Plutonium Cancer Risk May Be Higher Than Thought | Top
The New Scientist reported on 18 July that a new report written by radiation experts for the UK government highlights the cancer risk from exposure to plutonium may be ten times higher than is allowed for in calculating international safety limits.
The experts are unanimous in saying that low-level radiation emitted by plutonium may cause more damage to human cells than previously believed.
Over the last 60 years, nuclear weapons tests and nuclear power plants have released several tons of plutonium into the environment. Concern over the harmfulness of plutonium is growing because of discoveries about the subtle effects of low-level radiation.
Researchers in Europe and North America have shown that the descendants of cells that seem to survive radiation unharmed can suffer delayed damage, a phenomenon known as "genomic instability."
Cells adjacent to those that are irradiated can also sustain damage, known as "the bystander effect." An increase was found in the number of mutations in small pieces of DNA called mini-satellites that are passed from one generation to the next.
The fear is that these effects could trigger cancers and other ill effects.
Written by the Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters (CERRIE), the report is due to be published in the next few months.
The committee includes 12 specialists from the UK government's National Radiological Protection Board, the nuclear industry, universities and environmental groups.
All members of the committee agree that the margin of uncertainty over the risks of plutonium and similar radionuclides inside the body "could extend over at least an order of magnitude." CERRIE Chairman Dudley Goodhead, stated, "This should be borne in mind by those making judgments and policy decisions on low-level internal radiation."
Source: New Scientist.com, 18 July 2004.
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