Tag Archives: thyroid cancer nuclear plants

Nuking Tahiti: the Moruroa Files

From 1966 to 1974, France blew up 41 nuclear weapons in above-ground tests in French Polynesia, the collection of 118 islands and atolls that is part of France. The French government has long contended that the testing was done safely. But a new analysis of hundreds of documents declassified in 2013 suggests the tests exposed 90% of the 125,000 people living in French Polynesia to radioactive fallout—roughly 10

The findings come from a 2-year collaboration, dubbed the Moruroa Files, between Disclose, a French nonprofit that supports investigative journalism; Interprt, a collective of researchers, architects, and spatial designers affiliated with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who focus on environmental issues; and the Science & Global Security program at Princeton. The findings were presented on 9 March on the project’s website, in a book, and in a technical paper posted to the arXiv preprint server.

The abandoned testing facility at the Moruroa Atoll. The atoll is at the risk of collapsing due to nuclear blasts

Declassified documents suggest actual exposures were between two and 20 times higher than France’s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) estimates… Reasons for the discrepancies vary from test to test, he says. For example, CEA acknowledged that the first test, dubbed Aldébaran, exposed residents of the Gambier Islands to relatively high levels of fallout. But actual exposures were likely higher still… Although CEA noted that contaminated rainwater fell on the island, he says, it failed to consider that many residents likely drank the contaminated water, collected in household cisterns, for days.

Most important, the documents suggest a single test in 1974, called Centaure, exposed the entire population of Tahiti—87,500 people at the time—to fallout. French authorities set off a relatively tiny atom bomb with an explosive yield equal to 4 kilotons of TNT, and weather forecasts predicted that winds should carry fallout to the north. Instead, the wind blew to the west, carrying the plume directly over Tahiti. A new simulation based on data in the documents shows how the plume of radiation wafted over the island. CEA estimated that people on the island received a dose of about 0.6 mSv.  However, Phillipe and colleagues argue that CEA underestimated the total amount of radiation that accumulated on the ground over several days, didn’t account for radiation lingering in vegetables consumed later…

The new analysis moves the vast majority of French Polynesians past the exposure threshold to qualify for compensation. Philippe and Schoenberger would like to see France do away with the exposure standard and compensate anyone who lived through the tests and developed a qualifying cancer. “Our hope is to demonstrate that this kind of threshold can be prejudicial to claimants just because of the difficulties of proving exposure,” Schoenberger says.

Philippe estimates that, assuming a cancer rate of 0.2% per year, roughly 10,000 cancer patients or their families would qualify retroactively and that compensating them would cost about €700 million. Future cancers would cost about €24 million per year, he estimates. However, Hughes says it remains to be seen whether the French government will even acknowledge the analysis. “My fear is that they will simply ignore it,” Hughes says.

The declassified documents also show the French government routinely failed to warn Polynesians about the radiation risks, Philippe says. In the Centaure test, authorities could have warned Tahitians about the approaching fallout 2 days in advance, but did not. Ironically, Philippe notes, the United States, the Soviet Union, and other countries were monitoring the tests remotely. “Everybody knew what was going on,” he says, “except the Polynesians.”

Excerpt from Adrian Cho, France grossly underestimated radioactive fallout from atom bomb tests, study finds, Science, Mar. 11, 2021

Chernobyl Nuclear Accident: 1986 to 2016

A workforce of around 2,500 people is finishing a massive steel enclosure that will cover Chernobyl’s reactor 4, where the radioactive innards of the nuclear plant are encased in a concrete sarcophagus hastily built after the disaster.  If all goes to plan, the new structure—an arch more than 350 feet high and 500 feet long—will be slid into place late next year over the damaged reactor and its nuclear fuel, creating a leak-tight barrier designed to contain radioactive substances for at least the next 100 years.

The project, known as the New Safe Confinement,  is a feat of engineering.  [see also the Chernobyl Gallery] It will take two or three days to slide the 36,000-ton structure into place. The arch, which looks something like a dirigible hangar, is large enough to cover a dozen football fields. “You could put Wembley Stadium underneath here, with all the car parks,” said David Driscoll, the chief safety officer for the French consortium running the construction site.

Three decades ago, an army of workers scrambled to build a concrete sarcophagus around Chernobyl Reactor 4, which released a radioactive plume after a reactor fire and explosion on April 26, 1986.  At least 30 people died as an immediate result of the accident, which contaminated parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia and sent radioactive dust and debris over Europe. Pripyat, the company town of 50,000, was completely evacuated.

Emergency workers and evacuees received doses of radiation significantly above natural background levels, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers acknowledge high levels of thyroid cancer among people who were children at the time of the accident, from exposure to radioactive iodine…

Nicolas Caille, project director for Novarka, the consortium of Vinci SA and Bouygues SA, the French contractors running the project, said about 1,000 people work on a typical shift at the construction site, keeping to a schedule of 15 days in and 15 out….

A new facility to safely and securely store spent nuclear rods is being built at the nuclear power complex. The Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility, or ISF2, is intended to store spent fuel rods for a minium of 100 years…..The Liquid Radioactive Waste Treatment Plant in Chernobyl…retrieves highly active liquids from their current tanks, processes them into a solid state and moves them to containers for long-term storage. …

Wildlife has flourished in the forest [surrounding Chernobyl], which is largely off limits to humans. Officials say species such as lynx, wild boar, wolves, elk, bear and European bison have rebounded.

Excerpts from Nathan Hodge, 30 Years After Chernobyl Disaster, an Arch Rises to Seal Melted Reactor, Wall Street Journal, Apr. 25, 2016

Thyroid Cancer + Nuclear Plants: Korea

South Korea:  After a medical checkup, Hwang, 67, a resident of Gyeongju, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had to have immediate surgery to remove the tumor. Several other people from her village, which is the closest human settlement to the Wolseong nuclear power plant, were also diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  Hwang is among an increasing number of South Koreans who live near the country’s four nuclear power plants and are joining civil suits against the operator of the plants, demanding compensation for cancer and other adverse health effects.

The citizen’s legal actions were prompted by a landmark ruling by the Busan[where the Kori Nuclear Plant is located]  district court October 2014, which ordered Korea Electric Power Corp., the government-owned operator of the nuclear plants, to pay 15 million won (1.68 million yen, or $13,500) in damages to a thyroid cancer patient. The number of plaintiffs seeking compensation from KEPCO for health damages incurred by radioactive emissions from the plants has now swelled to more than 2,500.   In demanding compensation from KEPCO, she argues that radioactive emissions from the Wolseong nuclear power plant in Gyeongju, with its five reactors, have caused her thyroid cancer.

Lawyer Kim Yeong-hui, who has encouraged residents living near nuclear plants to join the litigation, said that epidemiological surveys in South Korea have shown that residents living 5 to 30 km from nuclear power plants have 1.8 times a higher incidence of thyroid cancer than people from other areas.

Excerpt from  AKIRA NAKANO, More residents joining lawsuits seeking damages from South Korean nuclear plants, Asahi Shimbum, July 15, 2015