November 22-28, 2012
Cathy Vakil and Eric Notebaert
The health risks of nuclear are very much under the radar as hearings begin December 3 on whether Ontario will spend billions to resuscitate the aging Darlington station.
As physicians, it is our duty to advocate for illness prevention, and we believe nuclear power is a serious threat to public health, from uranium mining to refining to the day-to-day release of small amounts of radioactivity from reactors.
The industry claims that these releases are too small to worry about; research indicates otherwise.
Since the early 1980s, numerous studies in North America and Europe have shown an elevated risk of a number of illnesses in nearby populations, particularly childhood leukemia. In 2008, a well-designed study by the German government showed that children under five years old living within a 5-kilometre radius of all 16 of the country’s nuclear plants had an elevated risk of developing leukemia, as did a similar French study of children under 15.
What does this mean for Canada? It seems government authorities don’t want to know. There is not a single large-scale case-control study of low-level emissions from reactors here. Without the appropriate studies, it’s reasonable to assume that health is being compromised.
Unlike other countries, which build reactors in rural areas, Ontario locates them in the most populous region of the country – near Toronto. Over 450,000 people live within 20 kilometres of the Darlington station, and over 1 million around Pickering.
And while Canadian reactor operators assure us the risk of an accident is insignificant, there is a major nuclear event about once a decade somewhere in the world, Fukushima merely being the most recent.
Since Fukushima, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Japan have all decided to phase out nuclear power and invest massively in green energy. These countries are protecting human health and building a modern energy system. Why aren’t we?
Cathy Vakil is a family doctor and professor in the department of family medicine at Queens University. Eric Notebaert is adjunct professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Montreal. Both are board members of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.