Monday, April 11, 2011

NUCLEAR CONCERNS: Radioactivity from Japanese reactors detected in New Brunswick

Radioactivity from Japanese reactors detected in New Brunswick

The public is being misled about health risks from Point Lepreau.

The people of New Brunswick are as concerned about the safety of nuclear power plants as everyone else these days. Aggravating these concerns, their public utility owns a Candu reactor at the Point Lepreau generating station that is undergoing an extremely problematic, first-of-its-kind life extension project. It is also built along an active earthquake fault. This month, NB Power detected radioactive iodine at Point Lepreau and more Canadians began expressing concern about the safety of Point Lepreau.

Premier David Alward has advised the public that the work at Lepreau is being done “in a very safe way" and expressed his confidence in the “full regulatory process.”

However, public outcry about government interference in regulating nuclear safety has become a contentious issue. Former (CNSC) Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission chair Linda Keen recently accused past Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn of not having “capacity to absorb what was at stake” when the Stephen Harper government allowed the Chalk River nuclear station to reopen prematurely by voting to overrule her safety compliance orders.

Councillor Dick Killam of Kings County, Nova Scotia, suggested that New Brunswick “mothball this white elephant” and expressed grave concerns that contamination from an accident at Lepreau would “be devastating for human habitation” and “wipe out future food production” in the Annapolis Valley. Norm Rubin of Toronto-based Energy Probe describes the Point Lepreau reactor as “an inherently hazardous unit with a bunch of add-on safety systems.” International German media has been reporting widespread public protests and opinion that refurbishing old reactors is unsafe and irresponsible, while German officials recently announced a decision to abandon nuclear power entirely. In New Brunswick, a coalition of groups including the Passamaquoddy First Nation, Atlantic Sierra Club, Conservation Council of New Brunswick and International Institute of Concern for Public Health began working with community groups for decommissioning Point Lepreau to protect the public from the economic, security, safety and public health problems from the use of nuclear energy.

Health Canada dismisses the presence of radioactive isotopes in its cross-country radiation monitoring as “very minute” and “extremely difficult to measure against normal background radiation.” We expect the New Brunswick readings taken at the Point Lepreau nuclear station to already be high because the area surrounding all nuclear power plants have high levels of background radiation. Health Canada is saying that radioactive isotopes found in Canada are from Japan, but there is no certainty. In north-eastern North America, decades of public controversy has cast doubt over the safety of reactors at Point Lepreau, Vermont Yankee and Indian Point New York. Iodine-131 could be coming from a number of sources, or all of them, at one time or another.

The CNSC has stated that there is “no health hazard to Canadians” from the “infinitesimal amounts” of radioactivity from Japan being found in Canada. However, no amount of radioactivity is too small to harm the body. Even trace amounts, if absorbed internally, will kill or permanently damage living cells. Every exposure to ionizing radiation can cause harm and it is not possible for the body to perfectly repair cells that are damaged at the atomic level by radioactivity.”

Public health statements by New Brunswick, Health Canada and the Prime Minister are ignoring independent health information. IICPH believes that the public is being misled.

Since the Japan disaster, radioactive iodine attributed to the Fukushima accident has been detected in milk, seaweed and rainwater around Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Ontario, British Columbia, Maine, Michigan, Washington and California. Canadian limits for allowable radioactive exposure are based on an historically flawed, non-medical model of assessment. The International Institute of Concern for Public Health considers the radioactive fallout from Japan in air, food and water to have created increased and serious risks to people, especially babies, children, pregnant and fertile women and men. There is no safe level of exposure to ionizing radiation.

The biggest problem for the public is that both government and journalists are being given misleading information about the effects of low level radiation on health. There is a big difference between effects from the medical use of radiation, commercial scanners and such and the effects from repeated internal contamination from radioactive fallout from a nuclear disaster such as the one underway in Japan. The public has not consented to being exposed to additional radioactivity from nuclear power plants. Governments that minimize the health risks are failing to provide reasonable protection for their citizens.

IICPH will continue to release independent information from a public health perspective and work to balance the information available to the public. Independent medical opinion and evidence must be considered in policy and decision making. In practical terms, the nuclear industry cannot be allowed to establish or police their own "acceptable" levels of emissions or accidental releases. We must protect our air, lands and waters from contamination with strong legislation and without being influenced by special interest groups. If the Nuclear Safety Commission is failing to distance itself from the nuclear industry, it is no longer carrying out its purpose, to protect public health and safety and it is therefore time to call for outside regulation.

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