Canadian officials reacted too slowly to Japan nuclear radiation concerns, B.C. expert says

Canadian authorities should have spoken to the public sooner about any potential threat from the Japan nuclear crisis, says a University of B.C. expert.

“I think the response has been fine,” said Michael Brauer, a professor in the UBC school of environmental health. “I think it just came a few days too late, which is a little bit unfortunate.”

“Radiation is one of those things that we know people have a very strong perception of its risk,” he told the Straight by phone today (March 17). “It’s something that I think you just need to be very open about right away.”

Anne Trudel, manager of environmental health and safety at TRIUMF, said there’s little to worry about in B.C.

“I think there’s way too much concern with regard to radioactivity given what the worst-case hazard could be,” Trudel told the Straight by phone today.

“We might see a little bit if there was to be a significant release from Fukushima [nuclear power plant] all depending on how the wind flows,” she said. “But we’re exposed to background radiation that comes from radioactivity that’s present in the earth’s crust and cosmic rays that rain down on us from the atmosphere.”

“The impact from the little bit that might waft over even in the worst-case scenario would be insignificant compared to that natural background radiation.”

Health Canada has said the troubled nuclear reactors in Japan “are not expected to pose a health risk to residents of British Columbia or the rest of Canada”.

“Given the thousands of kilometers between Japan and Canada's west coast, any radioactive material that might be pushed eastward via wind patterns is expected to be dispersed over the ocean long before it reaches Canada,” Health Canada said.

Comments (12) Add New Comment
Strategis
It's the responsibility of governments to be open and transparent about risks to public safety so that people can prepare for them in a timely fashion. This won't create panic, but reduce it in the long run. People need to develop faith in their governments and scientific authorities to deal with them straightly, so that if and when a disaster strikes, people are prepared not only physically but psychologically to assess information and make informed choices. This takes practise and is a mindset that can be shaped by policy and how information is doled out and framed. The precautionary principle needs to be a guiding principle, but not taken to an absurd level. Secrecy in the name of security and public safety has been taken to excessive levels and needs to be rolled back tremendously.
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kitts
What happens to all the marine life? And do we eat that marine life?
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Unknown
BULL FUCKING SHIT IT'S NOT GOING TO AFFECT B.C.
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michisle
I agree that the reaction of the government was too slow, and that more transparency delivered immediately is needed, then and now. I've written a post about the slow reaction of the government, and the media, with regards to Japan's nuclear crisis on my blog, michellebuchanan.ca. Please, let me know what you think. http://michellebuchanan.ca
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Banana Eater
@kitts @Unknown, when radiation levels reaching BC are found, just compare the levels the Banana equivalent dose: http://goo.gl/sxeF
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SIP
We're on our own, nobody in government wants to stick their neck out.
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Tony Jensen
Can Anne Trudel explain how 6% of the possible 600,000 melting rods being MOX makes a difference?
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Lyn
When is huminity going to learn the earth is too fragile for nuclear power
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perplexed
@ banana eater.

Your response is a perfect example of how non-experts can be so easily manipulated by the media regarding science issues. I'm certainly not an expert in physics, but I do know a thing or two about how certain entities exploit one's lack of scientific understanding to mislead. The banana example is a great one. First off, different types of radiation from different elements can have very different effects. In simple terms, although the radiation from a banana may not be caused by plutonium specifically, a similar level of radiation from plutonium in the atmosphere may have a more serious effect on human health than the radiation coming from a banana. Just measuring the ambient atmospheric level of radiation and comparing it to a banana isn't a useful comparison to rest your health on. In order to get a reliable picture of the potential health effects of this, we need the raw radiation data from the point source in order to model effects here. We also need realtime measurements in the air, and the amounts that deposit on the ground and water here. Just measuring the ambient level in the air is not enough. We need estimates of how much we will take into our bodies through inhalation, ingestion and on our skin. We also need to factor in how long we will be exposed to these intakes. It will probably be years. Cesium for example has a half life on the order of decades. Also, radiation tends to fall out with rain. Since coastal BC is a pretty rainy place but up against some mountains, my guess would be that a significant amount of the stuff passing by will end up being dropped here, and will end up in the environment and the food chain and in us. Will this be harmful? That's what I want to know. And that's what i want Canada's/BC's government to illustrate, with data, science and information. Not just some two bit slippery sound byte in the mainstream media.
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Goldorak
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Dimitri
The problem is that politicians have an inherent conflict of interest with the public. We want to take the best measure possible in order to protect our health (i.e., get KI, stay indoors, flee the country?), whereas politicians' primary concern is to prevent panic, and only expose a problem that they can successfully manage given the available resources. Therefore by definition, game theory would suggest that it's every politician's job to lie about it and try to downgrade the risk. We have seen that in Chernobyl (a great free online documentary that exposes what really happened there can be found here: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-battle-of-chernobyl/), we are seeing it in Japan, and we are seeing it here too: why don't they announce to the public the type and level of radiation that was measured in the W.Coast? Where is the data so that people can decide how to protect themselves based on their comfort level of risk? All they say is "level not harmful", so nobody can dispute if it's harmful or not.

And something else: any level of radiation increases the probability of developing long-term cancers. A very small level of exposure does mean very small risk, but does not mean no risk at all. The statement "we found traces of radiation that have no health risk" is a manufactured myth that only serves the industry, not supported by any scientific evidence. I have post doctoral studies in physics and biochemistry.
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Reg Wannamaker
I was involved in the radiation problem
at Chalk River, Ontario and I can tell you that
radiation from Japan cannot be ruled out in B.C.
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