|Cameco uranium processing plant, Port Hope, Ontario, Canada|
I know people who know people who worked at Cameco in the 1970s, and so I know anecdotes about workers who got contaminated and were told to take a few days off, drink a lot of beer, and "wash it out of the system." It sounded like an exaggerated tale, but now that I have read this government report, I realize that this is basically the official policy. The government's conclusion is that toxic effects are temporary, uranium is flushed from the body and no long-term health effects have ever been observed.
But this is more of the willful ignorance of many pro and anti-nuclear arguments. Like the proverbial drunk who has lost his keys in the dark, many advocates search only under the street lamp. In this case, the government studies willfully ignore numerous studies of uranium and depleted uranium toxicity done in recent years that have concluded the opposite of the optimistic assessment. Apparently, government scientists cannot find or comprehend these studies, but any amateur such as myself can find these studies and understand their import. Examples to get readers started:
The official answer is that there “…will be a better socio-economic and natural environment for future generations… For the individual resident, the benefit will be peace of mind, achieved through the removal of questions and potential concerns regarding low-level radioactive waste and contaminated soils on their property or elsewhere, and the knowledge that the material is being managed safely for many generations.” In other words, the scientists know it’s all unnecessary, but politics requires them to appease and comfort an ignorant and emotional public with the theatrics of what will at least be a grand make-work program. It’s just part of the price to pay for the "clean, carbon-free energy" that supplies over half of Ontario’s electricity needs. Additional evidence of this patronizing attitude is seen in the fact that it is impossible to find quantitative data on the contamination in the Port Hope area. Reporters have failed to ask about it, and the contamination is always referred to only as “low-level waste.” Government scientists seem to think that the public could never interpret what measurements imply about health consequences, so it is best not to confuse them with all that talk of sieverts, curies, becquerels and rads. Additionally, the public is not told the inventory of radionuclides and chemical toxins that are in the soil.
As Lady Gaga said, pray for Japan.