The important series of posts are taken from the interviews of Moondust Cosmetics® founder that examine “Why nuclear energy is not clean or green”.
This is part II – and it follows on the previous edition entitled: Why Nuclear Weapons and Modern Warfare are Contrary to Climate Action. Find it here
Today we learn about Sellafield – and to take us through it we have Dr. Moondust, founder and primary researcher at Moondust Cosmetics®.
Dr. Moondust’s work as a cancer biologist led her to investigate and to publish extensively – on how our environment impacts our susceptibility to diseases including cancer. This post spotlights how nuclear energy affects our environment and therefore our health. Dr. Moondust details the potential health hazards of modern nuclear energy and why it is not clean or green.
Q. So, our topic today is based on one of your book chapters. Now bear with me, dear readers – the title is long as it captures the scope of what Dr. Moondust will break down for us today:
SELLAFIELD, SEASCALE, AND SCANDINAVIA: A LEGACY OF RADIOACTIVE CONTAMINATION WITH FUTURE IMPLICATIONS FOR GENE EVOLUTION IN AFFECTED ECOSYSTEMS
A. Yes. It’s a very far-reaching subject, hence the lengthy title. The contamination from this nuclear reprocessing plant (Sellafield), where they tried to decontaminate the radioactive fuel of nuclear power plants from around Europe by boiling it in concentrated nitric acid, has affected a number of countries and ecosystems.
This process releases large volumes of liquid and gaseous radioactive waste into the environment, typically on a scale of several thousand more than that released by nuclear reactors. Uranium and Plutonium are the main waste products.
Q. Oh, dear, that’s quite frightening – especially as it is virtually a silent assault we rarely hear reported on…
A. Well, the result is that aerial emissions have deposited two to three times the plutonium fallout from total atmospheric nuclear weapons testing within a 20 km radius of this facility; while it has been estimated that between 250 and 500 kilograms of plutonium from the plant is now adsorbed onto sediments on the bed of the Irish Sea with unknown future implications due to its migration or movement.
The main pathways for radiation exposure for people living in the vicinity of Sellafield are external radiation from airborne and deposited radionuclides; internal exposure resulting from inhalation of airborne radionuclides; and, ingestion of radionuclides from contaminated food. In Sellafield, locally caught fish and shellfish have been found to be contaminated with toxic radionuclides, particularly, plutonium and americium.
The village of Seascale lies south of Sellafield and a stretch of deserted beach runs northwards towards the Sellafield plant, which has its discharge pipeline just 2 km off the coast; The beach used to be popular with bathers, but, now, many guide-books make reference to the radioactive pollution from Sellafield; in fact, in 1993, a government survey found that the incidence of Leukemia and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma was 14 times the national average.
Q. Oh, my goodness, 14 X the national average! That’s really something. So, that pipe at the plant is just depositing plutonium directly into the sea, while smokestacks deliver it to the air?
A. That’s right and there is similar data from the other major European reprocessing facility in France (Cap de la Hague) – An elevated incidence of leukemia has been recorded among young people (0-24 years); In this case, two factors were found to be correlated strongly with increased leukemia risk – the use of local beaches for recreational activities by children and mothers during gestation and fish and shellfish consumption. In addition, a three year French epidemiological study in the region found a higher than expected death rate in men from leukemia and respiratory cancers and leukemia and lung cancer in women.
This nightmare doesn’t end there, though – In Denmark, currently, women have the highest rates of all forms of cancer in the Nordic countries, while their fish-eating neighbours in Norway have the highest rates of colorectal cancer for women in the world.
In parts of Sweden, scientists suspect that people are still dying from cancer caused by radiation from the Chernobyl accident; Radioactive uranium, and plutonium have also been detected in the Baltic Sea where they are accumulated by various marine organisms; the principle sources of plutonium in the Baltic Sea are radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing; releases from nuclear power plants and nuclear processing facilities at Sellafield and Cap de la Hague; and, radioactive debris originating from Chernobyl.
Q. Well, that’s pretty far away from England and France. How can this happen?
A. It has now been established that a potentially important pathway for radioactive discharges to humans involves sea-to-land transfer since significant quantities of radionuclides can become airborne in seaspray and be transported inland by the wind so that is likely one way transport to Scandinavia is happening – moreover, plutonium (Pu) concentrations in Baltic biota have revealed that Pu radionuclides are strongly accumulated by some species such as algae, benthic animals, and fish
Furthermore, long-lived Pu radionuclides were found in marine environmental samples (seaweed and seawater) from Swedish-Danish waters and the North Atlantic Ocean at various locations and most of these can be traced to the Sellafield plant with some contribution from global fallout
Q. This sounds like a horror story –
A. That’s exactly what it is – so, we have the epidemiology telling us there is a positive correlation between accumulated external plutonium radiation dose and mortality from leukemia, multiple myeloma, and all lymphatic and haematopoietic cancers; there are also significant increases in risk with cumulative internal plutonium plus external plutonium radiation doses for all lymphatic and haematopoietic neoplasms.
We have animal studies telling us that exposure to relatively large doses of plutonium (as compared with human doses) can cause tumours in the animal tissues in which it is retained and, then, we have the cell culture studies on peripheral blood lymphocytes from radiation workers with significant plutonium body burdens that have revealed an increase in chromosome aberrations; it has also been demonstrated that radiation of the type emitted by plutonium induces apoptosis in resting human peripheral blood lymphocytes.
Q. Ok, so we know about apoptosis and the direct link to cancer, but what is the significance of chromosomal aberrations?
A. Now, this is really interesting – recent results from many laboratories show that a persistent increase of chromosomal aberrations can be induced at very low doses of radiation exposure in lymphocytes, conceivably contributing to cancer risk; however, the potential future implications in select human groups living in environments contaminated with radioactive substances are staggering and may include ailing populations with the elimination of fit individuals from the gene pool due to chronic illness or disease.
Q. Can we have a quick recap please? Because this was a lot to take in…
1. The biological effects of Sellafield radioactive contamination have been detected as far afield as Scandinavia since significant quantities of radionuclides can become airborne in seaspray and be transported inland by the wind for long distances.
2. Plutonium from the Sellafield plant has been identified in coastal areas of north Wales where it has been correlated with an increased risk for leukemia.
3. Plutonium has also been detected in the Baltic Sea, the Norwegian and Greenland Seas, and in seawater and seaweed collected from Swedish-Danish waters. Furthermore, plutonium has been found in the gills and scales of cod from the Baltic Sea. Therefore, a Sellafield contribution may be elevating cancer rates not only in parts of the UK, but in Scandinavian populations as well.
If you are following this series of interviews by cancer biologist and founder of Moondust Cosmetics® Dr Moondust, do join in next month when our episode in this series on nuclear energy marks a significant anniversary at Chernobyl.
You’ll find this series in text blogs on the Moondustcosmetics.com website where they appear along with lifestyle and skin and suncare information you can use as you work, play or travel in our environment.
· Lymphatic cancers – cancers of the immune system
· Haematopoietic cancers – cancers of the blood
· Multiple myeloma – a malignant tumour of the bone marrow that is particularly difficult to treat
*Benthic animals – invertebrate animals that spend most of their life cycle on the seafloor
*Radionuclide – a radioactive element (often a metal)
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