A very interesting and thought-provoking doco on SBS last evening, dealing with nuclear energy. Specifically, our fears surrounding the myths, legends and known facts of nuclear radiation. The article was rather appropriately entitled “Nuclear Nightmares”, produced by the British Horizon team.
It’s a very pertinent issue, especially with the federal government pushing the mining and export of our uranium resources, perhaps also indulging in our own brand of power generation and enrichment.
The program dealt primarily with the aftermath of Chernobyl. The devastating meltdown and explosion of the plant’s number 4 reactor, 26 April 1986. The fallout from Chernobyl spread over hundreds of thousands of square kilometres covering numerous nations from Russia to Great Britain and Scotland. Cities, like Pripyat closely adjacent to Chernobyl, were evacuated by Soviet authorities and left as ghostly reminders of the disaster. 200,000 women were convinced by Soviet authorities that their pregnancies might well result in mutated offspring as a direct result of exposure to high doses of fallout, and had state-sponsored abortions.
Environmental groups predicted tens of thousands of cases of leukaemia, thyroid and other cancers. Animals were slaughtered in their thousands, deemed unfit for human consumption, milk disposed of as highly irradiated. In general the hysteria was widespread, and at the time, considered valid. But over the past twenty years since Chernobyl, ongoing research and data collation has revealed some surprising, and quite stunning facts.
The devastating numbers of expected deaths, mutations and ongoing diseases as a direct result of Chernobyl, simply haven’t eventuated. Certainly, people have died. Cancer rates of some very specific cancers have risen in pockets, but in general the legions of maimed and terminally ill haven’t arisen. The program went on to discuss what nuclear science calls the Linear, No Threshold (LNT)model. This model presupposes that dosage relates directly to occurrence or likelihood of cancers. The model is, however as the name suggests, linear. At high doses, high occurrences have been measured. Science has no data though, on what happens at low doses. In fact, as the program clearly showed, science has no conclusive data at all on doses of 100 millisieverts and less. (1 millisievert being equivalent to one hundred chest x-rays per year). As the documentary explained, airline crews who garner much greater background radiation exposures through high altitude flight, than those persons who fly irregularly, regularly display absorption factors of 11 millisieverts or more, yet incidences of cancers in this group are no more or less than any other demographic. The supposition being that low doses are unlikely to be detrimental, and may even be beneficial.
Bannerman watched this program avidly, becoming increasingly smacked around the gob as scientific knowledge, theory and ignorance was revealed, right alongside generally accepted hysteria surrounding nuclear energy. Mind you, Bannerman still would not accept a nuclear powerplant being constructed next to his residence, as a certain brave and forthright Prime Minister has declared he would. As “Nuclear Nightmares” explained, science simply doesn’t know. Maybe, low-level exposure to nuclear radiation can be beneficial. Arsenic, in low dosages over time, can also be beneficial in building a resistance to it’s detrimental effects. Arsenic can also kill you. In fact, death from arsenic poisoning and death from radiation sickness are remarkably similar. Bannerman would prefer not to find out, just how similar. There are other forms of energy creation which totally avoid the knowledge vacuum of LNT. Bannerman strongly prefers those options over nuclear, regardless of the dreamlike probability of his nuclear aversion.