reprinted with permission from
No Immediate Danger, Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth, by Dr Rosalie Bertell
The Book Publishing Company -- Summertown, Tennessee 38483
ISBN 0-913990-25-2
pages 15-63.

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Failure to Audit Health

ICRP Publication 2 (1959) is one of special interest since it clearly states that radiation-induced severe genetic defects and cancer deaths resulting from the recommended standards would be expected to be rare and hardly distinguishable from `natural' variations due to non-radiation causes. The document goes on to point out that mild mutations in offspring and general ill health in those exposed would be the most frequent health effects of exposure, but these could not be `detected' except by epidemiological surveys. ICRP Publication 2 made no recommendation that this more subtle widespread degradation of public health be measured, although they mentioned that it could be measured.[33] At no time has there been an effort on the part of governments to document fully the more subtle health effects.
        Workers, military service personnel and the general public have been given the impression that exposure to radiation involves a slight risk of dying of cancer and that one's chances of escaping this are better than the chances of escaping an automobile accident. The probabilities of early occurrence of heart disease, diabetes mellitus, arthritis, asthma or severe allergies -- all resulting in a prolonged state of ill health -- are never mentioned. Most people are unaware of the fact that ionising radiation can cause spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, infant deaths, asthmas, severe allergies, depressed immune systems (with greater risk of bacterial and viral infections), leukaemia, solid tumours, birth defects, or mental and physical retardation in children. Most of the above-mentioned tragedies affect the individual or family unit directly and society only indirectly. Dr R. Mole, a member of ICRP and the British NRPB, stated: `The most important consideration is the generally accepted value judgment that early embryonic losses are of little personal or social concern.'[34] There are similar value judgments made with respect to other health effects. The health problems are externalised, i.e. placed beyond the responsibility of government, and they are borne by individuals and their families.
        The risk/benefit decision making which arose from balancing `health effects' against `economic and social benefit' is based on risk and benefit to society, i.e. governments, rather than cost to the individual or family unit. Value judgments have been made as to the level of health effects and deaths `acceptable' to the public. Because of military control of A-bomb studies and military need for personnel to handle radioactive materials, many of these value judgments were cloaked in secrecy for the sake of `national security'. The subject was made to seem complicated to outsiders; the decisions were reserved for the experts. The now famous words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, `Keep the public confused'[35] about nuclear fission so that the government could gain public acceptance of above-ground weapon testing in Nevada, have certainly been accomplished. A growing number of people in the USA and elsewhere have lost all faith in statements made by government officials, because of the scientific jargon used to mask the truth.
        In the USA, external radiation exposure records (film badge and TLD[a] readings) are carefully kept for workers, but corresponding health records for workers are not kept and analysed nationally. In other countries, especially those with socialised medicine, excellent health records are kept but accurate radiation exposure records are neglected. Collection and analysis of radiation exposure records together with experience of ill health, including chronic long-term (non-fatal) problems, are required in order accurately to assess radiation-related health problems. Merely recording the first cause of death for workers is not sufficient.

  1. TLD -- thermoluminescent dosimeter, used to measure individual radiation doses of workers. It contains radiosensitive chips and must be carefully screened for the kind of radiation it is meant to detect. In a pilot study done in the US some processors of TLDs discovered that some of their chips were completely insensitive to the type of radiation for which they were purchased. See P. Plato and G. Hudson, `Performance Testing of Personnel Dosimetry Services: Alternatives and Recommendations for a Personnel Dosimetry Testing Program', US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NUREG/CR-1593), 1980, p. 9.

        The public is at an even greater disadvantage than the worker. There are no cumulative records of radiation exposures for individual members of the public from nuclear testing, military or commercial nuclear industries anywhere in the world. Because of this record-keeping vacuum, it is difficult, if not impossible, to challenge ICRP predictions.
        Inadequate collection of information on public health by governments makes it difficult for scientists concerned about rising radiation exposure levels to document changes in public health. The problem is not that they are poor scientists, but that they do not have access to detailed information, since governments have failed to collect it. The health changes which can be detected, in spite of poor records, represent only a minute proportion of the undocumented whole.
        One key to understanding what priority a country places on the health consequences of national defence and energy choices is the precision of its measurements of resultant health effects. Measurements of health effects can be made through controlled animal experiments or observation of the effects of unplanned human exposures. These measurements serve as an audit of human health effects or as an after-the-fact check on the accuracy of predictions. This technique of controlled observation is normally applied when a new drug or new medical procedure is introduced into general use. A prediction must prove its worth in real life.
        As one would expect, predictive dose/response estimates for radiation exposure and specifically chosen severe health effects have been prolific in the USA. Not only has the USA maintained a tight control over and interest in research on the Japanese survivors of radiation exposure from the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it also has a system of government-sponsored research laboratories controlled successively by the Atomic Energy Commission, the Energy Research and Development Administration and the Department of Energy. These bodies have been the source of almost all the original research papers published between 1945 and 1977 on the health effects of ionising radiation. Because radiation-related health effects are the result of the production, testing and use of atomic weapons, military goals and military secrecy have influenced both the selection of research questions and release of findings in the USA. The nuclear age is predicated on public acceptance of its consequences, hence `proving' that public acceptance is `rational' has a very high priority for government and industry-employed scientists. They have a vested interest in verifying the status quo.
        Prior to the above-ground nuclear weapon test ban in 1963, the USA set off at least 183 atmospheric nuclear tests, more than all the other nations of the world combined. About half these tests were set off near the Pacific Trust Territory of Micronesia, given into US protection by the United Nations after the Second World War, and the other half were set off on the 1,350 square miles at the Nevada Test Site north of Las Vegas. By 1978 the USA had set off an additional 400 nuclear bombs below ground in Nevada, some of which were officially admitted to have `leaked' large amounts of radioactive chemicals. Some of the tests were of UK weapons since it also uses the Nevada test site. Underground tests are still taking place in the USA,[36] the USSR and French Polynesia. In the Northern Hemisphere, above-ground tests have also been detonated by the USSR, China and India and in the Southern Hemisphere by France and South Africa.
        The Nevada nuclear tests have spread radiation poisons throughout central and eastern United States and Canada, and produced in the stratosphere a layer of radioactive material which encircles the globe. They also cause nitric oxides to form in the atmosphere which then descend on earth as acid rain. Radioactive chemicals can now be found in the organs, tissues and bones of every individual in the Northern Hemisphere, and the contamination from past nuclear explosions will continue to cause environmental and health problems for hundreds of thousands of years, even if all nuclear activities are stopped today. Siberian tests affect the north polar region.
        Pollution of the Southern Hemisphere, though less than in the North, is progressing along the same path. Although the United States and Great Britain have ceased nuclear tests in the Pacific Ocean, France has not ceased them, and it appears that South Africa has begun to test. Brazil, Argentina and other nations are thought to be developing a nuclear weapon capability.
        A 1977 report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation stated that twenty atmospheric nuclear tests -- six in the Northern Hemisphere and fourteen in the Southern Hemisphere -- plus unnumbered underground tests, took place between 1972 and 1977. As a result of this nuclear testing radiation doses to the population increased by about 2 percent in the Northern Hemisphere, and 6 percent in the Southern Hemisphere over the dose estimated in 1970. The nuclear weapon testing carried out between 1972 and 1977 was insignificant when compared to that between 1945 and 1963.

The total global dose commitment for each individual from all nuclear explosions carried out before 1976 ranges from about 100 mrad (in the gonads) to about 200 mrad (in the bone-lining cells). In the northern temperate zone the values are about 50 percent higher, and in the southern temperate zone about 50 percent lower than these estimates.[37]

This estimate does not include the dose from radioactive carbon (carbon 14) which, because of its 5730-year half-life, persists in the human food chain and has not yet taken its total human toll. For comparison purposes, 100 mrad is about equal to the amount of radiation a person receives from naturally occurring radiation in one year of chronological ageing. The dose commitment from nuclear weapon testing is spread over a fifty-year period, with most of the dose being delivered in the first year.
        There has been no lack of victims of radiation pollution in the West to study both for refinement of predictions of biological harm and checks of adequacy of predictions relative to the real-life situation. Checking adequacy of predictions means including all hidden costs which must eventually be paid, including damage to agriculture and the biosphere. Government oversight should also include full disclosure of findings to the public as a test of the acceptability of such costs and as an evaluation of the judgments made for society by the nuclear experts.

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