Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2020-2021
Editor’s note: Japanese government ministers, nuclear industry lobbyists, and some academics claim that releasing huge volumes of radioactive tritium into the Pacific is so commonplace that the danger it poses to health is negligible. What follows are excerpts from a detailed article about tritium risks by Arjun Makhijani, Brice Smith, and Michael C. Thornel of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, in the group’s magazine Science for Democratic Action, February 2007. The excerpts are introduced by a note from Arjun sent Nov. 25, 2020:
These excerpts regarding tritium refer to tritium-contaminated freshwater. The risks of contaminating seawater with tritium relate to the ways tritiated water will become part of oceanic ecosystems. It will be incorporated, literally, by everything from algae to fish. Pregnant women consuming tritium-contaminated seafood could be vulnerable to impacts like those described in the article excerpted below. A thorough investigation of such impacts, with public comment, is essential before any decision to discharge tritium-contaminated water accumulated at Fukushima to the ocean is made.
With a relatively short half-life of 12.3 years, tritium is highly radioactive. For example, one gram (approximately the weight of a quarter of a teaspoon of salt) of tritium in tritiated water will contaminate almost 500 billion gallons of water up to the current drinking water limit of 20,000 picocuries per liter set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. One ounce of tritiated water would contaminate the entire annual flow of the Savannah River above the present drinking water limit.
… [T]ritiated water and organically bound tritium can cross the placental barrier. This tritium can then be incorporated into an embryo/fetus and irradiate rapidly dividing cells, thereby raising the risk of birth defects, early miscarriages, and other problems.
… A related concern is the fact that low-energy beta particles, like those emitted by tritium, are often much more effective at causing harm than currently assumed by regulations.
… As noted, the low energy of the tritium beta particle can result in the deposition of all the energy in a short distance, which could be particularly damaging if the tritium is in the DNA.
… Considering that ova are formed once per lifetime, the effects of radiation on the reproductive system of female fetuses, and the possible effect on the children of females irradiated in the womb, could be significant.
… The increased risks to pregnant women and the embryo/fetus include early miscarriages, malformations, and genetic defects. Risks can also be multi-generational given that a woman’s ova are produced while she is in her mother’s womb.
… We have concluded that 400 picocuries per liter for surface water should be considered as an interim target limit for off-site surface water at all nuclear power plants and US Department of Energy nuclear sites while a better understanding of the impacts of tritium is developed. This level is 50 times lower than the EPA’s current drinking water limit and corresponds to a lifetime risk of a fatal cancer of about one in a million.
… The case for tightening the tritium limits as a preventive measure is even more persuasive when one considers the higher RBE [relative biological effectiveness] of tritium, its possible non-cancer health effects, its possible synergisms with chemical toxins, and its potential effects arising from exposure in utero at certain crucial times during pregnancy….
—See the full article at: https://ieer.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/SDA-14-4.pdf