Playing Russian roulette with our children's health
Meanwhile, more nuclear threats have emerged. State legislators are planning to bring us nuclear reactors, and for the past eight months an incinerator has been showering radioactivity on homes in Layton with barely a public wimper.
EnergySolutions may have failed in strong-arming Huntsman and Matheson, but their PR department may have succeeded in neutering citizen outrage over exposing us all to more radiation. How quickly we forget.
In the 1940s some of the world's premier nuclear scientists saw mounting evidence that there was no safe level of exposure to nuclear radiation. This led Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb, to oppose development of the hydrogen bomb.
In the 1950s, Linus Pauling, the only two-time winner of the Nobel Prize, began warning the public about exposure to all radiation. In the 1960s, Drs. John Gofman, Arthur Tamplin, Alice Stewart, Thomas Mancuso and Karl Morgan, all researchers for the Atomic Energy Commission or the Department of Energy, independently came to the conclusion that exposure to nuclear radiation was not safe at any level.
The government terminated their services for coming up with what Dr. Gofman has called the "wrong answer" - that is, the opposite of what the AEC wanted to hear. The top Russian nuclear physicist in the 1960s, Andrei Sakharov, also a Nobel Prize winner, and Vladimir Chernousenko, who the Soviet Union placed in charge of the Chernobyl cleanup, are among other international experts who drew similar conclusions.
Government radiation standards have been based on supposedly acceptable levels of exposure for adults. But it is the embryo, the weakest link in the chain of life, for whom these standards are absurdly inadequate.
As with DDT and many other toxic agents, it is not the amount of radiation distributed throughout the environment that is so serious, it is the timing of exposure, the selective concentration in the food chain and ultimately in the organs of the developing embryo, that accounts for the toxicity. A single pelvic X-ray of a mother in early pregnancy can double the risk of her baby developing cancer.
Even very low levels of risk per individual have immense consequences in the aggregate. When low risk is permitted for billions of people there will still be millions of victims.
Many epidemiologic studies show that extremely low levels of radiation exposure increase the incidence of childhood cancers, low birth weight, premature births, infant mortality, birth defects and even diminished intelligence.
By damaging proteins anywhere in a living cell, radiation can accelerate the aging process and diminish the function of any organ system. But when the damage occurs in the nucleus of a germ cell the human gene pool is at risk.
The future of humankind is present today within the bodies of living people, animals and plants - the whole seedbearing biosphere. Chromosomal damage to all these organisms not only underlies adverse health outcomes now but can be passed on to subsequence generations.
The full extent of the consequences may not be manifest for decades or even for multiple generations. There has never been a comparable threat to public health.
Much of contaminated nuclear material is simply unsafe unless we can guarantee isolation from human exposure for hundreds of thousands of years. The events of the past week are a vivid illustration of the fact that we can't even guarantee isolation for a few decades. Radiation escapes into the environment at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle including from properly functioning nuclear power plants.
If these scientists are correct, we are not only playing Russian roulette with our own health, but we are forcing our children and all subsequence generations to do the same.
* BRIAN MOENCH is a Salt Lake physician and founder of Utah Physicians for Clean Air.