% of the overall expected damage was actually seen in the first generation; the worse is yet to come with the offspring. A similar research on butterflies around Fukushima has yielded a similar result which will be discussed later.

As for the level 6 on the INES scale, it is classified as a serious nuclear accident that includes the accident at the Kyshtym facility in Russia in 1957, unfortunately not much research was published! on level 5, accidents with wider consequences include United Kingdom Windscale facility in the year 1957, Chalk River – Canada in 1952 and the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, after which the USA only licensed few new reactors; At present, only three nuclear reactors are being constructed in the United States: Watts Bar 2 reactor (1180 MW) which started  decades ago, and was put on hold till 2007, expected by the IAEA to commercially operate in 2015. Another two reactors; vogtle 3 and Summer 2 of 1200 MW each, are expected to operate in 2017(14).

The Fukushima-Daitii nuclear accident in Japan on March 2011 is also classified as level 5. However, nuclear accidents of level 4 with local consequences include a long list, so are levels 4,3,2 and 1; a non-ending list of accidents(15).

In one year only (2008), according to an IRSN report, 205 accidents were recorded in nuclear facilities (safety and environmental), a noticeable 56% increase compared to the accidents recorded in 2005 which accounted for 131 accidents only. A typical example of those accidents is the leakage of 20 m3 of radioactive water from Socatri facility at Tricastin – France. Some of the radioactive water followed rain water drainage into the eco-system while the rest radioactive water seeped underground polluting the soil and under-ground water aquifers (16).

Since March 2011 funds of hundreds of billions of dollars are being allocated by TEPCO, the Tokyo Electricity Company, as to cover for the direct damages of the Fukushima disaster; however, the scale of damage on biodiversity and genetic disorders is not clearly understood.

The early mutations of butterflies around Fukushima are alarming as the mutations disorders have been increasing with the offspring. Mutations caused by Fukushima disaster radiation had affected 12% of adult pale grass blue butterflies in the surrounding area two months after the March 2011 disaster. When that batch mated, it produced an offspring with an 18% mutation rate. In the following generation, mutations were found in 34% of the butterflies born. In September 2011, a new study disclosed that the adult butterflies displayed 28% mutation rate and their offspring had a whopping 58% mutation rate (17).

In a similar study on mice after 25 years of the Chernobyl catastrophe, it yielded the following outcome: “The rate of mutation amongst the field mice is one hundred thousand times higher than normal” (18).

Another environmental damage connected with the nuclear industry is thermal pollution which is basically the form of water pollution that refers to degradation of water quality by any process that changes ambient water temperature. The main cause of thermal pollution is attributed to one particular industry, or to be more precise to nuclear power plants that use water as a coolant. After this water has been used as a coolant it is returned to the natural environment at a higher temperature. This change in water temperature decreases the amount of oxygen in the water which can lead to negative ecological effects.

Less oxygen in the water can harm fish population, as it can increase the metabolic rate of fish population and other aquatic animals so that they would more likely eat a lot more food in a shorter period of time than if their environment was not changed. This change can lead to imbalance in the food chain, thus resulting in significant long-term damage to many aquatic ecosystems.

Warmer water temperatures are known to lead to reproduction problems for many aquatic animals, and can further cause huge bacteria and plant growth. Warmer waters can even lead to algae bloom resulting in a consequent loss of more oxygen in the water. However, this damage is likely to be ethically benign compared to the mutations that result from radioactivity.

As for the effects of radioactivity on humans, scientists from the universities of Moscow and Leicester examined blood samples from 79 families, the parents of who had been living within a 300 km radius of nuclear reactors. The scientists were surprised by children born between February and September 1994 as cases of mutations had doubled (19). Peter karamoskos, a nuclear radiologist, quotes the following: “There is a linear dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of solid cancers in humans. It is unlikely that there is a threshold below which cancers are not induced(20). Radiation can cause the breakdown in chromosomes, causing Down’s syndrome in babies as well as mental and physical disorders. Children exposed to radiation have a higher risk to develop leukemia (21).

Higher incidence of leukemia in UK children has been reported in the environment of the Sellafield (Windscale) fuel reprocessing facility in England (22-23), not far from the Dounreay reprocessing plant in Scotland (24-25), and also in similar children who lived within a few kilometers from the Aldermaston or Burghfield military weapons facilities in England (26). In a comprehensive survey done by Forman et al(27) and Cook-Mozaffari et al (28-29) reported excess mortality rate due to leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease particularly in young persons living in the vicinity of fourteen nuclear facilities, eight of them electricity generating nuclear plants.

In the United Kingdom, studies of populations living near nuclear power plants have yielded mixed results. Ewings et al (30) found increased incidence of leukemia and lymphoma in young persons near the Hinckley Point power station. Clap et al (31) reported an excess incidence of leukemia in men in five towns near the Pilgrim nuclear power station in Massachusetts…….”


One Response to “Health Risk Analysis of nuclear power”

  1. Nuclear and Climate News to 3rd December – Australia and more | Nuclear Australia Says:

    […] subject – ETHICS.  Some aspects of “nuclear ethics” are climate change, health and environment, sustainability, developing countries, economic feasibility,  – conclusion – nuclear […]

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