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Is It Time To Listen To Our Nurses?

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On June 23rd the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) presented its research on the health hazards of nuclear power to the Uranium Development Partnership (UDP). The Regina Leader Post reported on SUN's presentation; showing, from an international study, Canadian "reactor workers 7.65 times more likely to die from all causes of cancer compared to non-employees", and from a Canadian study "nuclear power workers are 3.8 times more likely to die from radiation-related cancer than non-workers." SUN's research also found "children below the age of five that live within 5 KM of a nuclear facility are 2.19 times more likely to develop leukemia."

Summarizing what research has shown for decades, but has notably gone unreported until now in Saskatchewan, SUN said that "chronic exposure to low doses of radiation is associated with an excess relative risk of cancer mortality." In a poll of its 3,000 members SUN found only 9% supported nuclear power (62% were out-rightly opposed), and 90% had concerns about the health implications of nuclear power. SUN endorsed a non-nuclear energy policy and expressed concern that the cost overruns of a nuclear megaproject would siphon off resources needed for future healthcare.

Later that day the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA), presenting to the UDP, assessed deficiencies in much of the research on radiation that the regulatory system relies on, saying "… a constantly shifting baseline suggests that the science is uncertain at best and based on theoretical models instead of population health at best. Where the health of populations may be affected irrevocably…this sense of uncertainly in unacceptable. We believe that health care standards should not be set by industry but by health care professionals." Later it continued: "All research suffers from a single universal flaw in that it is dependent upon industrial self-reporting of emissions." The SMA also discussed how methodological limits of some Canadian studies (e.g. lumping uncommon and more common cancers, failing to include miscarriage and stillbirth rates, and not being discrete about distances from nuclear plants) could contribute to relationships found between radiation and illness not being statistically significant.

Like SUN, the SMA looked at the definitive, German, study, showing "…an unequivocal positive relationship between a child's risk of being diagnosed with leukemia, and residential proximity to the nearest nuclear power plant." The SMA noted that Ontario's permissible level of tritium (radioactive hydrogen) in the drinking water is 350 times higher than that recommended by the province's Drinking Water Advisory Council, and said "Of particular concern is…the paucity of research on the health effects of tritium which is released in larger volumes in Canada than anywhere in the world." It noted a small 1991 study by the AECB (now CNSC) found a statistical relation between tritium exposure during pregnancy and central nervous system defects in children.

The SMA called for baseline health research and a branch of government fully separate from nuclear promotions to study the levels of ionizing radiation and the determinants of health of residents impacted by the uranium-nuclear system. This is a repeat of what researchers called for back in 1978, during the Cluff Lake Board of Inquiry. The work of the B.C. Medical Association on the risks of radiation played a role in that province declaring a uranium moratorium in 1977, and the Colorado state Medical Association is now calling for such a moratorium in its jurisdiction due to the health hazards of the uranium/nuclear industry. The presentations of the SUN and SMA suggest Saskatchewan has a lot of catching up to do. It's time we listened to our nurses.