While many of us know about the risks of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, less known is the routine radioactive emissions at each stage of the nuclear fuel chain from mining, milling, refining, fuel fabrication, reactor operations and high and low level waste management. It is important that these concerns be understood and acted upon as future generations of humans and wildlife are at risk.
Risks of Nuclear Energy to Women and Children
Many in the nuclear industry and governments have been promoting nuclear power as a solution to climate change. While there is much evidence of safer, more efficient, and less costly means of ensuring sustainable electricity (www.renewableisdoable.com, www.cleanairalliance.org), the government of Ontario seems determined to refurbish old reactors and build new ones. WHEN is concerned about this policy because of radioactive emissions released along the nuclear fuel chain.
Prominent among these radioactive emissions, is tritium, a known radioactive carcinogen, mutagen and teratogen (crosses the placental barrier to cause harm in children during pregnancy). An isotope of hydrogen, tritium combines readily with oxygen to form radioactive water. This in turn binds easily with organic molecules, including DNA. Tritium and other radioactive emissions are routinely discharged into the drinking water of millions of people and animals during normal operations of CANDU nuclear reactors – operating currently in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick .
It is now well established that there is no safe level of ionizing radiation and even the smallest dose can cause cancer, birth defects and other ill effects (Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VII (BEIR VII) National Academy of Sciences (2006)). the risk of cancer is greater for women and children, with the younger the child, the greater the risk,. Especially sensitive to the effects of tritium are rapidly growing cells such as fetal tissue and young girls’ developing breasts, genetic materials and blood forming organs. Tritium can affect protein precursors that will make up the chromosomal strands in the DNA, which can damage the DNA creating a mutational effect. These processes can result in cancers, miscarriages, birth defects, sterility, and hypothyroidism, not only in those directly affected but also in their offspring and subsequent offspring. ionizing radiation such as tritium is a proven cause of breast cancer, for example, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). See Clapp, Howe & Jacobs, 2005 for the relationship of ionizing radiation to bladder, bone, brain, breast, colon, leukemia, liver, lung, multiple myeloma, nasal and nasopharynx, stomach and thyroid cancers. For cancer risks to the general public and the chemicals/radiation they are related to see “The State of the Science by Cancer Type” (pg. 12) in the same article.
Taking Action on the Issue
In March 2008, WHEN presented a deputation to the Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council (ODWAC) on Tritium. WHEN and many other participants stressed the importance of governments in protecting human health and the environment. The final report of the ODWAC (see www.odwac.gov.on.ca/reports/052109_ODWAC_Tritium_Report.pdf) basically enunciated a long-held position that nuclear power is a toxic and expensive technology that requires an orderly and determined phase-out for the sake of ensuring cancer prevention and the availability of public and private resources for developing a green energy future for Ontario. It was released on June 9, 2009 and called for protective policy changes – and has yet to be addressed by the Ontario government.
WHEN endorsed the energy framework, principles and recommendations of the letter by Dr. David McKeown, Toronto Medical Officer of Health, to Premier Dalton McGuinty regarding the Ontario Power Authority Supply Mix Advice report (Feb 3, 2006). Dr. McKeown called for a sustainable energy strategy for the province composed of a combination of measures, in the following order of priority: demand management (energy efficiency and conservation) approaches and supply from low-impact ecologically sustainable renewable sources rather than from nuclear energy.
WHEN also concurred with recommendations contained in the Pembina/CELA Report, Power for the Future Towards a Sustainable Electricity System for Ontario that nuclear power plants be phased out by 2020 thereby stopping all such releases ( www.cela.ca, www.pembina.org, www.cleanairaliance.org and www.renewableisdoable.com).
Well-researched and already employed solutions have been known for decades. Rather than billions of dollars going to nuclear expansion, the public, governments and industry must agressively pursue implementation of the Ontario Green Energy and Economy Act, feed-in tariffs, the conservation, efficiency and renewable power generation in Ontario as a viable alternative to nuclear energy
Given the above, and in the wake of the tragic nuclear accident at Fukushima, Japan, the Women’s Healthy Environment Network (WHEN)
- Calls for a moratorium on refurbishment of old reactors, a halt to plans for the construction of new ones, and the phasing out of present ones as they come to the end of their functioning period.
- Promotes sustainability in all electricity demand and supply initiatives of provincial and federal governments, conserving and reducing energy consumption and developing safe alternative energy resources.
- Supports the principles of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act 1999, and specifically the precautionary principle with respect to the continued expansion of nuclear energy.
- Joins with and supports initiatives with other organizations, institutions and individuals on these objectives for a just, healthy and safe future.
Clapp, R., Howe, G. & Jacobs, M. J. (2005). Environmental and occupational causes of cancer:A review of recent scientific literature. Boston, Massachusetts: Lowell Centre for Sustainable Production, University of Massachusetts, Lowell.
National Research Council of the National Academies. (2006). Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VII). Washington, DC: The National Academy Press.
Women’s Healthy Environments Network (WHEN), January 2012