Conflict of interest in nuclear authorities: Dr Gordon Edwards explains
Dr Gordon Edwards at SA NUCLEAR FUEL CYCLE ROYAL COMMISSION hearing, 21 October 15
Dr Edwards gave a wonderful explanation of the danger of nuclear technology, focussing on explaining radioactivity.
He also spoke of his concerns about the independence of nuclear regulators, and of safety measures needed for population near nuclear facilities, for example, how Canada supplies potassium iodate pills to communities.
Extract DR EDWARDS: The complexity of the technology means that a lot of people 45 are mystified by it, including decision-makers, and politicians, for example, .SA Nuclear 21.10.15 P-742 Spark and Cannon generally don’t necessarily have a background in nuclear science. One of the only ones I know, I think, was Jimmy Carter, he was actually a nuclear engineer in the American nuclear navy. But outside of him, I don’t think of any major politician who has a background in nuclear science.
So that the technology is sufficiently complicated that people tend to be mystified by it and therefore feel a little bit – they find it difficult to judge, other than by trusting the experts in the industry itself. The difficulty with trusting the people in the industry itself, is that there is either consciously or unconsciously a kind of a conflict of interest there because they are devoted to the industry 10 and they want the industry to succeed and of course they try to reassure the public that it’s safe and they try their best to make it safe but there is this problem of – well, what if they weren’t so devoted to the industry and had the same knowledge, would they make the same judgment? Would they perhaps see it as being unsafe? And one of the difficulties with dangerous technologies 15 is that people who work on the technology feel conflicted and it’s difficult to blow the whistle on a technology that you truly believe in. So this is an inherent problem.
Similarly when you have a regulator, although independence is the goal, it’s 20 difficult to maintain that independence. The people in the regulatory body are often drawn from the very industry that they are regulating because they are experienced in that field and consequently you need people with understanding and expertise, so how do you kind of keep regulatory independent when in fact there is this constant interaction between the people in the regulatory body and 25 the people in the industry. They tend to come to see themselves as colleagues and if I might draw an analogy, you might think of the regulator as drifting towards being more of a coach than a referee…….So this problem of independence is not an easy one to deal with…….
Another thing that I think would be very helpful in my own opinion would be regulators, as the industry itself, they tend to be very top heavy with engineers and physical scientists, geologists and such like, 5 chemists, the so-called hard scientists and they tend to be extremely thin on biomedical expertise. I think it’s very helpful to have some biomedical expertise in the regulatory body because they have a different perspective. They have a different approach and also if and when things do go wrong, the biomedical team can be very helpful in advising the public and the workers and 10 everybody, as to what kind of precautions to take in terms of protecting yourself. What kind of foods should be avoided? What kind of measures should be taken? I think it would be very reassuring to the public to have such people on board.
Moreover, if you had a health department, which we do not have in our regulator, if you had a health department staffed with competent and independent biomedical people, they could also help to educate workers and the public as to why we are so careful with this technology. Why we must invest in all these safety precautions because they could make it clear what the dangers are. And they could also make it clear, such basic things as informing people that if and when God forbid that there should be an accident or release of radioactivity, don’t think of it as a problem of invisible rays coming from the plant, but realise that it’s a problem of a multitude of pollutants going out in to the atmosphere and settling in to the food chain, but to think more of the food chain so that the important thing here is not to think so much in terms of the penetrating radiation, which is the immediate risk to the workers, but to think more of the food chain and what kind of foods – for example, just to give a very simple example, it’s well known that iodine 131 goes to the thyroid gland very avidly and especially in very young children can cause thyroid cancer and a multitude of other diseases.
This is why, for example, in Canada, we now distribute iodine tablets, non-radioactive iodine tablets to everybody within a certain radius of a nuclear facility, so that – the reason for these iodine tablets is that by taking the iodine tablets you can put non-radioactive iodine in to your thyroid gland which 35 means that your body will then reject the radioactive iodine because it’s already saturated. It’s already got enough iodine, it doesn’t want any more. So that it’s a preventative measure. Now this is very important for young children, so that for example it would be beneficial to have health professionals who could tell nursing mothers and parents of young infants, perhaps for the 40 time being to stop using fresh milk and start using powdered milk. Powdered milk that was stored before the accident occurred and this way you can cut off that milk source is one of the main ways by which the radioactive iodine gets in to the bodies of young children and nursing mothers as well…..
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