By Cindy Folkers

Author’s note: I wrote this blog post with knowledge of the ongoing

Portrait of Marie Curie, and her two daughters, Eve and Irene, 1908. Irene experimented with radioactive materials like her parents and died at 58. Eva was a writer and pianist and died at 102.

Humans have known of natural radioactivity since about the turn of the 20th century when Marie Curie carried around vials of radioactive substances in her pocket, admiring the glow-in-the-dark “fairy lights” they would give off. Long-term exposure to these “fairly lights” made Curie chronically ill, physically scarred, and nearly blind from cataracts. At the age of 66, she succumbed to a radiation-induced disease (either leukemia or aplastic anemia, sources differ), as did her daughter and son-in-law. Despite being deeply troubled by deaths of colleagues and radiation workers, the Curies never really admitted radioactivity played a role in their diseases; Marie even recommended sickened radium dial painters eat calf’s liver to combat anemia. Daughter Eva, who outlived her sister by 50 years, died at 102 and recognized the role radiation played in the shortened lives of her female kin.

This denial of the dangers of radioactivity has carried through to the present day. When the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its first-ever radiation exposure standards in 1977, the US was only 20 years into the atomic energy age, barely long enough to see many of the health impacts radioactivity may have had. Man-made radioactivity had been around for about 40 years with the building of the bomb, well before EPA was established, but well after some very nasty health effects from larger doses were recognized. Now, in 2015, EPA is considering revising its radiation standards – the first major revision since 1977.

EPA is responsible for regulating radioactive emissions that migrate off of a site that releases such material. These off site releases can expose members of the public and their environment. Revision of these nearly 40-year old standards should be a good thing; adding protection for women who are 50 % more sensitive to radioactivity than men; and providing proper protection for pregnancy and childhood development —life stages that are particularly, in some cases uniquely, sensitive to exposure to radioactivity. But old habits, and nuclear industry interference, die hard.


If you can’t get rid of the radioactivity, you should just ignore that it exists

Atomic energy produces and releases a number of radioactive isotopes during normal reactor operation. Two such isotopes are carbon-14 (radioactive carbon) released as carbon dioxide and methane; and tritium, which is radioactive hydrogen. These two isotopes are the focus of this piece, although there are many other isotopes of concern. The National Academy of Sciences states “carbon-14 may be a significant contributor to dose from nuclear plant releases, especially in recent years”. Tritium is leaking regularly in unknown amounts from most of the US nuclear power reactors in addition to being …read more

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