Tag Archives: uranium mines

Protecting Their Children in Fukushima

Much has been said about the cooperation and trust in government shown by the people of Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. Those were unstoppable natural disasters.

The man-made disaster at Fukushima is proving that parents everywhere are protective of their children..

A huge outcry is erupting in Fukushima over what parents say is a blatant government failure to protect their children from dangerous levels of radiation. The issue has prompted unusually direct confrontations in this conflict-averse society, and has quickly become a focal point for anger over Japan’s handling of the accident at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, ravaged in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

At issue are updated government guidelines that allow schoolchildren to be exposed to radiation doses that are more than 20 times the previously permissible levels. That dose is equal to the international standard for adult nuclear power plant workers.

Toshiso Kosako, the expert adviser to the prime minister, resigned in tears over the relaxation of radiation standards for children.

The people of Fukushima will not suffer quietly any more.

It’s hard to find information about radiation and children, I believe that is because there is little economic interest in uncovering hazards past and present except among advocates for communities that have been affected. Much of what’s out there is partisan. I’m going to write more about the anti-nuclear position, but in this post all the following references are from .gov websites. Our government has mostly promoted nuclear power and downplayed the risks– which gives these examples even more weight.

A COMPARISON: A study from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health recommends limiting children’s exposure to radiation from diagnostic imaging tests…

Radiation exposure is a concern in both adults and children. However, there are three unique considerations in children.

Children are considerably more sensitive to radiation than adults, as demonstrated in epidemiologic studies of exposed populations.

Children also have a longer life expectancy than adults, resulting in a larger window of opportunity for expressing radiation damage.

Children receive a higher dose than necessary when adult CT settings are used for children.

As a result, the risk for developing a radiation-related cancer can be several times higher for a young child compared with an adult exposed to an identical CT scan.

EPIDEMIOLOGY: The American Journal of Public Health has an article, History of Uranium Mining and the Navajo People. (not free to copy, but you can read it in PDF format)

The article does not address effects on children in the vicinity, but does describe a spike in lung cancer cases in uranium miners that began about ten years after Navajo men began to work in the mines. Confounding the issue is the fact that statistically the cancer rate was lower than for whites, because Navajo men on average were light or infrequent smokers compared to the white men studied. The research findings eventually led to better ventilation in the mines, and a drop in new cases of lung cancer. This was not obtained quickly or without effort, it was the result of decades of fighting the denial, inertia and vested interests that allowed mine owners to expose workers to a toxin recognized since the 1930′s.

This is also a reminder that ‘natural background radiation’ is not harmless because it is natural. Workers who spent their days inhaling uranium dust died needlessly for lack of protection.

Other Americans call themselves ‘downwinders’ because they lived in the path of fallout from nuclear testing during the Cold War…

Relatively few Iron County residents were aware of or concerned about nuclear testing when the first mushroom-shaped cloud rose into the western skies and drifted to the northeast in 1951, but the cloud figuratively remains over southern Utah and Nevada to this day. Residents live with every day what the cloud left behind that the eye could not see. There are no southwestern Utah neighborhoods or communities that have not been touched by the tragedy of cancer or birth defects or lingering bitterness over human and financial losses.

The parents of Fukushima are right to mistrust authorities that worldwide have motivations to downplay problems. They are not alone, and they might surprise the world with their determination to seek justice and demand the truth.

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