Today in the Ecologist – Expose of the damage the nuclear industry is doing to us and to our environment – by Chris Busby…..
Killer ‘hot particle’: Sellafield coast ‘like Chernobyl and Fukushima exclusion zones’
The discovery of a tiny but deadly radioactive ‘hot particle’ in mud from the Esk estuary near Sellafield has highlighted the dangers the nuclear site poses to residents and visitors, writes Chris Busby. Independent measures of radiation show far higher levels that those of regulators, similar to those of the Chernobyl and Fukushima exclusion zones. Local villages should be evacuated.
The hot particle scenario at Sellafield beach is the same as in the inner Chernobyl contamination zones. The radiation dose rate is about the same as the 30km zone of the Fukushima reactors shortly after the disaster.
I am angry to the depths of my soul that the earth has been so injured while we were all bemused by supposed monuments of value and intellect, vaults of bogus cultural riches… Sellafield, which pours waste plutonium into the world’s natural environment, and bomb grade plutonium into the world’s political environment. For money.
So wrote US author Marilynne Robinson in Mother Country in 1989, a few years after the 1983 discovery by Yorkshire TV (video embed below) of the child leukemia excess (ten times the expected number) at Seascale, a village next to the Sellafield nuclear site.
In the documentary, presented by a young David Dimbleby, we see the evidence and a debate between Professor Ed Radford (who started me out on my radiation enquiry in 1991) and a young Wilks on one side, and two men from British Nuclear Fuels.
Despite the Black Inquiry , a court case (Reay and Hope vs BNFL), several reports from the National Radiological Protection Board NRPB and their Alice in Wonderland Mirror, COMARE, no one pointed out that the science behind all the protestations of innocence is bogus.
The court case was lost for the same reason. Martyn Day the solicitor was advised to use the fathers’ exposures and genetic risk as a strategy – a mistake that cost them the case. It was the direct exposures from the beaches that were the cause of the child leukemias, not the fathers.
So all BNFL had to do to win, was to show that there were leukemia children whose fathers did not work at Sellafield. Which there were.
There is no single measure of ‘radiation’
The essential problem was that everyone assumed that there was a valid scientific way of measuring radiation which applied equally to all kinds of exposure, and that it produced a number, called the ‘dose’ which could be used to quantify biological damage (and therefore child leukemia).
BNFL argued that the fact that there was a lot of plutonium on the beach and in the houses at Seascale was not enough. To get enough ‘dose’ from plutonium, the children would have had to eat some kilograms of house dust. Accepting this nonsense, the late Prof Gardner (and the court case) attempted to get around this by arguing that it was a genetic effect delivered by the fathers’ sperm.
A mistake, as I wrote to Martyn Day at the time, and also to Gardner. But Gardner (aged 50, not a smoker) went into hospital with lung cancer just after I sent my letter, and never came out.
The 1984 Black Inquiry was less easily fooled. Sir Douglas Black recommended two new independent outfits to investigate the problem. They were the Small Area Health Statistics Unit (SAHSU) and the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment, (COMARE).
COMARE was quickly infiltrated by the nuclear industry faithful, and produced one biased report after another exonerating Sellafield as a cause of the child cancers. It used the same ‘dose’ argument as BNFL in the documentary, as did NRPB’s evidence to Sir Douglas.
Initially COMARE toyed with the idea of population mixing and an unknown virus as the cause, but conceded there was no population mixing at Sellafield. However, its latest 17th Report, published last year, finally gave way and decided that it was population mixing after all.
Contamination of the seashore? What contamination?
This seashore contamination has, since 1983, spread to the coast of north Wales where it is measured and where there was a 18-fold child cancer excess by 2004, and to Carlingford in Ireland (see Wolves of Water, Busby 2007) with similar effects.
Well, what is the fuss about? What should the locals and holidaymakers be afraid of?
Video: ‘Windscale – The Nuclear Laundry’, first broadcast on Yorkshire TV, 1st November 1983.
I was sent a scanning electron microscope (SEM) photograph by Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE) the local anti-nuclear NGO. A sample from the tidal estuary of the river Esk near a popular coastal path. I was asked to comment. I show the SEM picture in Figure 1 (above right).
It was collected by CORE for Arnie Gundersen during his brief visit to Cumbria and given to Dr Marco Kaltofen from Boston MA, USA who measures particles. Marco told me on the phone that there were many such particles found in this mud sample. His machine also uses X-ray fluorescence, and can identify the elemental composition of any particle. The XRF spectrum is inset. It shows that the particle is made from Plutonium and Americium.
I knew already that the mud in that area was highly contaminated with plutonium. CORE had sent me samples in the 1990s which I still have and which I use to calibrate my gamma spectrometers. One of those had 22,000Bq/kg Plutonium-239 together with about the same amount of Cs-137 and a host of other nasty isotopes.
Killer isotope of the future: Americium 241
But this is the first time I had seen the villain of the piece, the hot particle. You need some fancy gear for that. Plutonium-241 is a major effluent from Sellafield, a beta emitter with a half-life of just 14 years turning into the alpha emitter Americium-241 with a half-life of 432 years.
The full article can be read here