NOTE to anyone who got here by querying "health effects in Elliot Lake" or similar queries: you may want to consider also having a look at the posting 'Uranium: Got 46 minutes?' ***************************
Once again I would like to thank you for the opportunity of having presented my submission to the panel.
You have heard from a number of physician, scientists and other citizens who are deeply concerned about the risks of expanding nuclear power. As presented in my submission, numerous scientists and physicians, including myself, have extensively reviewed the scientific literature and have come to the unwavering conclusion: there is no safe level of radiation exposure. The vast literature that I have personally reviewed includes the report the“Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII Phase 2.”
The National Research Council panel found a linear dose curve, meaning that the higher the dose, the greater the likelihood of developing cancer. However they also recognized that “a single radiation track (resulting in the lowest exposure possible) traversing the nucleus of an appropriate target cell has a low but finite probability of damaging the cell’s DNA.”
Cumulative exposure increases the risk. There is no safe level of radiation exposure. The interpretation of the BEIR report given by Patsy Thompson, a toxicologist working for CNSC, was biased and misleading at best and not supported by a large number of the scientific community.
The evidence of increased risk to children living near a nuclear reactor of developing leukemia is also overwhelming and irrefutable. An analysis of the data presented by Rachel Lane, an epidemiologist for CNSC, and Patsy Thompson on March 31, which denies this connection, is both circular and flawed. Not expecting an outcome does not negate an outcome. Furthermore, finding other clusters of children with leukemia is completely irrelevant. In a world riddled with carcinogenic toxins, this too is expected and should be addressed. This does not negate the evidence that children living near a nuclear reactor are at higher risk of developing leukemia.
Ms. Lane also referred to studies done in Canada and stated “there is no substantive evidence that there are any adverse health effects related to environmental radiation exposures from these facilities.” In fact the studies are minimal, and lack medical collaboration, but do suggest possible health risks which require further study and improved design. There is no substantial evidence that environmental radiation exposures from these facilities are safe.
Additionally we are still discovering the devastating consequences of the Chernobyl disaster to human health and life. This nuclear disaster resulted in contamination of a large area of land, numerous deaths and many suffering from illnesses including thyroid cancer, leukemia, brain tumours, congenital defects and mental deficiencies. The data that Ms. Lane presented to the panel on March 31 on Chernobyl is not consistent with a recent report published by the New York Academy of Sciences. Russian and Ukraine physicians state that there have been almost one million people who have died as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. Ms. Lane claimed the “official” death count as 4000. Where the numbers are so far apart, there is good reason to doubt the accuracy of what we are being told.
The health dangers of radiation are clear. All the processes in the mining, milling, refining, and enriching uranium - and running the nuclear reactor - increase exposure to radiation, even when using Canadian standard precautions. Nuclear tailings and waste are also a particular risk to the environment. Nuclear technology increases individual exposure and the global burden of radiation. This will increase the incidence of cancer and other diseases linked to radiation exposure. Risks include cancer, genetic damage, birth defects, immune system dysfunction, diabetes and heart disease.
According to the Ontario Diabetes Database, there is a higher incidence of diabetes in the Central East Local Health Integrated Network, LHIN 9, than in Ontario in general. The incidence was particularly high in the region near Pickering. Diabetes is becoming a global pandemic and there is much blossoming evidence that radiation exposure, including from nuclear reactors, is contributing to this. While there is not substantial evidence to conclude that the nuclear reactors at Pickering and Darlington are responsible for this local increase, there is sufficient evidence to conclude that there might be a risk. It is consistent with evidence that the local population is exposed to increased levels of radiation and that that radiation is causing negative health effects. Based on the “Precautionary Principle,” this, alone, is substantial evidence to call for a moratorium on nuclear expansion.
The Precautionary Principle states that if there is a possibility of harm to a population or the environment from an action, we should not proceed with that action.
In my own practice as a Palliative Care Physician, I have seen a number of patients with cancer, particularly breast and lung cancer, who were living either in the area of the Bruce Nuclear reactor or in the Pickering/Darlington/Port Hope region at the time of their diagnosis. Just as smokers often quit smoking after they are diagnosed with lung cancer, many of these people left the area that they felt contributed to the etiology of their cancer. I have also had patients who spent many years in Elliot Lake and later developed lung cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic carcinoma or lymphoma. I know firsthand that there are no studies identifying, tracking, reporting or investigating any of these people.
There is cost to human health and to the taxpayer. The reactors at Darlington were almost $10 billion over the original budget. We spend well over $100 million a year in just protecting nuclear reactors in Ontario. We are squandering tax dollars on private armies. Investment in safe forms of sustainable technology pale in comparison. If health concerns were not enough to make using nuclear energy to boil water unacceptable, financial concerns should surely bring the industry to a halt. Every dollar wasted on expanding and protecting nuclear technology is a dollar diverted from the development of renewable, sustainable green energy.
We cannot continue to live in denial of the possibility of a significant accident happening in Canada. We have had numerous accidents.
There was a significant meltdown of a reactor in Rolphton, Ontario, Chalk River, in December, 1952. At that time the core was damaged. There was also an accident at Chalk River on May 24, 1958 in which fuel was damaged.
A severe nuclear event occurred in Pinawa, Manitoba in November, 1978. The reactor which was cooled by a type of oil, terphenyl isomer, experienced a major coolant leak as one of the pipes developed a hole and 2,739 litres of oil escaped.
It took several weeks for workers to find and repair the leak. Much of the leaked oil was then discharged into the Winnipeg River. According to Dr. Agnes Bishop of the Atomic Energy Control Board, (later the CNSC), the fuel reached high temperatures.
Although the temperature did not hit the meltdown level, it did result in three fuel elements being broken, with some fission products being released. The accident, which many consider significant especially to the health and safety of the people of Manitoba, was not reported for several years.
An attempt was made in 2000 to have the full report from this accident made public, but Atomic Energy of Canada refused, and labelled it “Protected.”
We may never know what radioactive carcinogens were vented or released into the air and water. There has been no systematic medical response to investigate or follow potentially affected workers or the local population.
On 9th August 1989, at the Pickering reactor an accident resulted in a mechanic being exposed to six times the yearly industry accepted radiation limit. Another worker who was standing nearby was also exposed. The workers were replacing a radioactive control rod, which is moved in or out of a reactor to control the nuclear process, when a radiation detection device one of the men was holding went off scale. It was later discovered that the equipment being used by the men was designed for training and did not contain lead, which provides workers with some shielding from radiation.
In early October of the same year, 1989, human error resulted in operations workers mistakenly putting Tritium-contaminated heavy water into the heat transport system of the Unit 2 reactor at the Darlington nuclear station.
Of interest, a significant accident was reported at Fukushima, Japan that same year.
Additionally, as many as 217 workers were exposed to radioactivity at the Bruce nuclear power station while refurbishing a reactor in November 2009. Again, no details have been released and there has been no systematic medical response to investigate or follow these workers.
Accidents and leaks continue. On March 16 of this year 73,000 litres of demineralised water were released into Lake Ontario when a pump seal failed at the Pickering Nuclear Power Plant. While this accident is considered by the industry to be small, it is a significant health risk and demonstrates once again that the Canadian system is not perfect.
Frequent leaks of contaminated water have also been a significant health risk at uranium mines and tailing sites. One example occurred in November 1989, when there was a 2-million litre spill of radioactive water at Rabbit Lake, Saskatchewan, due to a faulty pipe burst. The spill remained undetected for 14 hours even though there were Atomic Energy Control Board inspectors on site.
Moreover the current tragedy in Fukushima, Japan is of great importance. Already people have died; food, water and air have been contaminated. Every day we are hearing more about the impact of the local crisis and international consequences. We still have more to ascertain. This disaster has permanently increased the global burden of radiation and must not be repeated. Ontario has recently been found to have increased levels of radiation. The origin and significance of this must be evaluated. If governments and industry refuse to learn from history, it will repeat itself.
While it appears that the risk of terrorism is small, based on the amount we spend defending nuclear reactors, it is not negligible. The very technology which prevents the need for opening fuel cells has also been equated with an increased risk of theft, diversion and terrorism. Fuel can be removed from CANDU reactors at any time without shutting down the reactor, and the fuel elements are substantially smaller and more portable than is the case for LWRs (Light Water Reactors). In a LWR, the entire reactor core is a single large pressure vessel containing the light water, which acts as moderator and coolant, and the fuel arranged in a series of long bundles running the length of the core. In CANDU the pressure and the fuel bundle are contained in much smaller and lighter, easier to fabricate tubes. The CANDU technology has its own significant risks.
An accident or terrorist event in the Toronto vicinity would be devastating. A Public Health response is not ready for such a catastrophic occurrence. In medicine we do not perform a procedure unless we are prepared for the worst possible outcome of that procedure. We are not prepared for a nuclear accident.
In order to promote unbiased scientific method and uphold the principle of democracy, we desperately need studies in Canada on the health risks of nuclear power that are not in the control of the nuclear industry. We need to respect and value differing scientific opinion, not just those of nuclear physicists and industry representatives.
The nuclear industry has provided the Review panel with interpretations of data from their perspective. The scientific and medical communities are not in consensus with their biased and narrow-focused opinions. While CNSC and OPG officials have attempted to minimize the risks, they have not proven safety. The “Precautionary Principle” must be implemented. We need to invest in safe, sustainable, renewable energy now. The hunger for power does not justify leaving a toxic, radioactive inheritance for generations to come.
Nuclear technology must be phased out, not expanded.
Sharon Baker, MD, MCFP