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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The Health Physicist

A word needs to be said about health physics, a relatively new academic specialty which has emerged since the dropping of the atomic bomb. Systematic study of radiation health questions began at the University of Chicago when the first nuclear reactor began operating on 2 December 1942. Primarily under the leadership of physicists E. O. Wollan, H. M. Parker, C. C. Gamertsfelder, K. Z. Morgan, J. C. Hart, R. R. Coveyou, O. G. Landsverk and L. A. Pardue, it grew to become a recognised graduate-level discipline.[40]
        While this was a much-needed specialty, its bias toward the so-called `hard sciences' -- physics, chemistry and engineering -- and neglect of the `soft sciences' -- biology, physiology and psychology -- has tended to create radiation safety officers rather than health professionals.
        In a message from the President of the Health Physics Society published in the July 1971 issue of the Health Physics Journal,[41] Dade W. Moeller stated:

I think it is interesting to note the results of a tabulation of the records of the 2,862 health physicists who joined the Society from 1960 through 1969. The data showed that although half of the new members with college degrees had attended graduate school for a year or more, 21.6 per cent of the new members did not have a college degree. [Emphasis added.]

Membership of the Health Physics Society is broader than, but includes, licensed health physicists who have passed qualifying examinations. These latter are generally required to have a college degree with a major in physics, chemistry or engineering, and one year of graduate training in radiation measurement and safety practices.
        Dade W. Moeller goes on to describe the members who had a college degree:

by far the greatest percentage (24.0 per cent) received their bachelor's degrees in physics and/or mathematics. Next was chemistry (15.8 per cent) and then engineering (13.6 per cent).

Even members of the Health Physics Society have complained about the pro-nuclear bias of its publication[42] but seldom has this been expressed as clearly as in this address by Dade Moeller. After reporting a need for 2,000 to 3,000 more health physicists by the year 2000 just to support the operation of nuclear power stations, he urged members to be active: `To paraphrase an old adage, "let's all put our mouth where our money is".'
        Unfortunately, the Health Physics Society probably will not be in the vanguard speaking on behalf of workers and members of the public whose health is at risk from nuclear industries. The obvious and outstanding exception to this statement is Dr Karl Z. Morgan who has remained an open, honest and independent student of life. Dr Morgan has spoken out courageously on behalf of lowering worker and public exposures to radiation and avoiding all unnecessary exposures. In so doing he has alienated many of his peers and jeopardised his own research and teaching position. Karl Morgan was a friend of Hermann Müller and he remembers the geneticist's warning about undermining the health of a nation and its children.[43]
        The United States, a leading nuclear nation, has failed to provide any reliable human health study either to confirm or to deny its prediction of the human health effects of exposure to chronic low level radiation, or even to provide a systematic health follow-up of the significant groups exposed to radiation so that there will in time be such a reliable study. The predictions of health effects are based primarily on the effects reported at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the applicability of these estimates to chronic low dose exposure of a normal population has always been doubtful.[21]
        The US government has also failed to supply the worker or the public with trained health professionals whose jobs are independent of the nuclear industry and whose training and background would enable them to alert people to a slowly deteriorating health situation. Adequate record-keeping and reporting would force public awareness of the problems, and probably the facing of ultimate questions such as: for what perceived benefit can society sacrifice the health of future generations?
        The health physicist, while serving a necessary safety function within nuclear installations, does not fulfil the role of a health advocate in this situation. His or her job is to enforce regulations, not to question them and to support the nuclear plant management even if it is clear that the management is wrong.[44] This is not so much the result of malice as a normal outcome of believing `permissible' is the same as `safe', and trust that present regulations are `very safe'. It thus becomes acceptable to handle radioactive material and to cheat a little on over-exposures.
        The first key to understanding governments' commitment to ensuring the survival of individual citizens is its adoption of a verification process for testing its prediction of severe health effects resulting from its economic and military strategies. In the United States, this leads to a preliminary judgment that individuals have been considered expendable. Health damage from radiation associated with military or economic ventures has not been easily traceable to the cause or immediately apparent to the public. No efforts deliberately to trace and make public all the health effects have been made. In fact, when any research has begun to show such effects, the researcher has been `discredited' and his or her funding discontinued.
        On the basis of the US government's neglect of follow-up and record keeping on radiation-exposed people, and its lack of concern for mild genetic effects, the unrest of the US public with respect to further development of nuclear technology is highly rational. Continuance of present government neglect and unconcern is at best irrational and at worst genocidal. We may observe the same syndrome of irrational behaviour in other nuclear nations which are experiencing public unrest.
        Although the problems inherent in the production of nuclear weapons and nuclear power reach a climax of scale in the United States, they are experienced in all countries with nuclear technology. Where one country may keep excellent public health records, it has poor records of individual radiation exposures. Where another keeps detailed radiation exposure histories, it has no detailed medical history. As long as part of the information is missing, the worker and general public are forced to rely on predictions made by `recognised experts' which are not verified by factual studies. This is really a forecast with no audit allowed. The promotion of nuclear technology in developing nations as the industry loses support in the developed world is even more disturbing.
        Before moving on, some of the concepts of radiation protection important for nuclear workers, the general public and medical personnel need to be emphasised. First, an assurance of `no immediate danger' with respect to exposure to ionising radiation is empty when it masks long-term effects resulting from incorporation of radiochemicals in sensitive tissues and/or the results of biological magnification of cell damage or radiation-induced genetic mistakes. Secondly, independent testing of urine, faeces, exhalation, tissues removed in surgery, baby teeth and hair for radioactivity, must become routine laboratory tests for medical diagnostic purposes as we try to cope with the fission product pollution already in the biosphere. Thirdly, when assessing the impact of any leak, abnormal release, normal effluence or waste which is radioactive, it is essential to know the radiochemicals involved: their physical and biological properties, the potential pathways to human beings and the length of time they remain toxic. Fourthly, the health effects of radiation differ with the age of the person exposed, his or her physical status and prior experience.
        The second key to governmental priorities in decision-making is found in the historical context of the nuclear development. This is examined later. First we must try to understand the practices of nuclear technology in the military and civil sectors.

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