Volume 3, Issue 2
Victims of the Nuclear Age
Up to 1,300 million people have been killed,
maimed or diseased by nuclear power since
it's inception. The industry's figures massively underestimate the real cost of nuclear power,
in an attempt to hide its victims from the world. Here, the author calculates the real
number of victims of the nuclear age.
By Dr. Rosalie Bertell, PhD
the tenth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, I was standing at a public
meeting in Kiev, Ukraine, listening to the story of one of the firemen employed
to clean up the site after the explosion. These workers took huge doses of
radiation during this task, and their story is a terrifying one. About 600,000
men were conscripted as Chernobyl 'liquidators' [also called bio-robots']:
farmers, factory workers, miners, and soldiers, as well as professionals like
the firemen, from all across Russia. Some of these men lifted pieces of
radioactive metal with their bare hands. They had to fight more than 300 fires
created by the chunks of burning material spewed off by the inferno. After the
fire was put out, they buried trucks, fire engines, cars and all sorts of
personal belongings. They felled a forest and completely buried it, removed
topsoil, bulldozed houses and filled all available clay-lined trenches with
minimum conscription time was 180 days, but many stayed for a
'liquidators' are now discarded and forgotten, many vainly trying to establish
that the ill health most have suffered ever since 1986 is a result of their
massive exposure to radiation. At the Center for Radiation Research outside
Kiev, there is an organization of former liquidators. This group reports that by
1995, 13,000 of their members had died- almost 20 percent of which deaths were
suicides. About 70,000 members were estimated to be permanently disabled. But
the members of this organization are the lucky ones. Because many former
liquidators are now scattered throughout Russia, they neither have the benefit
of the organization's special hospital, nor of membership of a survivor
organization. They are known as the 'living dead.'
fireman whose story I was listening to seemed to be an exception to this grim
litany of illness and death. He was telling the meeting how pleased and excited
he was that, for the first time in ten years, his blood test findings were in
the normal range. I was standing next to a delegate from the International
Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]- the organization charged with promoting the use of
atomic energy. On hearing the fireman's story, he leaned over to me and said:
"You see! We said these were only transient disorders".
A rough translation of which might read: “Chernobyl? What's the
IAEA delegate's attitude was perfectly in keeping with that of his organization
which, along with the International Commission on Radiological Protection [ICRP]
exists in practice largely to play down the effects of radiation on human
health, and to shield the nuclear industry from compensation claims from workers
and the public. The IAEA was set up in the late 1950s by he UN, to prevent the
spread of nuclear weapons and to promote the peaceful use of atomic energy-
ironically, two contradictory objectives. The ICRP which evolved from the 1928
physician’s organization, International Committee on X-Ray and Radium
Protection, was set up in the nineteen fifties to explore the health effects of
radiation and [theoretically] to protect the public from it. In fact, both
Chernobyl case is a classic example of the IAEA's inadequacy and questionable
science. Despite massive evidence to the contrary, not least from the many
thousands of victims themselves, the IAEA insists that only 32 people have so
far died as a result of Chernobyl- those who died in the radiation ward of
Hospital six in Moscow. All other deaths related to the disaster and its
aftermath [and there have been many more than 10,000 in Ukraine alone according
to the Minister of Health there] are ignored. Belarus had the highest fallout,
and yet there is an international blackout among the IAEA and the rest of the
"radiation protection community" on the suffering of its people.
essential problem is that both the IAEA and the ICRP are dealing not with
science but with politics and administration;
not with public health but with maintaining an increasingly dubious
industry. It is their interests, and those of the nuclear industry, to play down
the health effects of radiation.
main way in which the radiation
protection industry has succeeded
in hugely underrating the ill-health caused by nuclear power is by insisting on
a group of extremely restrictive definitions as to what qualifies as a
radiation-caused illness. For example, under IAEA's criteria:
a radiation-caused cancer is not fatal, it is not counted in the IAEA's
a cancer is initiated by another carcinogen, but accelerated or promoted by
exposure to radiation, it is not counted.
an auto-immune disease or any non-cancer is caused by radiation, it is not
embryos or fetuses which result in miscarriage or stillbirth do not count
congenitally blind, deaf or malformed child whose illnesses are
radiation-related are not included in the figures because this is not
genetic damage, but rather is teratogenic, and will not be passed on later
to the child's offspring.
the genetic predisposition to breast cancer or heart disease does not count
since it is not a "serious genetic disease" in the Mendelian
if radiation causes a fatal cancer in any one or serious genetic disease in
a live born infant, it is discounted if the estimated radiation dose is
below 100 mSv [mSv means millisievert,a measurement of radiation exposure. A
nuclear worker is permitted between 20 and 50 mSv per year.]
Even if radiation causes a lung cancer, it does not count if the
person smokes- in fact whenever there is a possibility of another cause,
radiation cannot be blamed.
all else fails, it is possible to average over the whole body the radiation dose
which has actually been received by only one part of the body or even one organ,
as for instance when radio-iodine concentrates in the thyroid. This arbitrary
dilution of the dose will ensure that the 100 mSv cut-off point is not reached.
is the technique used to dismiss the sickness of Gulf War veterans who inhaled
small particles of ceramic uranium which stayed in their lungs for more than two
years, and in their bodies for more than eight years, irradiating and damaging
cells in a particular part of the body.
the authorities' attempt at concealment, we can still begin to enumerate the
real victims of the nuclear age. Although the calculations and statistics which
I have brought to bear below do not include all of the human suffering that has
been caused by the nuclear age, a closer look will show that the methodology is
adequate for a first estimate of major damage. The magnitude of the harm already
caused is startling, and even more so when we realize many types of damage have
been omitted from this first estimate.
estimate of radiation damage, induced
cancer, whether fatal or non-fatal [excluding non-fatal skin cancer], genetic
damage and serious congenital malformations and diseases will be included in the
figures. Other lesser human damage is acknowledged but not estimated.
nuclear industry uses the word “detriment” for the radiation damage which it
considers to be important. I have
broadened that list. Ultimately,
whether or not one cares about the damage caused by radiation exposure, i.e.
refers to it as “detriment”, is
a human, not a scientific question. Damage is damage, and causing an
unwanted attack on someone's person or reproductive capacity is a violation of
human rights. Such damage can be rated for importance, but it should not be
are the people with the tears wiped away" stated one of the Rongelap people
of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, who 'hosted' the United States Bikini
nuclear testing in the 1950s. This is the story of many tears, and of a hard
hearted mindset that laid down the degree of suffering
and ill-health that would be the 'acceptable' price to pay for the world
'benefiting' from nuclear technology.
ESTIMATES USED IN THIS ANALYSIS
order to estimate the real victims of the nuclear industry [as opposed to those
figures enumerated by the ICRP, IAEA and other nuclear apologists] I will take
the customary risk estimates, indicate their probable range of error, and then
extend the definition to cover related events not recognized as 'detriments' by
the regulators. For example, while the nuclear regulators only take fatal
cancers into consideration as 'detriments', others, especially those who endure
a non-fatal cancer, may find their suffering equally worthy of consideration.
And limiting genetic effects to live born offspring does not wipe away the tears
of a family that has endured a spontaneous miscarriage or stillbirth.
THE FATAL AND NON-FATAL CANCER RISKS
1991, the ICRP concluded that the projected lifetime risk of fatal cancer for
members of the population exposed to one Sievert whole-body radiation at a low
dose rate, was between seven and 11 excess fatal cancers, and seven to eight
excess fatalities for workers in the nuclear industry
aged 25 to 64 years. We extend
these estimates to non-fatal cancers by estimating the total number of cancers
which were used by the ICRP in order to obtain their number of fatalities. We
therefore estimate 16 fatal and
non-fatal cancers if we exclude non-fatal skin cancers, or 26 if we count them. If the estimate of fatal cancers was too low by a factor of
two then we can double these numbers.
conservative estimate I will use for radiation induced cancer in this analysis
is 16 per 100 Person Sieverts exposure, but the reader can adjust this estimate
to suit other inclusions, exclusions or uncertainties.
DAMAGE TO AN EMBRYO OR FETUS
to the BEIR Committee [Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation] 1990 report, a
dose of 150 mSv to human male testes will cause temporary sterility, and a
single dose of 3.5 Sv will cause permanent sterility. According to the ICRP in
1991, just 5 mSv to the testes could cause damage to offspring - yet this dose
was permitted yearly to members of the public, and ten times more was permitted
to nuclear workers, in all countries prior to 1990. It continues today to be
permitted yearly for nuclear workers in most countries.
carry with them all of the ova from birth which they will ever have. The
threshold for permanent female sterilization decreases with age, but in general
about 650 mSv is considered to be the threshold for temporary sterility in
women. However, after the Bravo
event- the detonation of a hydrogen bomb at the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific
in March 1954- the women of Rongelap Atoll experienced about five years
of sterility. As they regained their fertility, they experienced faulty
pregnancies, miscarriages, stillbirths and damage to their offspring. Since some
radionucleides can be retained in bone or fatty tissues, they are able to cross
the placenta barrier and disrupt the developing embryo or fetus. Radionuclides
in the mother's body can also be transferred to offspring in her breast milk.
official nuclear industry definition of 'detriment' to offspring includes only
serious genetic disease. It
eliminates damage not judged to be serious, and all teratogenic diseases [those
which are not passed on to offspring]. For example, radiation exposure in-utero
could cause a child to be blind or deaf, but that blindness or deafness would
not be passed on to the child’s offspring. This would be called teratogenic
damage and not counted. Recently
the 1990 BEIR committee made one
small concession in recognizing mental retardation in children exposed to
radiation during the fifth to 15th weeks of their mother's pregnancy. Radiation
kills brain cells, causing both an underdeveloped brain [microcephaly] and
mental retardation. For the individual child, BEIR estimates that a dose in-utero
of 100 to 500 mSv can cause a range of problems from poor school performance to
severe mental retardation. This analysis considers both genetic and teratogenic
damage to be “detrimental”.
U.N. Scientific Committee on the effects of Atomic Radiation [UNSCEAR] and BEIR
both agree that a population of one million live births, with 100 Person
Sieverts exposure to parents, will result in one to three genetic damage effects
can also use a second methodology to calculate genetic damage.
The doubling dose for genetic effects [the dose that will cause twice as
many genetic effects] is more contentious, with some geneticists claiming that
it is 2.5 Sv, and others claiming much greater sensitivity with a 0.12 Sv
doubling dose. If the total average
dose to parents is 100 Person Sieverts, there will be 4 genetic effects per
million live births if the doubling dose is 2.5 Sv, but there will be
83 such effects if the doubling dose is 0.12 Sv.
the conservative side, we have taken 10 genetic effects to be the number of
genetic effects for offspring of parents exposed to 100 Person Sieverts.
OF TERATOGENIC EFFECTS'
damage to an embryo from ionizing radiation when in the womb is not ordinarily
considered to be genetic (the exception would when the radiation damages the
genetic material of the fetus). Such irradiation can lead to some 30 different
congenital anomalies including permanent damage to the brain, mental deficiency,
skull deformities, cleft palate, spina bifida, club-feet, genital deformities,
growth retardation and childhood cancer. A total of all those effects, including
those resulting in early embryonic or fetal mortality, amount to 46, of which 25
are in live born. I will use the conservative estimate 25 for congenital damage
in this analysis.
we summarize those risk estimates to be used in this analysis, we get 16
cancers, 10 genetic effects and 25 congenital effects in life born offspring for
a mixed (age and sex) population of one million exposed to 100 Person Sieverts
of ionizing radiation. This is a total of 51 “victims” for each 100 Person
Sieverts exposure, of which 31.4% are assumed to be cancers, 19.6% are
genetically damaged and 49% were congenitally damaged but both categories were
task now is to apply those numbers to the UNSCEAR estimate of nuclear radiation
exposure to the global population, including atmospheric nuclear weapons
testing and electricity production
from nuclear power over the past half century.
nuclear atmospheric weapon testing caused 1,138 million victims, with an
additional 3.2 million due to nuclear weapon production.
power has caused about 21 million victims and medical uses of radiation have
produced another 4 million victims.
have been both military and civilian nuclear accidents producing 16 million and
15 million more victims respectively.
gives a grand total of 1,200 million victims of the nuclear age.
About 1,156 are military related, 36 million are related to nuclear
reactors, and 4 million are related to medical use.
This Opinion piece was prepared by Rosalie Bertell, PhD, GNSH, President of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health (Toronto, Canada) and Editor in Chief of International Perspectives in Public Health. Dr. Bertell is the recipient of many awards and five honorary doctorate degrees. She is the author of "No Immediate Danger: Prognosis For A Radioactive Earth" which has been translated into four languages.
article is concurrently published in "The Lower Island News," an
independent democratic socialist newspaper
covering lower Vancouver Island. The editor can be reached at: email@example.com.
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