A plea for stronger radiation standards in Europe — and at home


I’m involved in a lot of environmental issues these days, but there was one cause that got me started: Fighting back against radiation poisoning. My first big environmental case, more than two decades ago, involved the hidden dangers of radiation exposure in the Gulf Coast oil patch. My clients were small business owners and their workers in Laurel, Miss., who cleaned out the pipes used for oil drilling; their customers — including Big Oil icons like Shell and Chevron — never told them that the residue, or scale, coating these pipes was highly radioactive. Some of the workers were sickened, and our investigation even showed that these radioactive pipes were being re-used to build school playgrounds. Yet to this day, many Americans don’t know that so much radioactive waste is produced by Big Oil, and that it’s so frequently dumped improperly.

I bring up this history to speak to a broader truth: As a society, we continue to downplay the threat from radiation exposure. Sometimes a big nuclear event grasps our attention; indeed, the news that continues to emerge from the Fukushima catastrophe in Japan has spotlighted some of its alarming and ongoing effects, including mutations in butterflies and contaminated bluefin tuna off the U.S. coast. But as I learned in Mississippi, a high-profile accident at a nuclear power plant is just one form of radiation pollution. Meanwhile, science continues to learn more about the negative impacts of long-term exposure to radioactivity. Our safety standards need to be as up-to-date — and as stringent — as possible.

Chris Busby is an expert on radioactivity whom I’ve worked with in the past. He’s a longtime top science advisor to the Green Party in the United Kingdom, and he’s currently a visiting professor at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. Chris Busby is a gadfly and his work is highly controversial at times, but this week he wrote me about his latest cause, which I strongly endorse: Updating the basic safety standards for radioactivity at the European Atomic Energy Commission, or EURATOM.

He writes in part:

In 2011 in Vilnius, Lithuania I helped found a new organisation, the Committee on Nuclear Justice (www.nuclearjustice.org), to investigate ways in which legal challenges to ensure that the nuclear industry and military pollution of the planet can be halted. It turns out that the key is Human Rights and the Environment. Every individual has a right to live in an environment that is not harmful to their health. It is clear from peer reviewed research that emerged after 1996 when the EURATOM BSS [Basic Safety Standards] was agreed that people living in radioactively contaminated areas are suffering ill health. It is also clear from new research that the scientific basis of the EURATOM BSS is no longer correct.

Therefore we now launch the first initiative to force a re-Justification of the standards for radiation protection in Europe. The template petition, together with explanations and a list of the main scientific evidence required to show that re-Justification is necessary can be found on and downloaded from the website www.nuclearjustice.org

If you care about the environment — and presumably that’s why you come here — I hope you’ll take a couple of minutes to visit Chris Busby’s new site and support his new campaign. Nuclear justice isn’t just a cause for Europeans. Threats from exposure to radiation can and do exist all over the world — from the red soil of central Mississippi to the wastelands of Chernobyl to the rocky shores of Japan.

Here at home, many critical regulations regarding radiation safety in this country were developed in the 1950s — when the atomic age was in its infancy and virtually no independent research had yet been done on the health effects of radiation exposure. Remarkably, they have not been updated since. Busby’s research has proven that the methodologies used to develop our federal standards are seriously outdated. Yet even the recent tragic events at Fukushima failed to spark a national debate about the 21st Century threats from radioactivity.  Hopefully, stricter standards in Europe might finally inspire our own lax regulators and asleep-at-the-wheel politicians here in America.

Please visit Chris Busby’s new website and join his the petition for new EURATOM safety standards at http://nuclearjustice.org/?p=50

You can watch many of Busby’s commentaries on radiation pollution on YouTube. Here, he makes the case for his European Parliament petition in a video: . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTUDkYp1okc&feature=plcp Here, he talks about the cancer risk from Fukushima http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0H-mtsdsgg There’s a collection of Busby’s YouTube postings here: http://www.youtube.com/channel/HConpYMaju9rM

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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