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Analysis – Canada’s Radiation Strategy needs Rethinking

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The nuclear fall out from the failed Fukushima plant still sparks large and serious questions on the manner of Canada’s radiation strategy.  For quite some time now, Canadian authorities have been insisting that Canadians are safe and that dangerous levels of radiation haven’t entered our food, air or water.

Back in 2011 Japan experienced a catastrophic nuclear disaster that shook the world. There were widespread fears of radiation contamination of the air, oceans, and rain as well.  In the very same month, Health Canada reported a “minuscule” increase in radiation levels along the B.C. coast in the wake of the nuclear crisis in Japan. Health Canada spokesman Gary Holub said increased radiation levels were expected, and were less than the increase in radiation levels Canadians would see naturally when it rains. He stressed that the increased radiation posed no health risk to Canadians.

The response from Health Canada and other government officials time and time again, is that the levels of radiation present are negligible. Last year Dr. Paul Gully, Health Canada’s senior medical advisor even stated, “The extra deployment is not due to any increased risk faced by the Canadian population. The assessment is that the risk to Canadians in Canada is negligible and will remain negligible, even in the worst-case scenario.”

In mid-March after the disaster occurred, Health Canada initiated the installation of nine additional monitoring stations in addition to the six already in place, to be positioned along the West Coast, as public concerns rose on the possibility of nuclear radiation aftereffects from Japan reaching Canadian shores. Just days after this development, a radiation detector in Newfoundland picked up minuscule amounts of radioactive particles (Iodine-131) that some officials believed originated in Japan. These particles were also detected in Iceland, however the Icelandic Radiation Safety Authority (IRSA) found that the amounts found were believed to be too low to harm human health. The radioactive particles detected in Iceland were traces of iodine-131, discovered in an air filter used at a radiation monitoring center in Reykjavik.  Iodine-131 (131I), also called radioiodine, is an important radioisotope of iodine, used mostly for medical and pharmaceutical purposes. It has also played a role as a major radioactive hazard present in nuclear fission products.

Some critics have contended that additional radiation detecting units were not required and were just wasteful spending of taxpayer funds. They have also argued that the Iodine-131 particles that were present, were found in too many things so there could be no way to establish the particles connection with the nuclear disaster. According to this file, the data gave indications of incidental levels of iodine-131 in the periods from 2005-2009 – well before the Fukishiwa plant disaster. Some could use this data and interpret, that the radiation particles are not subject to much concern because they were present in certain levels well before the Fukishima disaster.

There is a counter-argument to this, using data created by Norwegians that have tracked various isotopes. The graphic charted the Iodine 133 plume from Fukushima as it went across North America and the sampling was done on March 25. This chart has revealed very telling volumes of Iodine 133 in the atmosphere in the various concentrations.

According to Health Canada documents, they have assured Canadians that they did not need to be alarmed over minute levels of radiation, because Canadians are routinely exposed every day to what is called “background radiation” whether from rocks and soils, cosmic radiation from space, or medical or clinical devices such as X-ray machines and CT scanners. However it should be noted, that ingested radioactivity (internal radiation, ingestion of radioactive particles) is quite different from background radiation (external).

For some groups, the official statements have  proven to be a bitter pill to swallow. In a time where citizen groups and the public at large become increasingly alarmed and express concerns against pipelines, and nuclear reactors, the incidents that recently occurred in Ontario do not alleviate their concerns.

Semantics over Radiation

In a story that rocked Ontario, ‘demineralized‘ water had leaked into Lake Ontario from a Pickering nuclear plant. Officials said the risk of radiation due to the leaks was “negligible.” But the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR), a Montreal-based think tank and watchdog group, claimed the leak was a small example of a greater problem with how nuclear safety is regulated. The watchdog’s President Gordon Edwards said the leak showed the potential for more significant nuclear contamination of Lake Ontario, adding that there is no proof that Canadian-made CANDU reactors are any safer than other reactor designs. He said his organization, which began calling for more stringent regulations on spent fuel bays after Sept. 11, 2001, recommended the implementation of a web-based system that would allow citizens to view real-time totals of how much radioactive material had been released into the environment in Canada.

Confusion also persists on whether the ‘demineralized’ water is, in fact, radioactive or not. John Luxat, of McMaster University claimed the water that found its way into Lake Ontario was actually not radioactive. Luxat told CTV, “It is not radioactive; it is not going through the reactors. It is actually just going through steam generators to produce steam to drive the turbines. It is used to remove heat from the heavy water going into the generators, but it doesn’t at any time go into the reactor.” However, the statement conflicted with Ted Gruetzner of Ontario Power Generation, when he said, “People are concerned about nuclear power, but this particular incident is normal water with a bit of radiation. It is well below our regulatory and other limits.

Edwards has provided his own speculation on the government’s lax attempts of attending to their radiation strategy. He said, “The authorities don’t want people to have an understanding of this. The government of Canada tends to pooh-pooh the dangers of nuclear power because it is a promoter of nuclear energy and uranium sales“.

This has created a battle in semantics to determine what ‘radiation’ is constituted as, how it is interpreted, and how it should be represented in data. Covered by Alex Roslin at the Gazette last week, Dr. Dale Dewar and President Gordon Edwards questioned Ottawa’s notion of what is a “safe” level of radiation. They stated even “safe” levels” can cause serious health risks for some people. Using Health Canada’s own models and those of a 2006 U.S. National Academy of Sciences report on cancer risk from radiation, the acceptable levels of radiation in food for Canada is set at a level that would lead to 5,000 to 8,000 cancers per million people over a 70-year lifetime of exposure and about half of these cancers would be fatal. That would work out to 170,000 to 270,000 lifetime cancers if all 34 million Canadians were exposed at the “safe” level. Edwards said, “I don’t think we should be using the word ‘safe’. We should say it’s a ‘permissible’ level of radiation. We should be staying well below those limits.”

He has also questioned Canada’s double standard for regulating radiation in comparison to other carcinogens. Health Canada’s ceilings for chemical carcinogens have generally been set at levels that cause no more than one to 10 cancers per million people over a 70-year lifetime of exposure. By contrast, Canada’s radiation ceiling for food has allowed 500 to 8,000 times more cancers and this is the double standard in the regulation.

 

On June 2011, in a CNN interview on the disaster, physicist Michio Kaku told the CNN, “I am a physicists and we try to reconstruct the actual accidents in our computers given the feeble amount of information they gave use. We knew it was much more severe than they [Japanese  and other officials] were saying, because radiation was coming out left and right. So in other words, they lied to us. They knew how much radiation was coming out. The knew how much core meltdown was taking place. But they tried to put a happy face on it.” Kaku anticipated that the clean up into the reactor would take between 50 – 100 years.

Here is a small part of the interview

CNN: Lets talk about the radiation in the environment, in the atmosphere. We have been told that it would be measurable but a miniscule amount on the US West Coast and around the world Is that true?

Kaku: It is still minimal around the world [based on what we are being told from government reported radiation readings]. Most of the damage is concentrated within 20 to 50 miles of the reactor. [based off government released radiation measurements] you can actually see it in the milk. You can actually see it has iodine, 131, actually spiked a little bit in our milk in New York City, but it is very small.

And the Beacon also covered a story whereby government agencies and private companies would not have land tested for radiation contamination. Nita Abbott of LA Farms, near Gambo, expressed an interest in having her land tested to ensure that they were selling a safe product. The newspaper contacted private testing companies, government agencies, and universities to inquire if they would consider testing local farms and all of them expressed no interest in getting involved at any level.

By September of 2011, Health Canada continued to assert that radioactivity levels across Canada continued to be within normal background levels and that there was no cause for concern. On August 11, 2011 Health Canada removed 9 supplementary fixed point detectors that were installed in British Columbia and the Yukon, in response to the Fukushima nuclear incident. And on September 15, 2011, Health Canada ended its weekly data postings on radiation levels, and instead, began to resume its previous schedule of quarterly postings of the fixed point network data and terminated the Website Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) data reporting. Health Canada reassured citizens on their website that they would continue to continuously monitor radiation levels and review the data on a daily basis, and if there were any changes in Japan, the reporting frequency of radiation data would then be reassessed.

Specific Radiation Exposures

The data, as highlighted by Roslin, and provided by Health Canada, revealed:

  •  On March 18, 2011, seven days after an earthquake and tsunami triggered eventual nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan, the first radioactive material arrived over Sidney on Vancouver Island.
  •  For 22 days, a Health Canada monitoring station in Sidney detected iodine-131 levels in the air that were up to 300 times above the normal background levels. Radioactive iodine levels shot up as high as nearly 1,000 times background levels in the air at Resolute Bay, Nunavut.
  •  A Health Canada monitoring station in Calgary detected an average of 8.18 becquerels per litre of radioactive iodine (an isotope released by the nuclear accident) in rainwater, the data shows.

According to the chief of Health Canada’s radiation-surveillance division Eric Pellerin, “It’s above the recommended level [for drinking water]. At any time you sample it, it should not exceed the guidelines.

To really drive home the point that something is not right with our federal officials claims, I bring you evidence on the ground from people. I present you youtube clips from a very passionate citizen that has armed himself with a radiation detector and geiger counters and he has sought to investigate the levels of radiation for himself – and determine what the actual levels are. He funds his own trips and hotel accommodations as well.

Here he has found radiation in rain samples in the following regions:

High Levels – Lake Louise, Alberta

High Levels – Red Deer, Edmonton

Above Normal Levels – Shawville, Quebec

Very High Levels – Winnipeg

And here is a video from another gentleman demonstrating radiation levels using another tester.

Radioactivity in rain 20,000 cpm/sq. meter in Toronto Canada

Lastly, out of all this, you might also wonder how well equipped and prepared Canada is in handling a nuclear radiation emergency. On June 14th, 2011 the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an article, titled ‘Canada Ill-Prepared for Radiation Emergencies,”. The author’s stated, “Most Canadian hospitals are ill-prepared to handle the surge of patients that could result from a large-scale radiation emergency… The ongoing radiation threat in Japan, the result of damage to a nuclear power plant during the country’s recent earthquake, rekindled concerns about the lackadaisical approach to preparing for such an event in Canada.

Based on the information thus far, one cannot help but question our federal officials radiation strategy and its effectiveness. To that I say, “throw the salt, I want transparency.”

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