The health of uranium and nuclear workers. Response to #NuclearCommissionSAust’s ‘Tentative Findings’
It is extraordinary that the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Chain Royal Commission is not publishing Responses to its “Tentative Findings” before it makes its final announcement on May 6th.
NUCLEAR FUEL CYCLE ROYAL COMMISSION TENTATIVE FINDINGS RESPONSE March 2016 Dan Monceaux – Documentary filmmaker & South Australian citizen.
“…… I sincerely hope that the health and wellbeing of South Australia’s workforce, its citizenry and its environment are considered sufficiently important topics for this Commission to elaborate on the matters raised here ahead of its final report to Parliament in May.
………The Commission’s opening tentative finding states that “South Australia can safely increase its participation in nuclear activities, and by doing so, significantly improve the economic welfare of the South Australian community.”
The evidence base for adopting such a confident and conclusive statement is questionable. In the case of nuclear industrial activities which have established links with health conditions including cancer and associated heart, lung and liver conditions and potential genetic harm, the safety or otherwise of an activity or regulatory regime can only be proven by epidemiological studies spanning a timeframe of decades. For example, little is known about the fates of worker cohorts from existing and past uranium mining and milling activity in South Australia………. The Commission has had time to consider this matter, but appears to have not deemed it sufficiently important. ……
I wish to make a case for the prioritisation of epidemiological studies of past and present South Australian uranium worker cohorts as a matter of the utmost importance. The results of such studies could provide an empirical basis for future commentary regarding the safety or otherwise of the industry as it has existed until now…….
The Commission states that “policies must be based on evidence, not opinion or emotion.” The same rule should apply to statements made by the Commission. To be considered credible, they must be supported by material evidence. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Harm can neither be proven, nor safety assured without relevant epidemiological studies. This was known to South Australia’s Department of Mines in 1956, when Dr. B. S. Hanson wrote in The Health of Workers in the Uranium Industry (pg. 16): “It is only by long-term health examinations that the validity of our present speculative exposure limits may be tested.” This document is currently available on SARIG, the South Australian government’s resources industry geoserver: https://sarigbasis.pir.sa.gov.au/WebtopEw/ws/samref/sarig1/image/DDD/RB4200080.pdf…….
The available evidence suggests that contemporary publications of South Australian Government departments fail to adequately communicate occupational exposure risk to their readers. The perfect example of this is the Uranium fact sheet published by the Department of State Development in 2015, during the proceedings of this Commission. The “Fact Sheet” poses the question “Is uranium safe?” then neglects to answer the question. Instead, it provides the graphic reproduced from http://www.statedevelopment.sa.gov.au/upload/uranium/uranium%C2%ADthe-facts-final.pdf? t=1458534521755
Compare this to Hanson and Armstrongs statement from 1956, in documents held by the same South Australian government, written 60 years earlier:
“Hazards associated with uranium ore are of two kinds, those due to radioactivity, including 6 external radiation as well as internal radiation; and those due to uranium metal poisoning. Radon gas and its solid daughter products would appear to offer the greatest potential danger. They can be inhaled and the solid products so lodged in the body.” (Armstrong, pg. 18)
“The individual employed in a mine or mill risks damage by external or internal radiation, and as to the latter the radioactive particles which form a danger are either ingested or inhaled.” (Hanson pg. 7)
“The daughter products are insoluble, but together with the dust to which they adhere some are engulfed by the reticulo-endothelial cells of the lung surface and there theoretically give a high intensity of alpha radiation to those very surface cells which form the type seen in the usual cancer of the lung.” (Hanson pg. 9)
“The inhalation of active deposit on dust particles, is so much the most important one that most of our [Department of Mines’] effort should be directed towards overcoming it.” (Hanson pg.10)
“In my opinion, dusty clothes inevitably mean an inhalation risk as well as an ingestion risk.” (Hanson pg.14)
“Almost without exception this report deals with the real or probable dangers of radioactivity.” (Hanson pg. 19)
The disparity between the messages of 1955 and 1956 (Department of Mines) and 2015 (Department of State Development) is alarming and deeply concerning…… https://www.academia.edu/23544163/Nuclear_Fuel_Cycle_Royal_Commission_Tentative_Findings_Submission_-_March_2016