Nuclear power: low-level radiation is not harmless

The government and the nuclear in­dustry claim that the low level of ra­diation emitted by nuclear power sta­tions during their normal operation is not harmful. Radiation also occurs naturally, they argue, and the small amount of radiation added by nuclear power stations is insignificant.

However, no dose of radiation is safe. Radiation damage is cumulative. Each dose received adds to the risk of develo­ping cancer, or mutating genes in the reproductive cells.

The radioactive elements “routinely” emitted from nuclear power plants in­to the air can be inhaled, or ingested when they concentrate in the food chain – in vegetables and fruit – and are then further concentrated in va­rious internal organs in humans. Similarly, the millions of gallons of cooling wa­ter flushed daily from a nuclear reac­tor into the always adjoi­ning water source (lake, river or sea) contami­nate it with radioactive mate­rials which bio-concentrate hundreds of times in the aquatic food chain.

In 2008, a major German study found large increases in infant cancers near all German nuclear power stations. This so-called KiKK study (Child­hood cancers in the vicinity of nu­clear power stations) reported a 2.2-fold increase in leukaemia risks and a 1.6-fold increase in embryonal cancer risks among children under five living within five kilometers of all German nuclear power stations. The KiKK study examined all can­cers at all 16 nuclear reactor locations in Germany between 1980 and 2003, and was commissioned by the Ger­man Government's Federal Office for Radiation Protection.

However, the KiKK study does not stand on its own. A 2007 study by researchers at the University of South Carolina analysing 17 research papers covering 136 nuclear sites in the UK, Canada, France, USA, Germany, Japan and Spain, also “show[ed] an increase in childhood leukaemia near nuclear facilities”. They found that death rates for children up to the age of nine were elevated by between five and 24 per cent, depending on their proximity to nuclear facilities, and by two to 18 per cent in children and young people up to the age of 25. Incidence rates were increased by 14 to 21 per cent in zero to nine-year-olds and seven to ten percent in zero to 25-year-olds.

A French survey from 2008 of 26 mul­ti-site studies of childhood cancers near nuclear facilities came to a simi­lar conclusion.

Although the evi­dence is overwhel­ming, pro-nuclear scientists and the government still deny that there is a link between nu­clear power and cancer. Instead, they want to build new nuclear power sta­tions, thus increasing our exposure to radiation.

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