Saturday, May 25, 2013

BEAR Report 1956

I've been looking once again at the text of a 49 page report issued by the National Academy of Sciences in (1956):

The Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation: A Report to the Public from a Study by The National Academies of Science. Washington: National Academy of Sciences-National Research Council. Available at the Babel Haith Trust,;view=1up;seq=3.

Majia here: The report is a summary of findings by six committees: genetics, pathology, fisheries, agriculture and food supplies, meteorology, oceanography and fisheries and disposal of radioactive waste. 

The 1956 summary report begins by noting that although radioactive decay has always existed in the environment, substantial increases in atomic activity from nuclear testing and nuclear energy could have ‘profound effects on all forms of life.’

The report warns:
when a world-wide atomic power industry becomes fully developed, its accumulated waste products might represent more radiation than would be released in an atomic war. Of course, this radiation will be imprisoned, not broadcast. But the point underscores the magnitude of the coming problem.Secondly, it becomes clear in this report that even very low levels of radiation can have serious biological effects. (p. 2)
The report concludes by discussing at some length the dangers posed by nuclear power plant accidents, albeit concluding that accidents were 'unlikely in a properly designed reactor.' (p. 32)

We have now seen with Chernobyl and Fukushima that the accumulated waste products from nuclear plant accidents can indeed be 'broadcast' thousands of miles through accidents occurring in purportedly safe reactors.

The scientists whose research was summarized in the 1956 BEAR report included some AEC representatives from Oak Ridge and Argonne national laboratories. Their voice can be seen heard in the text of the report (e.g., accidents unlikely in properly designed reactors), but the voice of concerned geneticists rings louder, especially when read in the contemporary context.

Scientists such as A. H. Stutevant and H.J. Muller, who were both on the genetics committee, warned that radiation damage from atmospheric testing and atomic energy pose significant risks for human reproduction across time in the form of germ-line genetic damage.

The AEC voices, in contrast, seek to limit definitions of harm to direct effects from acute exposure to radiation.

Even today this sort of battle is waged between (1) those who study ionizing radiation effects on human DNA sequencing and expression on the one hand and (2) those who promote radiation hormesis on the other hand.

The epidemiology data on actual human population exposed to radiation fallout supports the former group's conclusion that low levels of radiation can have unexpected effects on human cell reproduciton. For example, a summary of deleterious effects from atmospheric testing concludes that they will persist into the future:

Simon, Steven, André Bouville, and Charles Land. "Fallout from Nuclear Weapons Tests and Cancer Risks Exposures 50 years ago still have health implications today that will continue into the future." American Scientist 94.1 (2006): 48-57.

Majia Here: What I find amazing is that the 1956 BEAR report was far more radical in its efforts and conclusions than any today aimed at mapping and evaluating the effects of radiation on human populations, despite the following:

Tritium emissions from hundreds of global nuclear power plants are ubiquitous and impossible to filter 

Long-lived radioisotopes, such as radiocesium, uranium, and plutonium, have increased in our environment because of atmospheric testing and because of countless nuclear accidents

Sources of exposure to electro-magnetic radiation have increased with new medical imaging technologies, contemporary household appliances and electronic communication technologies

Those of us alive today carry the genetic mutations that were produced by atmospheric testing in the 1950s and 1960s as well as mutations from other nuclear disasters, including Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Genomic comparisons, were they available, would no doubt find that the human genome today has far more mutations than found in the human genome of 1950. The rate of increase is no doubt far greater than would be expected by those natural 'background' levels around prior to human industrialization in the 1800s.
In 1956, scientists got together and talked about radiation's environmental and health effects. It wasn't a neutral discussion. The BEAR report includes conflicted voices. Those conflicts are important in generating public involvement and debate.

We need a similar project today, aimed at assembling and dissecting the range of studies on radiation bio-accumulation and bio-magnification in the eco-system. We need another public report. It wouldn't be neutral, but I'm confident the severity and urgency of the issue of radiation contamination would prevail. 


Majia's Blog: “Systematic Study in the First BEAR Study on the ...
Jul 4, 2012 – Majia's Blog: “Systematic Study in the First BEAR Study on the Effects of Ionizing Radiation”. A wonderful exposition and explanation of a ...

1 comment:

  1. Nowadays the same geneticists from the 1950s who made those warnings would be considered to be crackpots and loonies by the nuclear establishment. There was more factual information available back then from the mass media then there is now. It is so much worse now.