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ICRP: Free the Annals!

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Submitted by Judith Johnsrud, n/a
   Commenting as an individual
Document Recommendations
 
ORGANIZATION FOR ECONOMIC COOPERATION AND DEVELOPMENT Seminar on International Commission of Radiological Protection On ICRP Revised Draft of 2005 Recommendations Comments of Judith H. Johnsrud, Ph.D., Senior Advisor Sierra Club

The Sierra Club has a long history of concern for the wellbeing of both the natural environment and all of its inhabitants – human beings and other forms of life. These comments address only a few of the many issues discussed at length in the Revised ICRP 2005 Draft. More complete Consultation comments on the revised recommendations will be submitted to ICRP.

The timing of these 2005 Recommendations coincides with a critical moment in the nuclear industry’s history, sixty years after the United States first used atomic bombs. There are intensive industry efforts to construct new reactors, some with new, untested, designs. The weapons industry appears eager to test and build new nuclear weapons. There are increasing international fears about the spread and threats to actually use nuclear weapons, posed by angry nations and suicidal terrorists. Technologists continue to fail to develop assured methods of radioactive waste sequestration – and begin to admit the task is impossible, given the longevity of the biological hazard, compared with all known civilizations. Costs of all of these endeavors are high. But perhaps most important of all is the ominously rapid onset of climate change, concurrent with realization that fossil fuels may not be able to continue to supply our energy-driven civilization.

Some of these factors have encouraged the nuclear industry to try to revive, and to order new reactors after more than thirty moribund years. Those efforts will prove fruitless unless political and economic climates remain conducive But the nation does not need more reactors to generate more radwaste that requires
very long sequestration, nor more uranium
enrichment, reprocessing, transports, nor any more accidents or any nuclear terrorists.
Moreover, without – or even with -- large federal subsidies, many utility companies are avoiding investment in new reactors, especially as alternative sources for electricity begin to be competitive. And then there would also be all the more radioactive waste isolation. The issues are complex, quite probably insoluble.

One method of cost avoidance would be relaxation of radiation exposure standards, and this the ICRP apparently intends to do with few improvements of prior recommendations, under the guise of harmonization and standardization of regulations worldwide.

Very important in all this are the great advances in radiation microbiologists’ findings and their increased understanding of low-dose radiation impacts. We had hoped that those research results of the last fifteen years or more would be reflected in more protective ICRP radiation standards recommendations. But the revised ICRP proposals disappoint. They are little changed from the 1990 or 2005 recommendations. They largely ignore pertinent research results that should call for a greater conservatism.

We respectfully urge the Commission to withdraw this 2006 draft and develop a revision that takes full account of low-dose radiation impacts, increases control over all radioactive sources, reverses proposed exclusions and exemptions of radioactive materials and wastes, and sets more restrictive dose standards that include, to the extent possible, all sources of exposures that individuals experience.

An editorial suggestion: To improve the readability of the revision document and some of the foundation documents, careful editing to reduce repetition and to simplify style would be helpful. Several of the foundation documents were more clearly written than the Recommendations, and were especially useful – in particular, “The Scope of Radiological Protection Regulations,” which described the purposes and implications of the recommendations most usefully. These comments identifying some of our concerns draw heavily on information in the “Scope” document.

A most important Positive Recommendation: We particularly urge ICRP to adopt and abide by the Precautionary Principle. This principle for decision-making recognizes our human inability to be all-knowing, or always right. It acts to prevent errors that cause harm to ourselves or others (including the natural world we inhabit and affect). It is embodied in the medical dictum, primum non nocere: “First, to do no harm.” Colloquially, “When in doubt, don’t.”


Despite the better understanding of genomic instability, or bystander effects, or faulty cell repair mechanisms that indicate need for stricter dose standards, this cautionary approach to radiological protection appears to be ignored by ICRP, or of only secondary or questionable importance in both the optimization and justification principles that the Commission employs, and also in its use of the maximum dose limitation principle.

The ICRP adoption of exclusions and exemptions from regulatory control of certain types and quantities of radiological materials and wastes would allow regulators to ignore the many unlabeled additive sources of exposure to individuals who would be unaware of their presence. The inclusion in dose calculations of certain societal and economic factors, such as generators’ costs for decontamination and waste control, serve as ICRP’s “balancing factors” that give an appearance of fairness while in practice tilt decisions to favor industry licensees, company stockholders, or other governmental and corporate interests over maximizing protection of dose recipients. For example, licensees’ costs are considered, but not costs incurred by a member of the public who suffers a radiation-related illness or disability. Courts tend to decline to find for such plaintiffs.
Radiation protection must be under both law and regulation to assure fairness for damaged exposure recipients.

With respect to the state of knowledge in the closely related fields of radiation microbiology and genetics, the Commission’s documents include the statement that a single [radiation] strike through a cell can be sufficient to initiate damage, including a cancer. ICRP also notes that

While…risk of radiation harm is presumed to be minute, at low radiation doses, the Commission’s position is that following any incremental increase in dose above the unavoidable background dose there is assumed to be a proportional, small but finite, increase in the likelihood of… some cancers and hereditary effects.
This hypothesis… is applicable to all exposures, however small, regardless of their origin – whether natural or artificial.
(emphasis added)

Thus, the ICRP acknowledges recent advances in low-dose impacts, but declines to adjust its permissible dose limits to reflect those findings, explaining that there is “still much to be learned.” The result: individual low-dose recipients of multiple and additive, but unidentifiable, exposures are deprived of proper protection from the somatic or genetic harms that may result.

Similarly, nuclear industry workers may suffer illnesses of long latency that are not admitted by the employer, or may be forced into costly protracted litigation for their rights, only to lose before an unsympathetic judge – as has been the outcome this very week for atomic veterans.
The precautionary approach would tend to lead to better, less biased radiation protection for both workers and the public than otherwise would occur. The principle can be adopted voluntarily or by means of legislation.

Comments on the Draft Revision: Following is a partial list of our concerns that the Revised Draft 2005 Recommendations fail to provide members of the public and workers, or medical patients, with the best obtainable radiological protection. We stress the need for ICRP to incorporate all fractional dose contributions that are received but may be unlabeled, unobserved and unrecorded. It is also noted that no account is taken of the combinations of exposures to both irradiation and a huge assortment of toxic chemicals that are released into the biosphere, either jointly impacting the human dose recipient or interacting with one another and then potentially adversely affecting that individual recipient. Research on these topics may be complicated, but this is a vast realm of virtually unexplored potential impacts of significance.

Although this latter situation requires far more research than has yet been accomplished, such interactions of contaminants need to be investigated and evaluated in our technological world where little or no attention is paid to the effects of all we heedlessly dump into the environment on which we depend. At minimum for radiation, the various doses resultant from the entire fuel chain (cycle) of production, utilization, and disposition of radioactive materials and wastes should be assessed by regulatory bodies charged with protection of us all. Those contributions to total dose should not be ignored, as ICRP does, because of cost, inconvenience, or difficulty of measurement.

** The ICRP plans to relax or eliminate regulation and/or legal (litigated) status of many \radioactive materials and wastes. It should not do so. Such adoption is contrary to its charge to protect, not damage, public health and safety. The ICRP has the ability to recommend more, not less, restrictive exposure limits. Enough is known of adverse effects at low doses to fully justify adoption of more restrictive limits for both workers and the public. It should do so.

** ICRP would increase reliance on its “justification of practices” and “optimization of protection,” allowing or perhaps requiring trade-offs of health and safety protection in favor of satisfying the interests and economies that benefit or benefit from nuclear and related industries. This is detrimental to public health and wellbeing and should be discarded.

** The Commission supports exclusion altogether from regulation and responsibility (liability) for radioactive materials and wastes deemed “low enough” in radioactive content and delivered dose. This is strongly opposed; it invites spread of radioactive materials with no accountability.

** It continues to address separately the differing categories of exposure sources, rather than assessing the total dose received from the many sources of exposure actually experienced by an individual, thus failing to know total exposures for either individuals or populations.
This practice should be abandoned.

** It equates radiation impact for a fetus with impact for young children, despite developmental differences between them. It is not clear how impacts on a woman’s lifetime supply of ova are evaluated in this regard. Embryos and fetuses should be more fully protected, in case the current belief proves to be wrong.

** The Commission concludes that, despite research advances in radiation microbiology since 1990, no “fundamental changes are needed in the system of radiological protection.” Most numerical dose recommendations from 1990 are retained or are relaxed to allow larger exposures. Instead, ICRP should exercise the Precautionary Principle and lower allowable exposure levels.

** Despite its continuing support of the LNT, ICRP recommends re-designation and deregulation of unspecified amounts of low-level ( renamed
“low-activity”) materials and wastes on its assumptions of “low risk,” but without opportunity of dose recipients to accept or reject the added risk. This violates a basic tenet of protection: that the benefit received should be greater than or commensurate with the added risk incurred, and that the dose recipient has a fully informed opportunity to accept or reject the exposure.

** ICRP continues to base many of its allowable dose decisions for mixed populations on Standard Man (Reference Man), largely seeming to claim there are no significant differences (apart from breast cancer and a few other instances of dose reduction cited) for gender, age, prior condition of health, etc., in exposed populations. Averaged data for Standard Man are used in assessing organ dose impacts and calculation of risks from internal emitters.

** IT continues to dismiss public and medical professional concerns about nearly all non-cancer illnesses that may be radiation-related, and genetic disorders and damages in both present and many future generations. All consequences of irradiation should be considered.

** ICRP represents some sources of exposure as being introduced and therefore acceptable “as a matter of choice by society,” often with little or no opportunity for members of the public to contest added exposures from these sources. This proposal should be dropped.

** There is substantial concern that the Commission’s decisions in these proposed 2005 Recommendations may be taken by ICRP and other international organizations to require mandatory compliance, allowing few or no options for national or subnational government to adopt more stringent regulatory requirements and standards that are better suited to their specific situations which differ from an expected or average or norm.

“Harmonization” may be imposed by, for example, certain treaties or world trade organizations on member nations of such international bodies, thereby violating the nation’s standards-setting sovereignty. We urge the Commission to recognize and support the rights of nations to be able to set the protective measures they deem necessary for the health and safety of their people. That ability matters more than facilitating or forcing world trade in biologically hazardous nuclear materials. We hope, too, that the ICRP will share our efforts to preserve and restore the damages we, all, have inflicted on our planet. ICRP would be wise to place health and safety at the top of the measures to exercise the Commission’s mandate.

We trust that these critical comments filed on behalf of the Sierra Club will be accepted – and we hope they will be fully and favorably acted upon -- by the Commission, in our spirit of good will and shared concerns about radiation impacts, for the wellbeing of people and their environments in which we offer them. Finally, as public-interest stakeholders, we commend the Commission’s making its proposals available to the public for comment.