Let me get the disclosures out of the way up front. I’m not a scientist, nor am I an expert in nuclear power. For the record, all I know about environmental health was gleaned through independent research, not bestowed upon me in some ivy-covered building on an ivy-league campus. The letters Ph.D do not follow my name.
So what qualifies me to write about the bone-headed decision made by the NRC on Thursday to approve not one, but two new nuclear power plants in Georgia? Based on the above, you might say, “Not a whole lot.” And you would be wrong. I may not be a scientist, but I am a mother. I’ve created two of the most beautiful creatures on the planet inside my own body. Don’t tell me I don’t have a right to speak out about events that might put those products of my mama lab in jeopardy.
I would venture a guess that few of those who promote nuclear power as a “clean” power source have any idea that current EPA regulations for determining how much nuclear radiation you can be zapped with before your lifetime cancer risk exceeds permissible levels is based on a white, 154-pound “Reference Man.” Recent 15-lb baby deliveries aside, it’s impossible that a fully grown male would ever emerge from the womb. Meaning that any individual—male or female— that’s smaller (or otherwise more at risk) than the Reference Man is more vulnerable to the effects of radiation exposure. Pound for pound, babies are more vulnerable than adults to a host of environmental pollutants. Imagine then, how much more vulnerable a fetus in the womb might be.
We already know of many vulnerabilities radiation poses to certain groups who are not 154-pound white males. For example:
- For the same radiation dose, women have a 52% greater chance of getting cancer.
- A female infant drinking milk contaminated with radioactive iodine is 70 times more at risk of thyroid cancer than an adult male for the same radiation exposure.
- Radioactive hydrogen (called tritium) crosses the placenta and can cause early miscarriage as well as malformations.
Over two years ago, the U.S. EPA agreed to revise its calculations for determining safe radiation doses in air, essentially moving away from using Reference Man, to a standard more protective of the most vulnerable. The EPA still has not completed this process and has so far refused to make similar modifications for determining allowable radiation limits for water.
Since EPA has failed to update its standard, any nuclear plant leak that regulators deem “safe” would fail to protect any individual that falls outside that Reference Man standard. It wouldn’t protect your 96-lb., 102-year-old grandmother, or my 7-year-old daughter, or my 3-year-old son. And certainly not the 32-week-old fetus in my co-worker’s womb.
In my opinion, until or unless the U.S. EPA cleans up its regulatory act and does away with this antiquated Reference Man model altogether, folks in Georgia —and really anywhere in the vicinity of a nuclear power plant—better hit the gym or the bakery. Because right now, in the event of a U.S. nuclear disaster, weighing in at 154 lbs. and 5 feet 7 inches might be the only thing you can count on.
For more about this effort, visit the website for the Healthy from the Start campaign, directed by The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.