POISONING EDEN THE HEALTH EFFECTS OF RADIOACTIVE CONTAMINATION OF THE ENVIRONMENT Given at the UKAEA/BNES conference: NEDCON'02 Chilton Oxford, April 25-26th
Chris Busby, PhD
Occasional Paper 5/02 Aberystwyth: Green Audit 1
Since a wise man may be wrong, or a hundred men, or several nations and since even human nature, as we think, goes wrong for several centuries on this matter or that, how can we be certain that it occasionally stops going wrong and that in this century it is not mistaken Montaigne (1533-92): The Essays. 1. Introduction This conference is an attempt to discuss how we can make safe what is intrinsically unsafe. How can we do this most effectively? Can we do it at all? If radioactive materials are released to the environment they will end up in the food, the air and water and ultimately living creatures. This includes us and our children. We know this because we have measured weapons fallout isotopes in the bodies of the most isolated tribes on earth, and we have found plutonium from Sellafield in the teeth of children from across the whole of the UK (Priest et al. 1997). Most scientists now take the view that there is no safe dose: this is a consequence of the discrete nature of ionizing track events. Cells are either hit or not hit, even at the smallest dose. And if they are hit, then there is a finite probability of a mutation in the genetic data on the chromosomes, and a finite chance of this eventually leading to serious or fatal illness. The nuclear project was originally countenanced politically at a time when scientists were less knowledgeable (the DNA structure was not even known in 1952). It was developed through a period of Cold War, when atomic bombs were thought to be necessary, and dissenting views about the health effects were not permitted. If anyone doubts this they should be aware that the World Health Organisation signed an agreement in 1958 to leave research on the health consequences of radiation exposure to the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose remit was the advancement of nuclear power. This agreement is still in force (although the European Parliament are trying to have it amended). What has emerged in the last thirty years is a body of evidence that the science which was and is presently used to define the health effects of exposure to internal, novel, manmade radionuclides is in error by a very large amount. This scientific black-box of radiation risk assessment is the model of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), a body set up in 1952. The ICRP model (ICRP90, ICRP66) is not valid for internal radiation exposure. The data showing this are now so compelling that the European Parliament passed a resolution in Spring of 2001 asking for a reassessment of the risk model. A similar proposal was passed at the WHO Chernobyl conference in Kiev, in June 2001. On July 31st, the UK government set up a new group, the Committee Examining Radiation Risk from Internal Emitters (CERRIE) in order to examine the evidence and report on the security of the ICRP model. Thus the immediate background to this conference Thus the background to this present conference on nuclear discharges to the environment includes a question mark over the whole basis of calculating the health consequences of such discharges. This paper addresses the evidence that the ICRP model is wrong and that a new model is needed to properly advise on the risks from different types of radiation exposure that follow the various kinds of discharges that are proposed. 2. The ICRP and Radiation Risk Scientific knowledge becomes either refined or altered as a consequence of the ability of its models to explain and predict real world data. There have been many cases of scientific models being discarded and replaced following failures to explain observation. Early theories in chemistry and physics, like the ICRP model, were based on mathematical averaging of large amounts of material: litres of fluid, kilograms of metal, whatever could be conveniently experimented upon. Development of experimental techniques in the 20th century which 2
investigated the microscopic behaviour of the atoms and molecules that made up these kilograms and litres, resulted in falsification of many scientific models. Empirical results were often fatal for theories: this is how science advances. For example, thermodynamics was unable to explain spectroscopic observation of molecular and atomic transitions and had to be discarded for quantum theory. We are at such a crossroads now. The body of knowledge about the biological consequences of low dose radiation from internal emitters is no longer congruent with the simplistic averaging models of the ICRP, which, like their thermodynamic ancestors, use kilograms of matter and litres of fluid. The radiological equivalent of the atoms of Planck, and the biological target for radiation effects, is the living cell. Inadequate recognition of this has resulted in a situation where many people have died and will die, because the ICRP model has been wrongly applied to internal point sources. In the ICRP model, doses are defined as energy per unit mass or ∆E/∆M . The quantity of mass employed is that of an organ or larger. One Gray is the absorption of 1 Joule by 1 kilogram of tissue. Very early on, ICRP had to recognize that this model was inadequate since experiments showed that it was the ionization density that was the important factor in cell killing, and so they added a fudge factor or ‘weighting’ for this to the Gray to give the Sievert. For alpha decays, 1 Gray becomes 20 Sieverts. The ICRP modelling of the dose from an internal exposure, and its problems, are shown in Table 1.
Stage Environmental dispersion Inhalation and ingestion Biokinetic
Problem None, if all possible routes of exposure are accurately determined None, if accurate. May not always characterise all the routes and the physical forms of all the isotopes involved ICRP stops at the organ level. No attempt is made to consider distribution at the cell level or biomolecular level or organelle level. Little attempt is made to examine or investigate the microdistribution of isotopes or particles in cells or organelles 1. Organs are modelled as ‘bags of water’ into which energy is uniformly distributed as ‘radiation tracks’. This misses what is going on at the cell level, at the biomolecular level and the organelle level. 2. Isotopes are only distinguished by ICRP in their affinity for organs (Iodine to the Thyroid, Plutonium to bone etc.). No consideration is given to their chemical affinity for biomolecules and organelles (Strontium to chromosomes, plutonium to chromosomes, Caesium to interfaces etc.) 3. No consideration is made of the state of the cell or its responses to a radiation track, its repair systems or their induction 4. No consideration is given to transmutation effects. 5. No consideration is given to exposures where individual cells receive high doses due to proximity to internal sequential emitters or internal hot particles: every dose is averaged in space and time
Table 1 Problems with the stages of modelling internal exposures used by ICRP to obtain doses.
The main failure of the system used to calculate dose is that the result is an average, in space and in time. The external dose calculation has just been applied to internal dose by averaging all energy of the decays which occur in a bag of water the same size and shape of the organ over its mass. Why is this wrong? Because it is individual cell doses which decide the magnitude of the biological effect, and for internal emitters which are point sources, some cells will receive very high doses whilst other cells receive none. Some clusters of cells will receive high doses whilst others will receive none. This is not the case with external irradiation where the source is effectively planar and thus all cells will receive the same dose. There are other problems also which must be addressed. And because the theoretical dosimetric model is wrong, it is not possible to use epidemiology of external irradiation to inform us of risks from internal exposure. Table 2 addresses the way in which doses have been correlated by ICRP and other risk agencies with effects like cancer and genetic damage. Here it is clear that scientific method has not been used properly. Cancer yield in the Hiroshima survivors who suffered almost lethal acute external doses has been linearly extrapolated to internal chronic doses at levels close to background radiation levels. Massive evidence of harm at low dose exposure from internal isotopes has been routinely dismissed by ICRP and its satellites on the basis of the deductive application of this external Hiroshima model.
Stage Assume linear dose effect response for low dose
Problem 1. The basis is the calculation of tracks per cell per year from external averaged radiation. In the low dose range, the number of different cells hit is proportional to dose. This is not true for internal exposure. 2. A large body of empirical evidence now suggests non linear or biphasic dose response Use external acute 1. Theoretically invalid since the internal exposures are qualitatively high dose exposure different cancer yield 2. A large body of empirical evidence points to much higher cancer or (Hiroshima study) leukemia yields at low internal doses. to model internal 3. Problems of averaging over populations with different sensitivity to chronic exposure radiation cancer yield 4. Problems extrapolating from wartime Japanese survivors to peacetime European populations. Check against 1. The few human internal studies considered by ICRP are of natural internal studies isotopes and high dose exposures 2. Animal studies are of short lived species. Those which show significant effects are never cited or followed up (e.g. Luning and Strontium). Ignore non-cancer A whole range of non cancer outcomes of exposure has been ignored by effects ICRP e.g. infant mortality Table 2 Problems with ICRP system of relating dose to health detriment The arguments which falsify the ICRP models may be reasonable divided into scientific, mechanistic and epidemiological, and I will now address these in turn.
3. Philosophical arguments The classical exposition of the scientific, or inductive method (originally due to William of Occam) is what is now called Millâ€™s Canons, the two most important of which are: â€˘ The Canon of Agreement which states that whatever there is in common between the antecedent conditions of a phenomenon can be supposed to be the cause, or related to the cause, of the phenomenon. â€˘ The Canon of Difference which states that the differences in the conditions under which an effect occurs and those under which it does not must be the cause or related to the cause of that effect. In addition, the method relies upon the Principle of Accumulation which states that scientific knowledge grows additively by the discovery of independent laws, and the Principle of Instance Confirmation, that the degree of belief in the truth of a law is proportional to the number of favourable instances of the law. To the methods of inductive reasoning we should add considerations of plausibility of mechanism. Science is also unique in the area of philosophy since theories may be experimentally falsified. It only requires one firm observation which cannot be predicted or explained in the accepted scientific model of a phenomenon to falsify this model. These are the basic methods of science [Mill, 1879; Harre, 1985; Papineau, 1996] The questions of interest here are: (1) What are the health consequences of exposure to external radiation doses at levels below 2mSv, the approximate dose received from natural background? (2) What are the health consequences of exposure to novel internal radioisotopes at whole organ dose levels below 2mSv? (3) Is the concept of dose applicable to internal radiation exposures? Although risks from exposure to high levels of ionising radiation are generally accepted, since they are fairly immediate and graphic, the situation with regard to low-level exposure is curious. There are now two mutually exclusive models describing the health consequences of such exposure. There is the ICRP one, which is that which is presently used to set legislation on exposures and argue that low level radiation is safe, and a radical one, which is espoused by the anti-nuclear movement and its associated scientists. I show these schematically in Figure 1. The two models arise from two different scientific methods. The conventional model is a physics-based one, developed by physicists prior to the discovery of DNA. Like all such models it is mathematical, reductionist and simplistic, but because of this is of powerful descriptive utility. Its quantities, dose, are average energy per unit mass or dE/dM and in its application, the masses used are greater than 1kg. Thus it would not distinguish between the average energy transferred to a person warming themselves in front of a fire and a person eating a red hot coal. In its application to the problem at hand, the internal, low-level, isotopic or particulate exposure, it has been used entirely deductively. The basis of this application is that the cancer and leukaemia yield has been determined following the external acute highdose irradiation by gamma rays of a large number of Japanese inhabitants of the town of Hiroshima. Together with this, other arguments based on averaging have been used to maintain that there is a simple linear relationship (in the low-dose region) between dose and cancer yield. This Linear No Threshold (LNT) assumption enables easy calculations to be made of the cancer yield of any given external irradiation. By comparison, the radical model arises from an inductive process. There have been many observations of anomalously high levels of cancer and leukaemia in populations living near nuclear sites, especially those where the measurements show that there is contamination from man-made radioisotopes, e.g. reprocessing plants. In addition there are populations who have been exposed to man-made radioisotopes from global weapons tests, downwinders
living near nuclear weapon test sites and those exposed to these materials because of accidents (like the Chernobyl infant leukaemia cohort, which I return to) or because of work in the nuclear industry or military. In contrast to the averaging approach of the conventional model, the biological model considers each type of exposure according to its cellular radiation track structure in space and in time. It is not easily possible to employ such a model to predict risks from ‘radiation dose’ to ‘populations’ but only from microscopically described doses from specific isotopes or particles whose decay fractionations are considered to interact with cells which themselves respond biologically to the insults and may be in various stages of their biological development. The dose-response relationship following from this kind of analysis might be expected to be quite complex. In examining radiation risk, we see that these models are mutually exclusive and we must decide which one is correct. In making such a decision we should employ the basic philosophical rules of scientific method. We might argue that the Linear No Threshold ICRP model is scientifically sound in its application to acute, high dose, external irradiation and its extension to acute, external, low level radiation may be justified on the basis of theory, since the plausibility of the model rests on the idea of uniform density of radiation track events in microscopic tissue volumes. However, with regard to internal radiation doses, there has been a serious misuse of scientific method in the extension and application of the ICRP external model. The basis for this conclusion is that such a process involves deductive reasoning. It falsely uses data from one set of conditions, high-level, acute, external exposure to model low-level, chronic, internal exposure. The procedure is scientifically bankrupt, and were it not for political considerations, would have been rejected long ago. On the other hand, it should be clear that the model which begins with the epidemiological observations (which suggest high risk) conforms to all the requirements of the scientific method listed above. Man-made radioisotopes, often in the form of ‘hot particles’ are common contaminants to the areas near nuclear sites where there are cancer and leukaemia clusters, and to nuclear site and test site downwinders, and to fallout-exposed populations. This satisfies the Canon of Agreement. The contingency analysis tables with control populations for such studies show that the Canon of Difference is also satisfied: people living in more remote regions than the downwinders show lower levels of illness. The Principle of Instance Confirmation is fulfilled since so many studies have shown that increases in cancer and leukaemia follow exposure regimes at low dose. Poppers description (Popper 1962) of scientific models being open to falsification is addressed by a number of studies, but most plausibly by the two sets of unequivocal findings described later in this paper which falsify the ICRP model in this strict philosophical sense. We are left only with ‘Plausibility of Mechanism’, which will be addressed next. 4. Mechanistic arguments The target for radiation action is the living cell. Thus it is the impact on the cell and its supporting environment that should be the measure of radiation stress. The ICRP model uses units of dose, Sieverts and Grays, which remove the calculation of cell dose from the cell to the organ or the whole body. Radiation stress should properly be assessed in terms of tracks or hits to each cell. For low LET radiation, such as X-rays or gamma rays, there are approximately 70 ionizations across a 8µ diameter cell nucleus, equivalent to about 1mGy dose, although individual tracks may exceed this value because of track stochastics. However, within the cell nucleus, low LET radiations can produce dense regions of ionization, and these may be important in the case of isotopes, particularly Auger emitters boiund to DNA. For high LET alpha particle tracks of 4MeV, there are about 23000 ionizations and .an absorbed dose of about 400mGy
. In one year, natural background external radiation levels, measured as 1mGy to the whole body, ensure that each cell in the body receives one track or 'hit'. The health consequence of this to the whole organism is purely a function of the overall probability that the cell will acquire a harmful fixed mutation. If all cells were equal in their sensitivity to radiation this would be merely a function of the number of cells hit, and it is this argument that is the basis of the linear, no threshold dose response relationship assumed by ICRP. Double the dose and twice as many cells are hit; treble the dose and three times as many. The problem is that living cells do not conform to the kind of stress/strain relationships exhibited by steel wires. The damage from a single track of ionizing radiation is either lethal or else causes the cell to enter a DNA repair and cell replication sequence which lasts about 10 hours. This repair replication cycle, once begun, is irreversible, and the daughter cells may be exact copies of the parent or, as a result of inefficient DNA repair, may have acquired a fixed mutation. This fixed mutation may be harmless, lethal to the cell, or harmful, in that it may be a critical part of the process that leads to unchecked replication or cancer. Therefore the probability of acquiring either the initial or some later critical step in the path to clinical expression of cancer following a radiation dose is seen as both a binomial and quantitative probability calculation involving a group of very low probabilities. Assessing the mechanistic basis of such a risk comes down to examining each stage in this process. Clearly any factor which alters each of the probabilities in the chain of events, particularly those affecting the sensitivity of the cell to radiation, will increase the level of risk from the exposure being considered. The ICRP concede part of this argument: for example, they argue that at very high doses there is a sparing effect for cancer induction owing to the preponderance of cell killing over cell mutation. At low dose and protracted exposures they introduce a dose rate reduction factor, which allows for this. Some pro-nuclear authorities argue more radically that at low doses, most cells are able to repair damage, and that there is a threshold below which exposure has no harmful effects whatever. Others go further and argue that low doses of radiation effect a priming of the repair systems and actually protect against subsequent radiation damage: this is called ‘hormesis’. I will address threshold and hormesis below. All contemporary theories of low dose action accept is that cells repair radiation damage and are not passive agents. This has a number of serious consequences for attempts to average dose over tissue. It is of interest that the ICRP and others, by assuming a no-threshold linear response, implicitly exclude consideration of cell repair responses. 4.1 The double hit in space For external whole body irradiation from gamma rays and X-rays, both human epidemiology at high dose and animal studies support a linear quadratic dose response for cell transformation and certain cancers e.g.leukemia in the intermediate dose range i.e.505000mGy. Outcome can be written: Response = A(dose) + B(Dose)2 Where A and B are constants. Kinetic theory suggests, and most now agree, that this result is best interpreted as showing that at low doses, single events dominate the risk but that at higher doses, the quadratic term demonstrates that two correlated events can occur (resulting in enhancement of effect). Because of the 2-stranded complementary nature of DNA, and for other reasons, it is suggested that the two correlated events are two breakages of separate DNA strands opposite each other, called a ‘double strand break’. Such a process leads inevitably to high risk of a
fixed mutation since, unlike a single strand break, there is no complementary copy available to use for a repair. The two correlated hits must occur on the same section of the chromosome, and must occur either together or within the 10-hour repair replication period. The quadratic portion of the dose response curve occurs at high dose, when the radiation fluence or consequent ionization density is sufficently high to confer a high probability of two correlated hits occurring in the same cell and same section of chromosome. At natural background radiation levels of 2mSv, a double hit to a cell within the 10 hour repair replication period is very unlikely. It can easily be calculated from Poisson cumulative probability and based on 500keV events is about 4 x 10-4, some 40 times higher than the natural heritable genetic damage frequency in human populations. So we can say that, for external irradiation, correlated double hits do not take place in the low dose range and on this basis a linear dose response is mechanistically justified. However, this is not true for internal irradiation from an immobilised point source where there are sequential decays. Micron and sub-micron diameter ‘hot particles’ represent such a risk. Tables 3 and 4 below show calculations of hits and dose to local tissues of two common alpha emitting particles that have been introduced into the environment, plutonium oxide (Sellafield, weapons fallout) and ceramic depleted uranium (military use in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia and Kosovo). In both these cases, inhalation and translocation to lymphatics results in high and repetitive local doses to cells. These exposures are modelled by ICRP, after dilution of the decay energy into large masses of tissue, as vanishingly small doses. The response to these small doses is then modelled as a linear response. But strictly, since there are two hits inside the repair replication period, the response will be proportional to the square of the dose. We might more accurately approximate it to the response to a very large dose, one which results in a mean two-hit flux to every cell in the tissue (and proportional to dose squared), divided by the cell density per kilogram. It is clear that this is an error in the ICRP model as applied to internal irradiation. Table 3 Doses to sphere of tissue 30 micron radius by one particle of U3O8 of various diameters Particle diameter 0.2 µ 0.5 µ 1.0 µ
Particle vol. 3 cm 4.2 x 1015 6.5 x 1014 5.2 x 1013
4 x 10-12
6.5 x 1011
Mass U3O8 (g)
Mass U238 (g)
Activity of particle
3.6 x 1014 5.6 x 1013
3.06 x 10-14
3.8 x 10-10 Bq
4.8 x 10-13
4.3 x 1012 3.5 x 1011 5.6 x 1010
Hits /day (dose/day)
Hits/year (dose/year) 0.012 (1.44mSv)
5.9 x 10-9 Bq
3.3 x 10-5 (3.96 x 10-3mSv) 5.1 x 10-4 (0.06mSv)
3.7 x 10-12
8.8 x 10-8 Bq
7.6 x 10-3 (0.91mSv)
2.9 x 10-11
3.6 x 10-7 Bq
4.75 x 10-10
5.9 x 10-6 Bq
Assumptions: Uranium Oxide (U238) is in the U3O8 form (density = 8.6); specific activity of U238 = 12.43 MBq/Kg: Alpha decay energy = 4.45MeV; Alpha range = 30 microns. Relative Biological Effectiveness factor for Alphas = 20 (from ICRP) has been used to convert dose in Grays to effective dose in Sieverts
4.2 The double hit in time The response of cells to exposure in the low dose range has been referred to. Measurements of variation of transformation sensitivity to radiation in different phases of the cell cycle
demonstrate that cells in repair replication are hundreds of times more sensitive to radiation than cells in quiescent phase. (e.g. Sinclair and Morton, 1966). This has been known for most of the radiation age, and is the basis of radiotherapy for cancer, where the rapidly dividing cells are preferentially killed. The first consequence of this is that this variation of sensitivity of cells between the two phases should lead to dose-response relations which reflect two populations. It was pointed out by Elkind [Elkind 1991] that in the living animal, there are always cells engaged in repair-replication which are therefore highly sensitive to mutation and killing by radiation. It follows that living systems should theoretically exhibit a biphasic dose response resulting from the sequence: high sensitivity mutation-death followed by low sensitivity mutation. Such a dose response is commonly seen in experimental and epidemiological systems e.g. Burlakova’s meta-analysis of leukemia studies [Burlakova 1996] the Chernobyl infants [Gibson et al 1988, Petridou et al 1996 , Michaelis et al 1997, Mangano 1997, Busby and Scott Cato 2000, 2001, 2001a) ,Weinberg’s minisatellite studies of Chernobyl liquidator children (Weinberg et al 2001) the nuclear industry workers and their children (Draper et al 1997, Roman et al 1999). This has implications for epidemiology since, if this is so, then if a dose-response which is not continuously increasing is found in a radiation health study, this is not evidence that the radiation is not causing the health problem. Clearly if it is possible to move quiescent (G0) cells into repair-replication by a sub lethal hit and then subsequently hit the cell in repair-replication this two hit pattern represents an enhancement of hazard over the same dose given at once. That this type of exposure represented an enhanced hazard for mutagenesis was first suggested by Busby and Busby in 1987 in what was termed the ‘Second Event Theory’. There are two main types of such hazard. The first is immobilized sequential decay isotopes like Sr90/Y90 or Tl-132/I-132 [Busby 1995, 1996, 1998,1998b,2000a, 2000c) Cox and Edwards of NRPB recently attempted to show that for the case of Sr90, there is almost but not quite the equivalent probability of effecting a double hit from external radiation at background doses. Despite some erroneous assumptions in their paper, they have nevertheless implicitly shown that for more effective Second Event isotopes like Tl-132, or other more efficient second event sequences than Sr-90/Y-90 the probability is very much higher. Tl-132 was a significant Chernobyl isotope and may be the cause of the anomalous thyroid cancer increases.[Cox and Edwards 2000, Busby 2000c] The second type of Second Event system of interest is the hot particle e.g the immobilized plutonium oxide or uranium oxide (DU) particle [Busby 2000d, 2001b] Tables 3 and 4 indicate the sizes of particles most likely to effect second event enhancements. It is of interest that the most common size of plutonium oxide particle found in the environment, of diameter 1 µ, is also the size that can most efficiently deliver two hits to its immediate environment in ten hours.
Table 4 Doses to sphere of tissue 30 micron radius by one particle of PuO 2 of various diameters Particle diameter µ 0.05 0.1µ 0.2µ 1.0µ 2.0 µ
Particle vol. 3 cm
Mass PuO 2 (g)
7.5 x 1016 6.0 x 1015
6.5 x 10-16
5.2 x 1016 4.2 x 1015 5.2 x 1013 4.2 x 1012
Mass Pu239 (g)
Activity of particle 1.5 x 10-6 Bq
Hits /day (dose/day) Sv 0.129 (0.02)
Hits/year (dose/year) Sv 47 (7.3)
5.2 x 10-15
1.2 x 10-5 Bq
4.8 x 1014 5.9 x 1012
4.2 x 10-14
9.6 x 10-5 Bq
5.1 x 10-12
1.16 x 10-2 Bq
4.8 x 1011
4.2 x 10-11
Assumptions: Plutonium Oxide (Pu239) is in the PuO2 form (density = 11.6); Alpha decay energy = 5.2 MeV; Alpha range = 30 microns. Relative Biological Effectiveness factor for Alphas = 20 (from ICRP) has been used to convert dose in Grays to effective dose in Sieverts
Early formulations of the second event theory assumed that a specific cell, or even cell nucleus had to be sequentially hit. However, recent research has revealed the existence of a cell communication field, whereby a hit to one cell causes predisposition to genetic mutation in nearby cells, the ‘bystander effect’. This has implications for the Second Event theory since the target for the second hit now may be any cell in the field and this target is thus is made very much larger. Interestingly, Sonnenschein and Sato  have drawn attention to the fact that cancer cells do not develop when transplanted into a normal cell matrix whereas normal cells are transformed into cancer cells when transferred into cancer tissue. They argue that this suggests a field effect necessary for cancer promotion. Such a field would be more easily disrupted by high local dose from internal immobilised particles and this would mean that such exposure would be more hazardous than the averaging model predicts.[Zhou et al, 2001] 4.4 Transmutation One mechanism which is entirely absent from ICRP deliberations results from the effect of the radioactive decay process changing one atom into another. There are three common radioisotopic pollutants where this effect is likely to have serious consequences. They are Carbon-14, Tritium and Sulphur-35. All three are major components of enzyme systems and critical to the processes which are fundamental to living systems.
4.5 Threshold and hormesis The idea of a threshold below which radiation damage is repaired seems plausible and there is evidence for the existence of mechanisms whereby repair systems may be induced by 'priming doses' of radiation. Since repair mechanisms are now well accepted, clearly there must be a point where they become overwhelmed, and above this point, in dose terms, the effect will begin to increase at a greater rate than below it. Furthermore, if, as in all other physiological systems, the repair efficiencies may be increased by acclimatization or
induction, it could be argued that low doses of radiation might effect such an increase in repair efficiency, and there is evidence from animal studies that there are such processes. The question therefore is, why do these systems not remain on the highest level of efficiency all the time? The probable answer is that if the cell were on high alert and repair efficiency was always high, there would be a much higher rate of repair replication all the time, and this on its own would result in greater erosion rates and a shorter overall life span of the DNA, with more periods of high sensitivity available for DNA damage from other endogenous or oxidative sources. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and in this case, continuous rates of high repair efficiency (hormesis) would put the organism itself at risk of accelerated aging. It is of interest that the two population biphasic dose response appears to show hormesis, so long as the origin point of no dose, no effect is ignored (Fig3). Population studies, claiming to show hormesis are usually based on ecological comparisons of people living in high Radon areas are unpersuasive since they do not take account of social class confounding. If thresholds exist, then the question becomes, what types of exposure are likely to bypass the systems which give rise to the threshold? And it is this question that results in a more accurate picture of the mechanisms of risk from radiation exposure. 5. Epidemiology 5.1 Epidemiology, fallout and the present cancer epidemic Evidence from Wales suggests that the present cancer epidemic is a consequence of the 1960s exposure to weapons fallout. [Busby 1995, 2000a ] Similar temporal trends exists in other European countries, e.g. Finland. Cancer in Wales increased in a temporal pattern which correlated with the cumulative exposure to Sr90 twenty years earlier. The correlation coefficient is high and the relationship suggests an error in the risk models of 300 times (Fig 2). In addition, breast cancer incidence and mortality exhibits a cohort effect which suggests Strontium-90 as a cause [Busby 1997] (Fig3). The chemical affinity of Sr90 and its high levels in milk in the 1960s are additional factors. There is an intuitively persuasive argument also. Considerable evidence points to cancer originating in somatic genetic damage due to environmental carcinogens. It is mainly an environmental disease. Twins studies indicate that the heritable genetic component is less than 15% (Lichtenstein 2000) without asking about the origin of this damage. The only mutagen which was both released into the global environment twenty years before the present cancer epidemic and which also follows rainfall in its dispersion is anthropogenic radioactivity. I have been able to show that there is evidence that the children born to those who were themselves born over the peak years of global weapons fallout have a higher risk of developing leukemia. The numbers used for this study were small and obtained from a leukemia charity [unpublished] but I show it here in Fig 4. Attempts to obtain the data from ONS have failed.
5.2 Epidemiology and nuclear sites There are statistically significant childhood leukemia excesses at Sellafield, Dounreay and La Hague. Childhood cancer is high near Sellafield [review by Beral et al 1994, Viel and Poubel, 1997]. There are many other nuclear site childhood leukemia clusters e.g. Aldermaston, Kruemmel [Beral et al 1994, Busby and Scott Cato 1997, Hoffman and Greiser 1998] These collectively suggest an error in the Hiroshima risk model of about 300-1000 times based on an aggregate of external and internal dose as calculated by NRPB and COMARE [NRPB
1984,1986,1988,1995, COMARE 1996] The most studied of these sites is Sellafield, which has come to be a representative case for the discussion. Here, there is a large question mark over internal doses from inhalation of radioactive material in the air. The calculations of internal doses made by NRPB and used by COMARE to exonerate the radiation from the leukemia in COMARE IV have not been published nor peer-reviewed [NRPB 1984,1986,1988,1995, COMARE 1996]. 5.3 Recent epidemiology of populations living near the Irish Sea A three year study of cancer in Irish Sea coastal populations in Wales and Ireland by Green Audit supported by the Irish government revealed significant excess risk associated with living close to the sea in areas where there was measured radioactive contamination from Sellafield. Using data from Wales Cancer Registry Cancer 1974-89 Standardised Incidence Ratios (SIR) were calculated for 100 small areas in Wales and related to covariates which included proximity to the coast, rainfall, radon, plutonium in soil, plutonium in grass, plutonium in air modelled on Harwell measurements, Carstairs deprivation, Welsh Index of Deprivation and altitude. Temporal and spatial development of variation in risk followed releases from Sellafield and proximity to coastal areas where they concentrated. For all the different cancers studied (with one or two exceptions) there was a sharp and significant excess risk very close to the coast, i.e.within a kilometre or so, particularly in children and particularly in towns in north Wales close to known offshore sediment banks contaminated with radioisotopes. Figs 5 to 8 show the trend for all cancers, breast, lung and colon cancer. For children, brain tumour and leukemia risks in some small coastal areas were extremely high. Fig 9 shows the trend for childhood cancer 0-4 and Fig 10 for brain tumours in children aged 0-9. The trend with distance from the coast was the same as that for sea to land transfer of plutonium particles and also the penetration of salt spray particles inland [Busby 2000b] In a study of Irish National Cancer Registry 1994-1996, small area data was supplied to Green Audit. Standardised Incidence Ratios were calculated for these small areas and aggregates of areas were made into bands by distance from the sea with transects from east to west, west to east and south to north. Results showed significant sea-coast effect on cancer in women of all ages for the east coast but not the south or west coasts. For men, the effect existed in young men but not older men. The trend with distance from the sea on the east coast was similar to that found in Wales. [Busby, Kaleta et al 2000] In order to investigate the effect at high spatial resolution, Green Audit and the Irish group STAD undertook a questionnaire study of Carlingford, Co Louth, cancer cases were mapped in an area where Sellafield pollution was concentrated in offshore sediment. Results showed that the trend in cancer was similar to the trend in sea to land transfer of plutonium. The effect was extremely local, and showed itself in a 100metre band near the contaminated intertidal sediment [Busby and Rowe 2000] The authors concluded that sea to land transfer of plutonium or other material produced airborne particulate radioisotopic pollution which was inhaled or ingested by those living near coasts where this material was present. Sellafield discharges of plutonium to the Irish Sea become associated with fine particles of silt and sediment and it is the factors which affect the distribution of these particles which decide where the material becomes deposited. The main factor is tidal energy rather than distance from Sellafield and so certain parts of the Irish and Welsh coasts have become contaminated due to the existence there of low tidal energy conditions. Fig 11 shows a tidal stream atlas of the Irish Sea. The area of coast in the north of Ireland around Dundalk has extremely low tidal energy as do areas in north Wales near the mouth of the Menai Strait near the Town of Bangor. Wave action and wind cause contaminated particles trapped in and measurable in the offshore drying mud flats (like the Lavan Sandsinm Wales) to be resuspended and driven ashore. The trend in plutonium
concentration with distance from the sea correlates with the trend in cancer in all the above studies [Busby 2000b]. 5.4 Recent epidemiology of coastal nuclear sites Green Audit has studied cancer mortality 1995-99 near three coastal nuclear sites in the UK, Hinkley Point, Oldbury and Bradwell [Busby Bramhall and Dorfman 2001,Busby , Dorfman and Rowe 2000a, 2000b, 2000c, Busby, Dorfman et al 2001] The purpose was to see if proximity to contaminated mud banks and estuaries was a risk factor for cancer mortality. Results confirmed a statistically significant trend in prostate, lung and all cancers with distance from the contaminated mud bank near Hinkley Point. Fig 12 shows a risk map for all malignancy in the study area and Fig 13 shows the trend line of risk for breast, lung and prostate cancer. There were breast cancer and prostate cancer mortality clusters of about twice the national expected value in the town closest to the contaminated sediment, Burnham on Sea. The figures have been largely confirmed by work of the Somerset Health Authority, including data not produced into the public domain but intercepted in a confidential email from within the Health Authority produced as part of a data retrieval request made under the access to electronic data legislation. This shows that there were 61 cases of breast cancer in the period 1988-97 in Burnham North compared with 47 expected on the basis of England and Wales rates, a risk ratio of 1.3 (p = 0.01). Nevertheless, and despite earlier indications of a childhood leukemia excess in the 10 km radius of Hinkley point, the cause of the cancer increases have been disputed, both by the Health Authority and the plant operators. Preliminary work on Bradwell in Essex identified a significant cancer mortality excess for the period 1995-2000 in coastal wards relative to inland wards and also a similar breast cancer cluster in the town of Maldon, also the town closest to the highest level of contaminated sediment but the figures have been disputed. Measurements show that plutonium and other radioactive material discharged to the sea or estuaries from coastal nuclear sites ends up in sediment on the shores of the coast or in estuaries. If the radioactivity find its way into the bodies of people living near the shores of the sea through sea-to-land transfer, it is suggested that the evidence from these studies supports the belief that this exposure route increases cancer rates in those exposed. There is independent evidence that bears upon this: Childhood leukemia near coastal mud banks and estuaries. Alexander et al.  studied childhood leukemia in populations living close to estuaries and the sea. The study hypothesis was that radioactive contamination might be the cause of childhood leukemia and that those living near the sea and estuaries suffer excess risk. The results confirmed the hypothesis. For some reason the study excluded north Wales where Green Audit later found significant child leukemia clusters in towns close to Sellafield coastal contamination. [Busby 2000b]. Child leukemia excess associated with living near the Hinkley Point site was identified in the late 1980s by workers at Somerset Health Authority [Ewings and Bowie 1988]. Vielâ€™s case control study of childhood leukemia near La Hague identified playing on the beach as a risk factor [Viel 1997] Green Audit recently discovered a significant child leukemia excess on the Welsh coast near Chepstow, on the estuary of the river Wye where there are contaminated mud banks [Busby, Bramhall and Dorfman 2001] 5.5 Hot Particles and their local dose effects as explanations: plutonium in humans Following the discovery in the 1980s of sea to land transfer there have been some studies which indicate that plutonium contamination from this source is significant. These include the Eakins and Lally studies of sheep droppings (Fig 14) which show the trend in plutonium from the west to east coasts across the country, the local plutonium in air coastal studies of Eakins et al. (Fig 15) the Nick Priest study of plutonium in childrenâ€™s teeth by distance from
Sellafield (Fig 16) and the Popplewell autopsy studies which show that the tracheobronchial lymph nodes are where the material concentrates[Popplewell 1986, Popplewell et al 1985, 1988, Priest at al 1997, Eakins and Lally 1984, Eakins et al 1884] Plutonium and Uranium Oxides exist in the environment as long-lived, virtually insoluble micron sized particles, capable of suspension in air and of travelling long distances. There is evidence of plutonium dispersion from Sellafield in the various Cawse and Horrill grassland and soil surveys [Cawse et al 1988, Cawse and Horrill 1986] Further, there is evidence from the AWE reports of high activity particles (up to 60,000Bq/kg of beta, 2000Bq/kg alpha) being trapped in passive airshade filters in Berkshire near Reading and Aldermaston [e.g AWE 1992]. Evidence from the Airborne particles research group in Birmingham and other studies suggests that about 30% of all PM10 particles in the UK originate from the sea [APEG 1999, Junge 1963] Added to this is the recent discovery made by CEFAS that a significant percentage of the plutonium inventory of the Irish Sea is missing [Kershaw et al. 1999]. In addition, Henshaw and researchers at Bristol have shown that radioactive and other particles are attracted by high voltage power lines and that there is a significant effect on the risk of lung cancer downwind of such high voltage regions. [Henshaw et al 1999] These indications, taken with the cancer epidemiology from the coastal populations suggest that the distribution and dispersion of radioactive particles in the environment may result in local areas of concentration and excess cancer risk. 5.6 Unequivocal evidence: Chernobyl infants and NRPB’s response There is unequivocal evidence for the existence of an error of 100 to 500-fold, capable of supporting the contention that the nuclear site clusters and other evidence of serious harm from low level internal radiation exposure. This is the set of studies showing increases in infant leukemia after Chernobyl in five countries: Greece, Germany, US, Scotland and Wales[ Gibson et al 1988, Petridou et al 1996, Mangano 1997, Michaelis et al 1997, Busby and Scott Cato , 2000, 2001] A study by Molly Scott Cato and Chris Busby compared the predictions of the NRPB/ ICRP leukemia model with the observed cases based on estimates of the exposure published by NRPB and WHO [Busby and Scott Cato 2000, 2001] Results showed a 100-fold error based on the first year of life, which would extend to about 500-fold if the risk continued in the cohort. Because the effect occurred with statistical significance in five countries, the overall significance was extremely high (p<0.0000000001) Thus it was not a chance finding. Because the cohort was so tightly specified, those who were in utero over the period of the internal contamination, the effect could only be due to the radiation exposure. The results across the different exposure groups and countries showed a biphasic dose response relation. The observations demonstrate unequivocally that the ICRP risk model for this exposure are invalid. This observation was communicated with COMARE in 1999. Their transgenerational effects group (Prof R Cartwright and Dr G Draper) rejected it as unlikely. Following publication of the report in Energy and Environment and its invited presentation ate the WHO conference on Chernobyl in Kiev, NRPB wrote a criticism of the finding and its significance. This criticism, written by Colin Muirhead and defended by Roger Clark in letters to Green Audit, is based on the defence that ‘the children who developed leukemia might have received a much larger dose’ than that provided by NRPB which the calculation of expected numbers was based upon. This is a critical judgement since it undermines the whole area of radiation risk assessment. For how is it possible to maintain the present linear risk model for cancer causation by radiation but also say, if it fails to predict the correct number of cancers, that this anomalous result is not a failure of the risk models but due to the cases being caused because they received a higher than average dose?
Minisatellite mutations following exposures The application of the minisatellite DNA test to exposed populations has revealed that there is unequivocal evidence of significant mutation on the minisatellite DNA in offspring of people exposed to low level internal radiation from the Chernobyl accident. The latest study by Weinberg et al uses a sibling control and shows a 600-2000-fold error in the perception of germline mutation risk from ICRP models [Weinberg et al 2001]. Such mutations in swallows have been shown to be associated with phenotypic changes and so have to be taken seriously as a measure of the damage caused by low level radiation [Ellegren and Lundgren 1997] 5.7 Non cancer effects Radiation exposure causes genetic and somatic mutation, and this leads to a broad spectrum of illness Increases in infant mortality occurred in UK and US following the global atmospheric weapons fallout increases in the 1960s. These exposures resulted in developmental and genetic effects [Whyte 1992, Sternglass 1976,Gould and Sternglass 1994 Busby 1995, DoH 1970]. The suggestion (Busby 1995) that these were genetic effects of Strontium-90 exposure was supported the mouse evidence of Luning [1963, 1976] who found increases in foetal death in the F1 generation of male mice injected with the isotope. Smirnova and Lyaginska  examined foetal deaths in rats whose father had been exposed to Sr-90 and showed that the deaths were due to heart and other developmental defects. Over the peak period of testing, there was a statistically significant correlation between human infant mortality in England and Wales and congenital heart defect infant mortality [Busby 1995]. 6. Summary and conclusion In this space, I have tried to outline the case that exposure to internal radiation from manmade isotopes causes harm at a level which is not appreciated by those who permit the releases of these substances to the environment. I have necessarily had to leave out a great deal of supporting evidence for this thesis. Many of the pieces of evidence are weak or inconclusive. There may be alternative explanations for some of the observations. Some of the studies, including a great many of my own, have not been published in the peer reviewed journals, but this does not automatically make them wrong. In addition there are a few studies which show unequivocally that the ICRP model is in error by a factor of between 100 and 100-fold for internal exposure. However, what is clear is that there are a great many studies which each suggest, with a less than perfect degree of believability that low level radiation is extremely harmful. Under such circumstances, a probabilistic or Bayesian approach would suggest that there is a case to answer and that the ICRP approach has been falsified in the scientific sense. For although there are a few external irradiation studies which show that radiation exposure causes cancer and leukemia, these are not strictly applicable to internal irradiation for mechanistic reasons. Further, it is easy to show that many of the epidemiological studies which support the ICRP model of radiation risk are wrong, biased or selective. There are no studies which show that these internal exposures are safe. Therefore, at very minimum it would seem prudent and precautionary to limit the releases of radionuclides to the environment. We can mostly leave them where they are and encapsulate them or otherwise partition them from the environment. And if it is decided to release them, then the people who will have to inhale them and die should be properly informed about the risks and the arguments on which the calculation of those risks are based. For it seems to me, as it clearly
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Published on Nov 1, 2012
Published on Nov 1, 2012
Poisoning eden: the health effects of radioactive contamination of the environment; given at the ukaea/bnes conference:nedcon'02; chilton ox...