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Sidebar: Nuke Interests Get "First Blood" from Rambo?

UNC Research Links Three Mile Island Radiation and Cancer

by Wells Eddleman

Lung cancer, leukemia, hair loss, reddened skin, nausea, the birth of mutant animals and the death of others, are believed to be symptoms caused by radiation exposure from the 90 percent meltdown at Three Mile Island (TMI) unit 2 near Harrisburg, PA on March 28, 1979.

US Federal Judge Sylvia Rambo has thrown out the 2000 lawsuits and most of the expert testimony against the nuclear industry and insurance lawyers brought by people who were alleging that they had been exposed to high levels of radiation. Additionally, records of radiation releases were "lost" from TMI2's computer system after the accident: a fact which nuclear public relations people have omitted.

Judge Rambo's decision is on appeal - while the radiation damage evidence is being covered up. News reports have not even mentioned the dilemma.

In an new study by the UNC School of Public Health, significant increases were found in cancer incidence among people subjected to the most radiation exposure from TMI compared to people from surrounding areas who were less exposed.

The epidemiological study appears in the January 1997 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed scientific journal of the RTP-based National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

The Meltdown

At the time of the accident, TMI-2's core was 90 percent melted. Radiation detectors at the plant went off-scale. Pennsylvania Governor Thornburgh advised pregnant women and young children to evacuate, causing over 100,000 people to flee.

In the 1980s, local activists brought TMI survivors to the Triangle to report incidents and symptoms such as illness, cancer, animal deaths and the widespread mutations of plants (dandelions with 2-foot-long leaves).

Government officials and the nuclear industry have always denied that people were exposed to any significant radiation from this major accident.

The Research

Other researchers have also found evidence of high doses of radiation from the TMI accident. Using a "radiation meter" to detect highly radiation-specific mutations (dicentric chromosomes), Russian researcher Vladmir Shevchenko analyzed human blood cells from people who lived near TMI at the time of the accident. He found evidence that radiation exposures were similar to exposure of so-called "liquidators," clean-up workers at the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

A control group of Pennsylvanians, matched for characteristics other than TMI-exposure, had levels of these mutations similar to unexposed control groups in other radiation studies.

Increases in cancer rates in communities downwind from the TMI reactor fits with Shevchenko's work. Co-author Dr. Steve Wing of UNC-CH notes that the increased occurrence of cancer in those areas "only happened after the accident."

Previous researchers blame the elevated rates on stress. "The medical community in the USA has been mostly hostile for many years to the idea that stress can cause disease, yet when cancer is detected near nuclear power plants, suddenly they say stress is a credible explanation," said Wing.

The Facts

"Lung cancer went up two to four times in areas directly in the pathway of plumes of radioactivity. Leukemia rates were eight to 10 or more times higher." These figures compare the most exposed areas to less-exposed areas, all within a ten mile radius of TMI.

Researchers adjusted estimates of the association between radiation doses from TMI and cancer for the baseline (pre-accident) cancer rates. A relatively simple statistical approach was used from data collected previously.

The Gulf War is an excellent parallel to this situation, Wing said. The possibility of exposure to nerve gas or other dangerous agents was denied there for years, just as radiation exposure of downwinders in Utah and Nevada were denied. US radiation victims eventually got compensation and Gulf War exposure records are beginning to surface.

We'll see if the TMI victims get their day in court - until then, the radiation cover-up is slowly coming loose.

Wells Eddleman is staff scientist with NC Citizens Research Group in Durham.

Nuke interests get "First Blood" from Rambo?

The TMI Public Health Fund was established to support research related to the accident and radiation health effects. Funding comes from the nuclear industry. Research projects must be approved by Judge Sylvia Rambo, who supervised the Fund. A 1986 Judicial Order by Judge Rambo set conditions for research on radiation exposures in the local population as a result of the 1979 accident. The order included such language as:

• "The principal investigator shall not attempt to make upper limit or worst case estimates of releases of radioactivity or population doses. Notwithstanding the foregoing, in cases where such estimates would lead to a mathematical projection of less than 0.01 health effects, the prinicipal investigator may use such estimates to save time and expense."

Comment: This means that the scientists producing the estimates of radiation exposure can use worst case estimates only if those estimates would result in a calculation that no one was was hurt.

• "...[T]he principal investigator of the Fund will present his results to counsel for the Pools [nuclear insurers] as part of the review process.

"If counsel for the Pools objects to the form in which the results are presented as relates to their scientific merit and accuracy, then the principal investigator will endeavor, in good faith, to resolve differences between him and a technical representative of the Pools...."

Comment: Although there are more details in the order about how to resolve disputes once research is complete, it is clear that the nuclear industry's side is given first whack at getting rid of damaging scientific results. That step would be just the first in a laborious process if agreement is not reached.

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