Overview: Mass Radiation Exposure

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Author: Richard Denton, MD

Disclaimer: I am a medical doctor and will concentrate on the medical aspects. I have no conflict of interest as some nuclear physicists might who are paid by the nuclear industry.

Radiation is one of the six crises that this Platform addresses; each one could annihilate civilization as we know it. Radiation could do so in either an acute or chronic manner. The acute effects would come from a major accident, miscalculation, or terrorist attack or an actual nuclear war. The chronic effects are killing by inducing cancers and other medical conditions.

Radiation exposure is of course related to the other five global threat scenarios. Radiation is interconnected as part of a nuclear war that would immediately kill millions from radiation. A nuclear bomb is not just a bigger better bomb but emits radiation that kills locally and at a distance over time. Because of its power, it would put dust and smoke into the stratosphere that would cause a decrease of the sun’s penetration. A “nuclear winter” would result, causing death of millions by famine. Some people suggest that nuclear power is “green” —even the answer to climate change. But nuclear power plants could be a target of terrorists using cyberwarfare or crashing an airliner into a reactor.

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Related Videos and Podcasts

41. Radioactivity Risk
• Angela Bischoff, Ontario Clean Air Alliance
• Richard Denton, Co-chair, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
• Gordon Edwards, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility

12. Peace studies
• Susana Barnes, Adjust Professor of Anthropology, University of Saskatchewan.
• Christopher Hrynkow, Professor of Religious Studies, U. of Saskatchewan
• Florence Stratton, Retired Professor of English, University of Regina
• Peter Venton, Former Economist for the Government of Ontario, Toronto

8. Monitoring Nuclear Power Safety
• Angela Bischoff, Clean Air Alliance
• Pippa Feinstein Toronto lawyer, Water Keepers
• Brennain Lloyd, NorthWatch

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Adam Wynne

For low-level radioactive sites – and in other applications with radiation- certain plant species can function as a supplementary radiation detector. Of interest are spiderwort plants (in the Tradecantia genus), where the stamens (the center of the flower) mutate from blue to pink in the presence of ionizing radiation. This was initially discovered in Japan in the 1970s and has been re-iterated by several media and research articles since then. It certainly does replace the importance of Geiger counters but has potential applications for sites with low-level radioactive materials – and may be useful to detect changes in ambient radiation… Read more »

Adam Wynne

It is important to note that specific cells mutate colour and it is not the whole flower – as this species of flower comes in a number of colours naturally ranging from blue to pink to purple.

Adam Wynne

What would happen if a tsunami hits the Cactus / Runit Dome in the Marshall Islands? In Dr. Spencer’s class on public health in the nuclear age – it was indicated that this dome was already falling apart – and that radiation levels outside the dome were equal to or greater than those inside the dome. For the unfamiliar – the dome was built in the 1970s by the United Stated Department of Energy in attempts to contain radioactive debris from their decades of nuclear testing on the atolls of the Marshall Islands. There has been a cohort lasting decades… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, research was conducted in Europe in relation to nuclear powered pacemakers. One such model had a plutonium RTG battery. Would folks that had these implanted be required to be buried in a lead-lined coffin, like Marie Skłodowska-Curie?

Adam Wynne

Has anyone considered the role of radioactive scrap metal inadvertently incorporated into the recycling industry? I have heard this is an issue in Eastern Europe and former Soviet Bloc areas. Of particular concern was the incorporation of mildly radioactive materials into the metal being re-purposed for built materials. Having sections of a structural support beam leaching radioactivity would potentially cause structural failure due to neutron embrittlement, irregular atomic and molecular structure, etc. There was a large IAEA report (about 400 pages) from a conference in Europe several years ago around this. Several borders are setting up radioactive check-points to check… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Correction and clarification: The Georgia incident was in the village of Lia or Liya (Tsalenjikha region) and was predominantly woodcutters that were exposed – among others in the village. This was in December 2001. Two were hospitalized for months. The strontium-90 core of these devices can provide a fatal dose of radiation in approximately two minutes. Eight known RTGs were installed in Georgia in the 1980s in relation to radio relay sites for hydroelectric projects, of which two are presently missing. Allegedly the strontium-90 cores are in ceramic form, rendering it difficult for re-use in terrorism-related purposes. As of 2002,… Read more »

Richard Denton

Yes, here in Canada, Bruce Power Corporation, the largest collection of reactors in the world were going to send radioactive steel from their plant on Lake Huron down the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River to Sweden to be reused. This was luckily stopped.

Adam Wynne

Another source of radiation exposure that is quite fascinating is the built materials of some older buildings. One that stands out in my mind is Grand Central Station in New York City. The granite materials used in its constructions are mildly radioactive. Several reports came out years ago, calculating the dose exposure of employees that worked in the station. Of note were shoe-shine boys and janitors. It was interesting to hear that the walls leach radioactivity in that building though it’s significantly less radioactivity than a Chernobyl-like event. https://io9.gizmodo.com/grand-central-station-is-radioactive-1689028425 That being said this could be an “urban legend” – it… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Has anyone looked into the environmental exposure risks from the old uranium mines globally? A number of them began in the early 20th century and continued through the late 20th century. Some were simply flooded if they were shut down before World War 2. Could this cause leaching into the surrounding environment? An interesting yet horrifying report came out of the Northwest Territories in Canada where one of the large uranium (former pitchblende) mines used for the Manhattan Project was employing First Nations individuals to move the ore across the lake to a site where it was to be refined… Read more »

Nuclear energy is a subject i am deeply concerned with. Why? because my mother died of cancer when i was 16 years old. She was sick for 6 years of my life and many others I have known have had cancer including my aunt and uncle who both died of it in different forms. I think Nuclear Energy is extremely important and needs to be utilized in a way that will safeguard against accidents and radiation leakage. I am all for SMR’s(small modular reactors) but they need to be monitored properly. I believe the accident at chalk river might have… Read more »

Richard Denton

Dear Richard:
SMNR still require enriched uranium and produce plutonium that can be used for making nuclear weapons. They also produce nuclear radioactive waste that we haven’t found a solution over the last 70+ years. The German KKK study found an increased risk of leukemias in children less than 5 years of age who grew up within 5 km of nuclear power reactors. This could also have a bearing on SMNR.
Richard Denton, MD

Gigantic, mysterious radiation leak traced to facility in Russia By Ruby Prosser Scully . TECHNOLOGY July 29, 2019 The source of a gigantic, mysterious leak of radioactive material that swept across Europe in 2017 has been traced to a Russian nuclear facility, which appears to have been preparing materials for experiments in Italy. The leak released up to 100 times the amount of radiation into the atmosphere that the Fukushima disaster did. Italian scientists were the first to raise the alarm on 2 October, when they noticed a burst of the radioactive ruthenium-106 in the atmosphere. This was quickly corroborated… Read more »

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Here is a strange proposal. Build thousands of islands covered with solar panels. Use the electricity to produce hydrogen and capture the CO 2, then make fuel from it. Hmmm.

Gordon Edwards

Background: To facilitate the eventual deployment of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs), the nuclear industry and its regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), are lobbying to have SMNRs exempted from any form of public environmental assessment process. The less public attention, the better. The Vice-chair of the Canadian Senate Committee examining the proposed law that is designed to govern questions of environmental assessment is also on the Board of “Canada Carbon” — a company planning to mine a deposit of exceptionally pure graphite in Quebec. Very pure graphite is required for some types of nuclear reactors. Such high quality… Read more »