Dear Moondust community and readers concerned with our shared, global environment following the series on “Why nuclear energy is not clean or green”. Our question and answer post today focuses on Chernobyl. We examine what we know in the aftermath of what was the most serious accident in the history of the nuclear industry when it happened in April 26, 1986.
Our interview is with Dr. Moondust, founder andprimary biochemistat Moondust Cosmetics®. She is also a cancer biologist and shares her perspectives. The first post in this series can be found here in text.
Q. So, Dr. Moondust, we continue today to learn more about the potential health hazards of nuclear energy and why it is not clean or green. Our discussion today is based on one of your books entitled:A New Approach to Cancer Risk Assessment.
A. That’s right. Nuclear energy from fission is not clean or green because it inevitably produces some radioactive waste. Exposure to this radioactive material can cause cancer and other long-term diseases in humans and negatively impacts plants & other animals.
Q. Now, are we just talking about last generation or next generation nuclear reactors, as well, which are being hailed as safe since people are wary of nuclear power plants after the accidents.
A. Well, we’re talking about both because nuclear scientists have not been able to eliminate the radioactive waste that is generated during the nuclear fission process completely – it’s a necessary byproduct of the reaction. It doesn’t matter whether the reactor is large or small.
Q. Oh, dear, well that’s not good – we’re being misled to believe they are fine.
A. You see the problem is that nuclear scientists are not really familiar with biology and they have a very poor track record for predicting the biological effects of radiation on humans.
Q. So, can you tell us a little bit about that?
A. You see these nuclear scientists make predictions about radiation according to the mutational theory of carcinogenesis, which predicts a very low incidence of resulting cancers since mutation is a pretty slow process. However, the actual cancer incidence from radiation exposure is, in fact, much higher. Moreover, it can be explained by the apoptotic model of carcinogenesis that I work with because many radioactive heavy metals like uranium & plutonium cause cell death.
Q. Oh, I see, so there is some misinformation circulating.
A. Exactly – they say the cancer incidence near a nuclear facility should be something, but, it’s actually something else so they simply ignore the statistics. So, let’s start with the example of Chernobyl, which has given us a lot of data and insight into this whole problem –
*On April 26, 1986 the most serious accident in the history of the nuclear industry occurred at Chernobyl that led to a huge release of radioactive materials into the environment including radioactive iodine isotopes. A radioactive cloud spread over much of Europe and highly sensitive monitoring systems developed for the detection of fallout from nuclear weapons were able to register minute amounts of Chernobyl dust even in remote regions of the world.
Q. Oh, yes, I remember when it happened and heard it in the news. Sometime later, I was in conversation online with a friend who told me that he was on the lake at Chernobyl with his team training for a sports competition. He saw military trucks rolling by in the countryside. He told me that all the Geiger counters were removed from all the schools and labs in the region so that no one could really accurately gauge the conditions in the atmosphere. His family boarded trains as soon as they could to stay with his grandmother far away from Chernobyl, and he later told me the government dispensed vodka freely out of the backs of trucks to the population and when they ran out of vodka it was any wine or alcohol they could distribute. Plus the streets were being washed down two times a day with water.
A. Wow… that is quite a story…
A. Actually, I was an undergraduate studying at the University of London at that time and it was pretty scary because nobody knew what to expect –
* Firstly, as time passed, there were many harmful radiation effects on the plants and animals living within 20-30 km of the Chernobyl power plant known as the “Exclusion Zone”; there was an increase in mortality of coniferous plants, soil invertebrates, and mammals and a decrease in reproduction for plants and animals
* Then in human populations, there has been & still is a notable increase in childhood thyroid cancer in Belarus and Ukraine as a result of radioactive iodine exposure from Chernobyl, which is baffling nuclear scientists; There has also been a substantial increase in thyroid cancer among those who were exposed to the radioactive iodine fallout from Chernobyl as children
* Now, what do we already know about radioactive iodine exposure? Epidemiological data comes from the testing of early nuclear weapons which released radiation including radioiodines, I-131 and I-129. Papillary thyroid carcinomas were found to be far more frequent at autopsy in World War II Hiroshima and Nagasaki atom bomb survivors (17.9%) than in persons not exposed to atomic radiation (1-4%); Detonation of a megaton thermonuclear device in the Bikini and Marshall Islands in 1954 resulted in the deposition of radioactive fallout including various radioiodines and was associated with thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer (papillary carcinoma) in exposed islanders; Similarly, an excess of thyroid neoplasms was associated with individuals exposed to radioiodines generated by nuclear detonations at the Nevada Test Site in the 1950s
*Moreover, ϒ-radiation (Gamma radiation) emitted by radioiodines has been reported to stimulate apoptosis in certain cell types including rat thymocytes, mouse myeloid cells, and in human lymphoid cells.
Q. Oh, boy, that’s a lot to take in – so, you mean kids born in the region today are still getting thyroid cancer from the Chernobyl accident which happened so long ago? And, it could be happening in other places where nuclear testing was carried out? How?
A. Yes, exactly. So, I-131 radioiodine decays pretty quickly in 8 days but the radioisotope I-129 has a half-life of 15.7 million years. Therefore, the present-day elevation of childhood thyroid cancer around Chernobyl could be due to the gamma radiation generated by I-129; In fact, initial detection of I-129 has already been reported in the contaminated areas of Chernobyl
Q. Ok, so that’s due to an accident at a nuclear facility or nuclear testing sites a long time ago, but, surely, this doesn’t apply to the regularly functioning nuclear power plants, now?
A. Well, the energy released at a nuclear power plant as a result of fire or an explosion due to sabotage could be comparable to an atomic bomb, so there has to be extreme security and it could fail or be hacked, especially with modern computerization techniques controlling things.
Q. Yes, I see. What about the new nuclear reactors?
A. Actually, we may be in an even worse situation with them as we learned in our last talk about Sellafield, a nuclear reprocessing facility that attempts to decontaminate fuel from Europe’s nuclear reactors. It is likely to be dealing with next generation nuclear reactors, too.
Q.In closing is there anything we can do as citizens to better the situation? What kind of conversations should be having with our politicians?
A. We should be investing in truly green energy sources and peacefully opposing the installation of new nuclear fission power plants.
Thank you, Dr. Moondust for the insights you have shared today.
For The Climate Action List and 11 points of action that we CAN take in our daily lives find the blog post here on the website.
You’ll also find this series in text blogs on the Moondustcosmetics.com website where they appear along with other lifestyle, skincare and suncare information you can use as you work, play or travel in our environment.
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Glossary of terms used in this post:
Glossary of terms used in this post:
Nuclear fission – a process that involves splitting atoms which generates radioactive byproducts
Nuclear fusion – a process that involves fusing atoms that does not generate radioactive byproducts
Geiger counter – adevice that measures radioactivity
Gamma radiation – sometimes written as ϒ-radiation – a stream of the high-energy electromagnetic radiation given off by an atomic nucleus undergoing radioactive decay
Radioiodine – a radioactive isotope of iodine
Neoplasm – a new and abnormal growth of tissue in some part of the body, especially as a characteristic of cancer