By Michael Mariotte

Radiation spike caused by refueling at one of Bavaria’s Gundremmingen reactors.

Last July, we published a piece on recent groundbreaking work from the U.K.’s Dr. Ian Fairlie and the connection between radiation releases from nuclear reactors and childhood leukemia.

We quoted Dr. Fairlie:

“The core issue is that, world-wide, over 60 epidemiological studies have examined cancer incidences in children near nuclear power plants (NPPs): most (>70%) indicate leukemia increases. I can think of no other area of toxicology (eg asbestos, lead, smoking) with so many studies, and with such clear associations as those between NPPs and child leukemias. Yet many nuclear governments and the nuclear industry refute these findings and continue to resist their implications. It’s similar to the situations with cigarette smoking in the 1960s and with man-made global warming nowadays.”

Today, Ian (full disclosure: an old friend and valued colleague) stopped by NIRS’ office to go over a presentation he made Monday to officials at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The presentation is available in both Powerpoint and pdf format on NIRS’ website.

The presentation went over much the same ground as our earlier piece, but it’s often the background behind such a presentation that is the most interesting and revealing. And that’s the case here too.

Dr. Fairlie’s thesis is that childhood leukemia is caused by radiation exposure. Period. The data from several fairly recent European governmental studies show elevated childhood leukemia rates within five kilometers (three miles) of nuclear reactors. Past five kilometers, the elevated rates drop off to normal rates.

This, by the way, may be an indication that most U.S. studies of health effects of reactors have taken place over too large of an area–thus diluting the actual effects that could be expected to be found based on the European studies–at least for childhood leukemia. And, typically U.S. studies have been essentially on a circle around a reactor, rather than confined to areas subject to prevailing wind patterns where the largest exposures would occur as was the case with the European studies.

Dr. Fairlie believes, and shows, that the refueling of nuclear reactors results in large spikes in radiation releases–spikes that when averaged out over a year, as radiation release reporting typically is done, bury the truth.

And that makes sense. When a reactor is refueled, the top of the reactor pressure vessel is lifted off so that operators can take out old fuel rods and put in new ones. When that top comes off, the radiation comes out. Especially tritium, which is released with the steam that rises from the vessel. It’s also released into water–and the tritium and the water become inseparable. Ingest that water, and you’re also ingesting tritium.

Elevated tritium levels in cow’s milk expected from refueling-related radiation spikes at Romania’s Cernavoda nuclear reactors.

Cows eat vegetation upon which airborne tritium has deposited. They may drink tritium-laced water too. The chart to the right (click to expand) shows expected tritium levels in cow’s milk caused by releases from refueling at Romania’s Cernavoda …read more

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