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Photographs of Abraham Lake frozen in the middle of winter rival, in beauty and awe, those of any other Alberta mountain lake.
It may be man-made but it flaunts the same myrtle green in the water and the same mountain peaks around the lake that other natural, liquid wonders that dot the Canadian Rockies landscape provide.
But Abraham Lake has something the others do not.
Frozen in the ice are other-worldly features, features that are so awe-inspiring and unique that they draw photographers from the world over.
In the bluish tinge of the winter’s ice, photographs capture puffy pedestals of gas, cotton-like bubbles frozen in time and milky stains that colour the frozen surface.
Take a look.
What lurks beneath the surface of this bewitching lake is methane gas.
Methane is an effective fuel, burning – and exploding – with ease.
Thus, the haunting scenes captured by the photographer’s lens, frame perfectly the duality of the beauty of the lake, explains photographer Fikret Onal.
“The bubbles are methane gas, which is released when plants and animals decompose in the lake,” explains Onal.
“The plants on the lake bed release methane gas and methane gets frozen once coming close enough to much colder lake surface and they keep stacking up below once the weather gets colder and colder during [the] winter season.”
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, according to University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Katey Walter Anthony.
Story continues below video
When Abraham Lake is frozen, much older methane from deep beneath the Earth’s crust and ancient oceans remains trapped at the bottom of the lake as a white rock substance known as methane hydrate. As the lake starts to warm up, the methane escapes and comes to the surface. Combined with the methane from decomposition, this creates the amazing-looking frozen columns seen in these photographs.
The effect is compounded by the fact Abraham is not a natural lake but is the result of the damming of the North Saskatchewan River in northern Alberta in 1972. The result is extra organic material, such as trees, grasses and plants that would normally not be found on a lake bed, decomposing and creating even more methane gas.
As climate change takes its toll in northern lakes and seas, scientists fear that methane that has been frozen by permafrost will slowly start to leak into the atmosphere, pumping out as much as 10 times the amount of methane that is currently in the atmosphere will come out of frozen lakes such as Abraham.
But the methane also provides an opportunity for those who can harness it’s power and redirect it towards industrial consumption.
In early 2013, Japan became the first country to successfully extract natural frozen gas from deposits of icy methane hydrate buried in the ocean floor. According to experts, the amount of carbon stored in these types of gas deposits across the globe is staggering, and the idea of tapping into this newfound energy reserve could mean big things for countries with scant energy resources. –Environmentalgraffiti.com
What’s Causing the Unprecedented Weirdness In West Coast Ocean Life?
NBC Nightly News reports that a mass die-off of starfish up and down the West Coast of North America is puzzling scientists:
Brian Williams, anchor: Environmental officials in California say there’s been another highly troubling report about what’s going on in the Pacific. Something is killing the starfish and they don’t know why. They have been dying in record numbers on the West Coast. […]
Pete Raimondi, marine biologist: It’s happened so rapidly that some species are just missing. […]
Miguel Almaguer, reporter: An epidemic affecting waters from Alaska to Southern California causing millions of starfish to fall apart and melt away. […] Two species that used to thrive here have now vanished. […]
Raimondi: I’ve had probably 100 emails thus far saying, ‘Well, what about Fukushima, because of radiation?’ We haven’t ruled that out yet, but we’re clearly not ruling that in.
Almaguer: The mysterious disease has now spread to at least 10 species of starfish and is threatening more every day.
King5 news in Seattle reports that scientists have tested for radiation, and found none:
More sea star species dying off
A respected sea star expert released a report showing a deadly disorder has spread to more species. view full article
It’s not just sea stars.
There have been widespread reports of mysterious injury to Alaskan seals.
The Alaska Dispatch reports:
Scores of dead and sick ringed seals — some with open wounds, unusual hair loss and internal ulcers — … began washing up in summer 2011 in Western Alaska.
Even today, a few seals continue to trickle ashore, biologists said. But the cause of the illness remains a mystery, despite an international effort to identify it. Some people believe radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan in March 2011 is a factor. That’s never been proven. It hasn’t been disqualified, either.
A lack of radiation sampling in remote regions after the explosion means no one knows how much airborne radiation fell into the Bering Sea ice, or whether seals were in the vicinity of any fallout, said Doug Dasher, a researcher with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
If the seals did ingest radiation, much of it would have been excreted out of the body before the testing of the carcasses that occurred several months after the incident, he said. Such testing found radiation levels similar to those found in the mid 1990s.
St. Lawrence Island is “way too far north for the marine transport to occur right now,” Dasher said.
Still, for a community that harvests animals from the Bering Sea, its hard not to think about Fukushima, said Pungowiyi. He said he was getting ready to go seal hunting: Winds blowing in from the north have made for prime seal-hunting conditions.
“It’s always on the backs of our minds,” he said of the radiation.
More than a year ago, 15 out of 15 bluefin tuna tested in California waters were contaminated with radioactive cesium from Fukushima.
Bluefin tuna are a wide-ranging fish, which can swim back and forth between Japan and North America in a year:
But what about other types of fish?
Sockeye salmon also have a range spanning all of the way from Japan to Alaska, Canada, Washington and Oregon:
Associated Press reports that both scientists and native elders in British Columbia say that sockeye numbers have plummeted:
Sockeye salmon returns plunge to historic lows.
Last month, [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans] noted returns for the Skeena River sockeye run were dire.
[Mel Kotyk, North Coast area director for the Department] said department scientists don’t know why the return numbers are so low…. “When they went out to sea they seemed to be very strong and healthy and in good numbers, so we think something happened in the ocean.”
“We’ve never seen anything like this in all these years I’ve done this. I’ve asked the elders and they have never seen anything like this at all.” [said Chief Wilf Adam]
Vancouver News 1130 notes that Alaskan and Russian salmon stocks have crashed as well:
“The sockeye runs way up north in the Skeena are low. The [fish] out of Bristol Bay, Alaska is down 30 to 35 per cent over last year. Russia has got a limited number of fish in the market. They are down about 40 per cent over all their salmon fisheries.”
(Russia’s East Coast sits on the Sea of Japan. Indeed, Japan is closer to Russia than to Korea.)
Alaska’s Juneau Empire newspaper writes:
We are concerned this hazardous material is hitching a ride on marine life and making its way to Alaska.
Currents of the world’s oceans are complex. But, generally speaking, two surface currents — one from the south, called the Kuroshio, and one from the north, called the Oyashio — meet just off the coast of Japan at about 40 degrees north latitude. The currents merge to form the North Pacific current and surge eastward. Fukushima lies at 37 degrees north latitude. Thousands of miles later, the currents hit an upwelling just off the western coast of the United States and split. One, the Alaska current, turns north up the coast toward British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. The other, the California current, turns south and heads down the western seaboard of the U.S.
The migration patterns of Pacific salmon should also be taken into consideration. In a nutshell, our salmon ride the Alaska current and follow its curve past Sitka, Yakutat, Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands. Most often, it’s the chinook, coho and sockeye salmon migration patterns that range farthest. Chum and pink salmon seem to stay closer to home. Regardless of how far out each salmon species ventures into the Pacific, each fish hitches a ride back to its home rivers and spawning grounds on the North Pacific current, the same one pulling the nuclear waste eastward.
We all know too much exposure to nuclear waste can cause cancer. And many understand that certain chemicals, such as cesium-137 and strontium-9, contained in said waste products can accumulate in fish by being deposited in bones and muscle permanently.
We are concerned our Alaska salmon are being slowly tainted with nuclear waste. We are worried about the impact this waste could have on our resources, and especially the people who consume them.
We urge scientists in Alaska to be proactive about conducting research and monitoring our salmon species.
Similarly, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports that salmon are migrating through the radioactive plume, but Canadian authorities aren’t testing the fish:
[Award-winning physician and preventative health expert Dr. Erica Frank, MD, MPH]: There are Pacific wild salmon that migrate through the radioactive plumes that have been coming off of Fukushima. Then those fish come back to our shores and we catch them.
CBC Reporter: The Canada Food Inspection Agency says it now relies on Japan for test results concerning radiation.
(American authorities aren’t testing fish for radioactivity either.)
Another example – pacific herring – is even more dramatic. Pacific herring is wide-ranging fish, spanning all the way from Japan to Southern California:
Every single pacific herring examined by a biologist in Canada was found to be hemorrhaging blood. As ENENews reports:
The Globe and Mail, Aug 13, 2013 (Emphasis Added): Independent fisheries scientistAlexandra Morton is raising concerns about a disease she says is spreading through Pacific herring causing fish to hemorrhage. […] “Two days ago I did a beach seine on Malcolm Island [near Port McNeill on northern Vancouver Island] and I got approximately 100 of these little herring and they were not only bleeding from their fins, but their bellies, their chins, their eyeballs. […] “It was 100 per cent … I couldn’t find any that weren’t bleeding to some degree. And they wereschooling with young sockeye [salmon]”
Sun News, Aug 12, 2013: [Morton] dragged up several hundred of the fish this past weekend and found the apparent infection had spread – instead of their usual silver colour the fish had eyes, tails, underbellies, gills and faces plastered with the sickly red colour. “I have never seen fish that looked this bad,” […] In June, the affected fish were only found in eastern Johnstone Strait, but have since spread to Alert Bay and Sointula, she said.
Canada.com, Aug 16, 2013: Morton […] pulled up a net of about 100 herring near Sointula and found they were all bleeding. “It was pretty shocking to see,” said Morton […] Herring school with small sockeye salmon and are also eaten by chinook and coho.
‘Response’ from Canadian Government
Vancouver 24 hrs, Aug 11, 2013: [Morton] says Fisheries and Oceans Canada [FOC] isignoring the problem. […] According to emails from FOC, the federal authority had asked the marine biologist to send in 20 to 30 herring in September 2011, saying that would be “more than sufficient for the lab to look for clinical signs of disease and provide sufficient diagnostics.” She did, and hasn’t heard back since. […] FOC officials did not respond to a request for comment by the 24 hours presstime.
Canada.com, Aug 16, 2013: Fisheries and Oceans Canada is trying to confirm reports from an independent biologist that herring around northern Vancouver Island have a disease that is causing bleeding from their gills, bellies and eyeballs. […] Arlene Tompkins of DFO’s [Department of Fisheries and Oceans’] salmon assessment section said staff in the Port Hardy area have not found bleeding herring. “We are trying to retrieve samples, but [Monday] we were not successful because of heavy fog,” she said. “We haven’t had any other reports of fish kills or die-offs [see salmon report below].” Tompkins has seen photographs provided by Morton […]
And see this report from CBS’ The Doctors:
Sea lions will eat a lot of different prey items: octopus, squid, small sharks. But their bread and butter is herring ….
Given that pacific herring are suffering severe disease, it is worth asking whether the “unusual mortality event” among Southern California sea lions is connected.
There’s something very odd happening in the ocean and in the waters around B.C. — sea creatures are behaving strangely. And species are turning up where they are rarely seen.
Extraordinary marine activity…. From California all the way to Alaska.
Others point to disasters like Japan’s tsunami that triggered a nuclear crisis, but no one knows for sure.
And the Newcastle Herald carried a report in October from a sailor saying that “the ocean is broken”:
The next leg of the long voyage was from Osaka to San Francisco and for most of that trip the desolation was tinged with nauseous horror and a degree of fear.
“After we left Japan, it felt as if the ocean itself was dead,” [Newcastle, Australia yachtsman Ivan] Macfadyen said.
“We hardly saw any living things. We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head. It was pretty sickening.
“I’ve done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I’m used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen.”
In place of the missing life was garbage in astounding volumes. [There is a huge quantity of debris from Japan heading across the ocean towards the West Coast. But it is unclear whether the sailor is referring to this or something else. After all, there is a lot of man-made garbage floating around the Pacific.]
And something else. The boat’s vivid yellow paint job, never faded by sun or sea in years gone past, reacted with something in the water off Japan, losing its sheen in a strange and unprecedented way.
Some – like EneNews – are convinced that the damage to sealife is due to Fukushima*. And – without doubt – the West Coast is being hit by radiation from Fukushima. And governments always cover up the extent of nuclear and other disasters for which they were partially responsible.
On the other hand, the New York Times report that it is an abundance of anchovies near shore which are attracting the whales … and the anchovies may simply be attracted by unusually nutrient-rich waters this year:
Others theorize that ocean acidification might be the culprit. It could instead be a pathogen, although it is unlikely it would effect so many species all at once over such a wide area.
EneNews rounds up stories on unusual sealife behavior:
Vancouver Sun, Nov. 27, 2013: Michael Harris, executive-director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association […] said he’s been working in Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia for 30 years and has “never ever seen this kind of behaviour going on. They must sense this is a safe place to be.” […] Wild Whales Vancouver had up to 10 close encounters this season in the southern Strait of Georgia, mainly near Galiano Island […] The whales typically rolled on their backs and sides next to the boat and looked up at the passengers. One even placed its head on the boat while spyhopping, a behaviour in which the whale rises up vertically to look above the water […]
Global News, Nov. 27, 2013: Capt. Jim Maya […] who runs Maya’s Westside Whale Watch Charters, has been working on the waters of the Pacific since 1965 and says he has never seen anything like what they saw that day. […] Maya says he estimates the whale was about 35 to 40 feet long and was an immature female. She hung around the boat for about an hour […] Chad Nordstrom, a researcher with the Cetacean Research Lab at the Vancouver Aquarium, says they have been receiving more and more reports of humpback whale sightings along the B.C. coast, especially in the lower Strait of Georgia.
Vancouver Sun, Nov. 28, 2013: Andrea Hardaker, manager of Wild Whales Vancouver [said] “The passengers loved it. But they don’t know what to expect on the trip. Whatever they see they think is normal. For our guides and the captains, we know it isn’t normal.” […] [Hardaker] believes these are the first such reports in local waters.
See also: CBS News: 100s of whales in bay on California coast; It’s never been like this, we just can’t even believe it — Experts: We just aren’t sure what’s going on; “A once-in-a-lifetime chance… unheard of, it’s unbelievable, nobody’s seen this” (VIDEO)
Baldo Marinovic, research biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz: “It’s a very strange year […] The $64,000 question is why this year? […] Now [the anchovies are] all kind of concentrating on the coast.”
Just a few weeks ago similar sightings were reported along Canada’s Pacific coast:
Vancouver Sun, Nov. 6, 2013: An extraordinary string of recent whale encounters around Vancouver Island is likely due to luck, not one factor, experts say. “This has not been a typical year,” said John Ford, head of the cetacean research program at Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. […] The “biggie” of the bunch is the endangered North Pacific right whale, spotted twice in B.C. waters for the first time in 60 years. […] There have been other remarkable whale encounters […] passengers aboard the B.C. ferry between Galiano Island and Tsawwassen were treated to the sight of a superpod of about 1,000 Pacific white-sided dolphins […]
Nick Claxton, Indigenous academic adviser at the University of Victoria: Recent whale encounters could have a deeper meaning, according to an Indigenous worldview […] “We see them as our relatives, as ancestors. All of these occurrences remind us of our place here and our connection to the natural world. It’s for the better of all of us to listen.”
The bottom line is that more research is needed. And nuclear experts said 4 days after the Japanese earthquake and that we all need to demand that fish be tested for radiation.
Note: University of Washington Professor Trevor Branch has previously slammed our reporting on reduction in fish stocks:
I am surprised that an article composed of facts totally unrelated to Fukushima could make it past your editorial process, and the story has been widely derided by blogs and on twitter. Below is my response detailing the latest science, with the article attached in case you are unable to find it.
The scientists you quote repeated their own study on Pacific bluefin tuna in the US and Fukushima radiation testing in June 2013. Here are some highlights from their findings.
1. Radiation in bluefin from Fukushima is 1/1000 to 1/10000 of the radiation in natural seawater.
2. Radiation in bluefin from Fukushima is less than in food you eat every day that is uncontaminated (and much much less than x-rays, flying in a plane etc).
3. If 10,000,000 people each ate 124 kg per yr of bluefin tuna every year (which is a LOT), 2 might die from radiation.
4. However, global catch of Pacific bluefin is 20,000 t a year, allowing only 161,000 people to eat that much, resulting in only 0.03 extra deaths per year.
5. If they ate less, the risk would be much less.
6. Since a single Pacific bluefin tuna sold this year for $1.8 million, they would also be left in poverty. (Not all sell for that
much, I know.)
Now the salmon and herring in U.S. waters do not travel anywhere near Fukushima, and would have a radiation load thousands to millions of times lower. These fish have local populations and are quite distinct from those populations near Fukushima. Radiation from Fukushima is diluted very rapidly within a few km of the leaks (the volume of the ocean is vast), and further than that the radiation is less than the radiation from naturally occurring polonium in the ocean.
All of the scary stories compiled in the article are just that, scary stories completely unrelated to Fukushima. For example the quotes from Morton are specifically about disease in fish that has nothing to do with radiation.
To preserve the integrity of your news blog, I would suggest retracting the article.
We responded at the time:
While we respect Professor Branch’s expertise in fisheries science – his knowledge of fisheries is significantly greater than ours, and he has proven that he is an honestacademic by disclosing his funding sources to us upon request – we believe that he has made several erroneous assumptions. Specifically:
1. There won’t be nearly as much dilution as assumed.
2. Low-level radiation is not harmless, there was no background cesium radiation until recently, and our bodies have adapted to excrete radiation from sources such as bananas … but not cesium from fish.
In any event, this post does not argue that the injury to sealife is due to Fukushima … we honestly don’t know the cause or causes of the unusual behavior in ocean life, and are only certain of one thing: the U.S. and Canadian governments should fund extensive testing to figure out what’s really going on, and then publicly release the results.
* EneNews was the main source of information for this essay. For example, here’s a one-sentence round-up of ocean weirdness from EneNews:
“[The Odds of] Longer Term Chronic Effects, Cancer Or Genetic Effects … Cannot Be Said To Be Zero”
It is very difficult to obtain accurate information on the dangers from Fukushima radiation to residents of the West Coast of North America and Hawaii.
On the one hand, there is fear-mongering and “we’re all going to die” type hysteria.
On the one hand, there is a tendency for governments to cover up the truth to avoid panic and deflect blame for bad policy. Japan is poised to pass a bill which would outlaw most reporting on Fukushima. And the U.S. government is not even monitoring radiation levels in the waters off the U.S. coast. As the Cape Cod Times reports:
With the first plume of water carrying radionuclides from Fukushima due to hit the U.S. West Coast any day now, [the senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Ken Buesseler’s] latest project is to convince the federal government to monitor radiation levels in the sea water.
“We don’t have a U.S. agency responsible for radiation in the ocean,” Buesseler said. “It’s really bizarre.”
He spent this past week in Washington, D.C., meeting with representatives of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, asking them to come up with some sort of plan to keep tabs on levels of radionuclides in the ocean.
Buesseler also talked with U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who agreed the federal government has a role in making sure the oceans are healthy and safe.
But Markey said in an email that an increased federal role is not likely [because of budget cuts].
Indeed, Dr. Buesseler points out the circular reasoning which the government is using (at 10:00):
I completely agree that no radiation has been seen in the regards that we’re not really testing for it [laughter] in any organized way … We have very few data; it’s not really being organized. The government says we don’t really need to do that because we’re predicting very low levels. On the other hand, you could argue I’d very much like to see study on our side of the ocean just to confirm these values and build some confidence with the public that’s been concerned about this. They’re right to be concerned — as scientists we’re telling them they shouldn’t be, but it’d be nice to have a few more data points to fill that gap … I’ve been told that there’s very little testing going on.
People are certainly concerned. As the Wall Street Journal notes:
Water containing radioactive materials has been leaking from storage tanks and drains at the plant into groundwater and the nearby ocean, raising concerns across the world that currents might spread radioactivity to faraway places.
But people don’t know where to get accurate information on the risks involved.
This essay provides reliable information on what is really going on … based upon the known science. It’s divided into 3 sections:
I. Is Low-Level Radiation Dangerous … Or Harmless?
You may have heard different claims about whether low-level radiation is dangerous … or harmless.
Fox News reports:
Doug Dasher, who [teaches] radioecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said it remains possible that there will be minor effects for people on the U.S. West Coast, despite the low test results.
“No acute effects resulting in mortality or damage to organs … would be expected,” he told FoxNews.com. But he added that more subtle effects might occur.
“Longer term chronic effects, cancer or genetic effects… odds are statistically low, if the concentrations in the models remain within the projections, [but] cannot be said to be zero.”
What is Dasher saying? That even low levels of radiation from Fukushima can increase the risk of cancer and other diseases.
A major 2012 scientific study proves that low-level radiation can cause huge health problems. Science Daily reports:
Even the very lowest levels of radiation are harmful to life, scientists have concluded in the Cambridge Philosophical Society’s journal Biological Reviews. Reporting the results of a wide-ranging analysis of 46 peer-reviewed studies published over the past 40 years, researchers from the University of South Carolina and the University of Paris-Sud found that variation in low-level, natural background radiation was found to have small, but highly statistically significant, negative effects on DNA as well as several measures of health.
The review is a meta-analysis of studies of locations around the globe …. “Pooling across multiple studies, in multiple areas, and in a rigorous statistical manner provides a tool to really get at these questions about low-level radiation.”
Mousseau and co-author Anders Møller of the University of Paris-Sud combed the scientific literature, examining more than 5,000 papers involving natural background radiation that were narrowed to 46 for quantitative comparison. The selected studies all examined both a control group and a more highly irradiated population and quantified the size of the radiation levels for each. Each paper also reported test statistics that allowed direct comparison between the studies.
The organisms studied included plants and animals, but had a large preponderance of human subjects. Each study examined one or more possible effects of radiation, such as DNA damage measured in the lab, prevalence of a disease such as Down’s Syndrome, or the sex ratio produced in offspring. For each effect, a statistical algorithm was used to generate a single value, the effect size, which could be compared across all the studies.
The scientists reported significant negative effects in a range of categories, including immunology, physiology, mutation and disease occurrence. The frequency of negative effects was beyond that of random chance.
“When you do the meta-analysis, you do see significant negative effects.”
“It also provides evidence that there is no threshold below which there are no effects of radiation,” he added. “A theory that has been batted around a lot over the last couple of decades is the idea that is there a threshold of exposure below which there are no negative consequences. These data provide fairly strong evidence that there is no threshold — radiation effects are measurable as far down as you can go, given the statistical power you have at hand.”
Mousseau hopes their results, which are consistent with the “linear-no-threshold” model for radiation effects, will better inform the debate about exposure risks. “With the levels of contamination that we have seen as a result of nuclear power plants, especially in the past, and even as a result of Chernobyl and Fukushima and related accidents, there’s an attempt in the industry to downplay the doses that the populations are getting, because maybe it’s only one or two times beyond what is thought to be the natural background level,” he said. “But they’re assuming the natural background levels are fine.”
“And the truth is, if we see effects at these low levels, then we have to be thinking differently about how we develop regulations for exposures, and especially intentional exposures to populations, like the emissions from nuclear power plants, medical procedures, and even some x-ray machines at airports.”
Physicians for Social Responsibility notes:
According to the National Academy of Sciences, there are no safe doses of radiation. Decades of research show clearly that any dose of radiation increases an individual’s risk for the development of cancer.
“There is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources. Period,” said Jeff Patterson, DO, immediate past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Exposure to radionuclides, such as iodine-131 and cesium-137, increases the incidence of cancer. For this reason, every effort must be taken to minimize the radionuclide content in food and water.”
“Consuming food containing radionuclides is particularly dangerous. If an individual ingests or inhales a radioactive particle, it continues to irradiate the body as long as it remains radioactive and stays in the body,”said Alan H. Lockwood, MD, a member of the Board of Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Radiation can be concentrated many times in the food chain and any consumption adds to the cumulative risk of cancer and other diseases.
John LaForge writes:
The National Council on Radiation Protection says, “… every increment of radiation exposure produces an incremental increase in the risk of cancer.”The Environmental Protection Agency says, “… any exposure to radiation poses some risk, i.e. there is no level below which we can say an exposure poses no risk.” The Department of Energy says about “low levels of radiation” that “… the major effect is a very slight increase in cancer risk.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission says, “any amount of radiation may pose some risk for causing cancer … any increase in dose, no matter how small, results in an incremental increase in risk.” The National Academy of Sciences, in its “Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VII,” says, “… it is unlikely that a threshold exists for the induction of cancers ….”
Japan Times reports:
Protracted exposure to low-level radiation is associated with a significant increase in the risk of leukemia, according to a long-term study published Thursday in a U.S. research journal.
The study released in the monthly Environmental Health Perspectives was based on a20-year survey of around 110,000 workers who engaged in cleanup work related to the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in 1986.
Scientists from the University of California, San Francisco, the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the National Research Center for Radiation Medicinein Ukraine were among those who participated in the research.
Indeed, the overwhelming consensus among radiation experts is that repeated exposure to low doses of radiation can cause cancer, genetic mutations, heart disease, stroke and other serious illness (and seethis.) If a government agency says anything else, it’s likely for political reasons.
The top U.S. government radiation experts – like Karl Morgan, John Goffman and Arthur Tamplin – and scientific luminaries such as Ernest Sternglass and Alice Stewart, concluded that low level radiation can cause serious health effects.
A military briefing written by the U.S. Army for commanders in Iraq states:
Hazards from low level radiation are long-term, not acute effects… Every exposure increases risk of cancer.
(Military briefings for commanders often contain less propaganda than literature aimed at civilians, as the commanders have to know the basic facts to be able to assess risk to their soldiers.)
The briefing states that doses are cumulative, citing the following military studies and reports:
- ACE Directive 80-63, ACE Policy for Defensive Measures against Low Level Radiological Hazards during Military Operations, 2 AUG 96
- AR 11-9, The Army Radiation Program, 28 MAY 99
- FM 4-02.283, Treatment of Nuclear and Radiological Casualties, 20 DEC 01
- JP 3-11, Joint Doctrine for Operations in NBC Environments, 11 JUL 00
- NATO STANAG 2473, Command Guidance on Low Level Radiation Exposure in Military Operations, 3 MAY 00
- USACHPPM TG 244, The NBC Battle Book, AUG 02
Research from the University of Iowa concluded:
Cumulative radon exposure is a significant risk factor for lung cancer in women.
And see these studies on the health effects cumulative doses of radioactive cesium.
As the European Committee on Radiation Risk notes:
Cumulative impacts of chronic irradiation in low doses are … important for the comprehension, assessment and prognosis of the late effects of irradiation on human beings ….
And see this.
The New York Times’ Matthew Wald reported in May:
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists[’] May-June issue carries seven articles and an editorial on the subject of low-dose radiation, a problem that has thus far defied scientific consensus but has assumed renewed importance since the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors in Japan in March 2011.
This month a guest editor, Jan Beyea [who received a PhD in nuclear physics from Columbia and has served on a number of committees at the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science] and worked on epidemiological studies at Three Mile Island, takes a hard look at the power industry.
The bulletin’s Web site is generally subscription-only, but this issue can be read at no charge.
Dr. Beyea challenges a concept adopted by American safety regulators about small doses of radiation. The prevailing theory is that the relationship between dose and effect is linear – that is, that if a big dose is bad for you, half that dose is half that bad, and a quarter of that dose is one-quarter as bad, and a millionth of that dose is one-millionth as bad, with no level being harmless.
The idea is known as the “linear no-threshold hypothesis,’’ and while most scientists say there is no way to measure its validity at the lower end, applying it constitutes a conservative approach to public safety.
Some radiation professionals disagree, arguing that there is no reason to protect against supposed effects that cannot be measured. But Dr. Beyea contends that small doses could actually be disproportionately worse.
Radiation experts have formed a consensus that if a given dose of radiation delivered over a short period poses a given hazard, that hazard will be smaller if the dose is spread out. To use an imprecise analogy, if swallowing an entire bottle of aspirin at one sitting could kill you, consuming it over a few days might merely make you sick.
In radiation studies, this is called a dose rate effectiveness factor. Generally, a spread-out dose is judged to be half as harmful as a dose given all at once.
Dr. Beyea, however, proposes that doses spread out over time might be more dangerous than doses given all at once. [Background] He suggests two reasons: first, some effects may result from genetic damage that manifests itself only after several generations of cells have been exposed, and, second, a “bystander effect,” in which a cell absorbs radiation and seems unhurt but communicates damage to a neighboring cell, which can lead to cancer.
One problem in the radiation field is that little of the data on hand addresses the problem of protracted exposure. Most of the health data used to estimate the health effects of radiation exposure comes from survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings of 1945. That was mostly a one-time exposure.
Scientists who say that this data leads to the underestimation of radiation risks cite another problem: it does not include some people who died from radiation exposure immediately after the bombings. The notion here is that the people studied in ensuing decades to learn about the dose effect may have been stronger and healthier, which could have played a role in their survival.
Still, the idea that the bomb survivor data is biased, or that stretched-out doses are more dangerous than instant ones, is a minority position among radiation scientists.
Dr. Beyea writes:
Three recent epidemiologic studies suggest that the risk from protracted exposure is no lower, and in fact may be higher, than from single exposures.
Conventional wisdom was upset in 2005, when an international study, which focused on a large population of exposed nuclear workers, presented results that shocked the radiation protection community—and foreshadowed a sequence of research results over the following years.
It all started when epidemiologist Elaine Cardis and 46 colleagues surveyed some 400,000 nuclear workers from 15 countries in North America, Europe, and Asia—workers who had experienced chronic exposures, with doses measured on radiation badges (Cardis et al., 2005).
This study revealed a higher incidence for protracted exposure than found in the atomic-bomb data, representing a dramatic contradiction to expectations based on expert opinion.
A second major occupational study appeared a few years later, delivering another blow to the theory that protracted doses were not so bad. This 2009 report looked at 175,000 radiation workers in the United Kingdom ….
After the UK update was published, scientists combined results from 12 post-2002 occupational studies, including the two mentioned above, concluding that protracted radiation was 20 percent more effective in increasing cancer rates than acute exposures (Jacob et al., 2009). The study’s authors saw this result as a challenge to the cancer-risk values currently assumed for occupational radiation exposures. That is, they wrote that the radiation risk values used for workers should be increased over the atomic-bomb-derived values, not lowered by a factor of two or more.
In 2007, one study—the first of its size—looked at low-dose radiation risk in a large, chronically exposed civilian population; among the epidemiological community, this data set is known as the “Techa River cohort.” From 1949 to 1956 in the Soviet Union, while the Mayak weapons complex dumped some 76 million cubic meters of radioactive waste water into the river, approximately 30,000 of the off-site population—from some 40 villages along the river—were exposed to chronic releases of radiation; residual contamination on riverbanks still produced doses for years after 1956.
Here was a study of citizens exposed to radiation much like that which would be experienced following a reactor accident. About 17,000 members of the cohort have been studied in an international effort (Krestinina et al., 2007), largely funded by the US Energy Department; and to many in the department, this study was meant to definitively prove that protracted exposures were low in risk. The results were unexpected. The slope of the LNT fit turned out to be higher than predicted by the atomic-bomb data, providing additional evidence that protracted exposure does not reduce risk.