Compiled by awareness Education for the Office of Jo Vallentine Senator for The Greens (WA)
Let The Facts Speak is a factual statement about the nuclear industry from the mining of uranium to nuclear power and nuclear weapons. It confronts advocates of the nuclear option with a stark catalogue of nuclear accidents, plant failures, unsafe plant designs, faulty plant constructions, secrecy, public misinformation, financial disasters, radioactive contamination, and radiation related diseases and deaths.
This report was developed following research of considerable scientific data, in which respected scientists cautioned against the nuclear option. Although the reasons are varied, there are four main ones given as to why nuclear radiation should be of great concern:
1. Although scientists understand the physical properties of radiation and are familiar with its devastating effects on Hiroshima and Chernobyl victims, extremely little is known about how or why radiation induced chemical and molecular changes occur in our bodies. As more has been learnt of these changes the maximum allowable radiation exposure for workers in the nuclear industry has been drastically reduced. It is becoming more widely held that no level of exposure to radiation can be considered safe. Of great concern also is the likelihood of radiation-induced genetic damage having widespread effects on future generations.
2. Nuclear waste (most of which is manmade and not found in nature) is virtually indestructible. Some nuclear wastes will remain radioactive for thousands of years. For example Plutonium-239, with a half-life of 25,000 years, will be radioactive for a period of some 250,000 years. In due course, radioactive contamination on one side of the globe will be washed into the sea or carried up into the air and rains, possibly permeating all living matter on Earth. This is graphically illustrated by the effects of the Soviet Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986. Apart from the millions of Soviet adults and young children plagued with leukemia and other radiation induced diseases, this accident raised the Earth's background levels of Caesium-137 by an average of 3% (Caesium137 - a manmade radioactive element, is toxic for over 300 years).
3. A very small radioactive spill can go a very long way. In the understated entry no. 641, dated March 1984 in Juarez, Mexico, a cancer therapy machine (x-ray), was sold to a scrap merchant. People saw some leaking luminous powder and thought it was a healing ointment, and rubbed it on their bodies.
When it started causing radiation burns, they tried to wash it off thereby contaminating their homes, sewers and affecting others. News spread and the town panicked. Pregnant women and other non-involved casualties became contaminated by ambulances that had previously carried contaminated people; in the panic, no one thought to decontaminate the vehicles. While many fled, 30,000 were rounded up in the local stadium and many were screened. Two hundred people were located with high exposure to radiation. Five died from radiation poisoning and were buried in lead lined coffins in six foot concrete graves, to keep them isolated from the environment. The contaminated town stadium, sewerage and other facilities will remain dangerous for many lifetimes. The cost to Mexico in lost exports alone for that year, was $US 70 million. Considering the financial and human costs, the significance of this incident is that it involved an amount of radioactive Caesium 137 powder that would fit into a matchbox.
4. Even though nuclear power may be viable in theory, the dictum that "familiarity breeds contempt" seems to apply to the nuclear industry as much as to other industries, despite the possible long lasting consequences of radiation contamination. This publication attests to what can go wrong in practice. The nuclear industry has been shown to be plagued by circumnavigation of regulations, corporate greed, human error, cutting of corners and the many other unsafe corporate practices which have been witnessed in other industries. However, nuclear power differs from other industries because of its close association with nuclear weapon production and national security. This relationship has fostered a lack of political commitment in making the industry accountable, has cultivated a high level of secrecy and has encouraged public ignorance regarding nuclear accidents and contamination. As a result, the public scrutiny of the nuclear cycle is not of the same standard as that exercised in other industries, despite the certainty of the hazards involved in the industry.
This publication is a tribute and a follow up to the years of work carried out by retired Western Australian Senator Ruth Coleman. Awareness Education, based in Darwin, subsequently carried out three years of research, detailing accidents to September 1990. Let the Facts Speak was first published in June 1991. The current edition includes an update by Jo Vallentine's office.
Compiled by Awareness Education for the Office of Jo Vallentine Senator for The Greens (WA) P.O. Box 137 WEST PERTH WA 6005 Tel: (09) 481 1244