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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To The Peace River Record-Gazette regarding a reader's letter on the subject of comparing CANDU emissions with exposure to X-rays:

(published 2008 October 11th in the on-line edition)


Radiation Explained

To the Editor,

Brenda Brochu questions the comparison of radiation in a nuclear power plant to that received from a chest X-ray, due to the radiation sources being very different. In fact, one of the features of radiation dosimetry is the ability to compare different types of ionizing radiation directly.

In other words, it doesn't matter that X-rays are photons of light that mostly pass through your body, while the radiation in a nuclear plant comes in a variety of forms (gamma rays, X-rays, alpha particles, beta particles, neutrons) from a variety of radionuclides.

What matters is that:

  1. Radiation dose is reported in units that are equal across the board; i.e., the reported dose automatically accounts for the different health effects of different types of radiation: a mSv of alpha radiation is equal to a mSv of X-ray radiation.

  2. Nuclear power plants are designed to contain close to 100% of the radiation they generate, even in extreme accidents. The amount that does leave the plant is less than what a coal plant emits, which is far less than your natural background dose, and a small percentage of what you'd get from chest X-ray (including if you lived on the boundary of the plant and ingested only locally-derived food and drink).

This includes tritium, which is one of the safest radionuclides emitted from a CANDU or any other nuclear plant, explaining why the allowable regulatory drinking-water limit for tritium is usually higher than for other radionuclides.

Unfortunately, Greenpeace recently published an error-prone report by the U.K.'s Ian Fairlie which tells a different story. To me it is unconscionable and negligent to suggest that children and pregnant woment should not live near a nuclear plant, with absolutely no basis in scientific fact. This fear-mongering for political gain is terrorism by the very definition of the word.

Those who wish to read a critique of the Greenpeace report by an international expert on radiation dosimetry, Dr. Richard Osborne, can access his report at www.nuclearfaq.ca/ReviewofGreenpeacereport_Final.pdf.


Dr. Jeremy Whitlock
Manager, Non-Proliferation & Safeguards
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.
personal website: "The Canadian Nuclear FAQ" www.nuclearfaq.ca

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