Citizen group wants radiation tests done in Canada following Fukushima nuclear disaster

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      A Vancouver woman wants Canadian governments held more accountable for protecting public health in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. In an August 8 interview at the Georgia Straight office, Isabel Budke pointed out that citizens and nongovernmental organizations can exert a great deal more pressure on Health Canada and other regulators to improve monitoring, measuring, and reporting on radiation levels in water, soil, and food.

      “I really think we need to have localized and regional testing because, from what I understand, the plumes that have drifted over the Pacific Ocean with this radiation are touching down on different areas in different ways, depending on where the jet stream is going and what weather conditions are,” Budke said. “We can’t rely on testing results from the United States or testing that has been done somewhere else in the country. I think we need to have our own testing in B.C.”

      Budke, who has an SFU master’s degree in environmental and resource management, said that if governments won’t do this work, she wants the public to work collaboratively to have food, soil, and water tested. Her group has created a “Canadian Network for Radiation Awareness & Monitoring” website, which will post results from citizen-initiated laboratory tests.

      Last week, the Straight reported that on March 20, a Health Canada monitoring station in Sidney, B.C., detected iodine-131 at more than 300 times the background level. Despite this, Health Canada spokesperson Stéphane Shank told the Straight on August 9 from Ottawa that air-monitoring stations have shown that radiation levels are “minute” and pose “no risk” to Canadians.

      “Levels that are being detected are within the natural background radiation fluctuations that we would see on a normal, average day,” he claimed.

      Budke remains unconvinced. She lived in Germany after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear-reactor meltdown, which spewed radiation across Europe. At that time, she recalled milk being thrown out “by the tonne” because it was so contaminated. She added that to this day, meat from wild boars in Germany is sometimes discarded because these animals eat mushrooms, in which radioactive cesium bioaccumulates.

      “From the very first news about this Fukushima accident, I’ve been incredibly concerned about the Japanese people and what this means to them,” Budke said.

      On May 19, a group of Japanese scientists and engineers declared that three nuclear reactors had melted down at Fukushima. Budke expressed alarm about spent-fuel pools containing thousands of fuel rods, which were stored on top of the reactors’ buildings. They contained a mixture of uranium and plutonium. She said that the latter substance is so toxic that inhaling a particle smaller than a speck of dust creates a high risk of lung cancer.

      “We don’t know what the concentrations are because no one is measuring plutonium either in our food or in our water or in our soil or in our air,” Budke insisted. “And other really dangerous substances are strontium and uranium.”

      She also pointed out that Greenpeace has detected “incredibly high levels of radiation” in the waters off Japan. In addition, she said she’s particularly concerned about radionuclides—otherwise known as radioactive isotopes—which are atoms with an unstable nucleus that emit gamma rays. “I’ve been wondering as I was walking in the rain in April and in May: how radioactive is our rain in Vancouver?” she continued. “And there is just no information. And I’ve been wondering: is this accumulating in our soil, and is the radioactivity being taken up by plants that we grow on our soil and that animals are eating, such as cows?”¦And I’ve been wondering about other things, such as fruits and vegetables and mushrooms. And I’ve been wondering about seafood that swims around in the Pacific Ocean.”

      Shank said that people shouldn’t be concerned about rain. “Essentially, if we’re talking in the context of the events that unfolded in Japan earlier this year, we can appreciate that the radioactivity that may make its way here in Canada would be in the air,” Shank said. “It would be the initial source and the primary source of detection, as well—and again, understanding that rain falls from the skies, which is where air would also travel, which is why the monitoring stations focus on air testing.”

      Budke emphasized that the effects of exposure to low-level radiation accumulate in the body over time, leading to serious health problems. According to her, it’s not possible to test for small amounts of radiation with Geiger counters because they’re not precise enough. “It requires really highly sophisticated instrumentation to do what’s called alpha and beta and gamma spectroscopy,” she stated. “I’ve come to the conclusion that this has to be done by an authorized agency. There are actually two laboratories in Canada that are certified to test for radionuclides, and so we would be using one or both of those.”

      She hopes citizens and nongovernmental organizations will collect and send one or more samples of soil, water, and food to these labs. Budke said testing costs approximately $200 per sample, not including shipping, and there will have to be guidelines regarding how this material would be packaged and prepared.

      At first, she hopes people will pay the cost. She hopes that later, fundraising can help defray expenses. “I would really like to find out that we have scraped by this global disaster without severe health effects,” Budke said. “But right now, we don’t know that. I would like to see that confirmed.”




      Aug 11, 2011 at 9:54am

      Paranoid much?


      Aug 11, 2011 at 10:44am

      I don't see the problem with increasing our efforts to detect possible radiation. This was a rather large Nuclear disaster, and at the very least, its a job creating data gathering exercise.

      Steve Newton

      Aug 11, 2011 at 11:29am

      Bravo Isabel! Thank you for caring about our future!

      mike saunders

      Aug 11, 2011 at 11:31am

      If she is so concerned she should go buy a radiation detector. I believe the scientists at Health Canada when they say there is no risk. Let's not waste tax dollars pandering to peoples' unfounded fears.
      It is really a no win situation with these people. If the government looks at the data and concludes there is no risk and declines to waste money on pointless monitoring then they are "covering up some secret horror". If the government caves into their fears and monitors the radiation, then these people take it as proof that the situation must be serious.
      Once again the Georgia Straight is sinking to tabloid journalism. Come on GS, pull up your socks!

      mike saunders

      Aug 11, 2011 at 11:36am

      LostMyGlasses...The earthquake and tsunami were indeed disasters with more than 25000 people killed. The nuclear plants have killed how many with their radiation? Oh yeah... exactly zero. Not much of a disaster other than the cost to clean it up.


      Aug 11, 2011 at 12:16pm

      Mike, its unfortunate you've missed the point. Firstly, I have questions regarding the economic feasibility of safe Nuclear power. Privately operated, few corporations will expend the necessary labour and money properly safeguarding nuclear power. Doing so frankly costs too much to the public sector.

      Secondly, high radiation rates wont necessarily kill people instantaneously like a Tsunami or Earthquake, and I find you throwing out those as 'real killers' as opposed to radiation to be disingenuous.

      As I said, these types of meltdowns provide an opportunity to study, and not conducting thorough experiments or collecting a variety of data would be irresponsible.

      David Bourgeois

      Aug 11, 2011 at 5:59pm

      Nuclear power?
      Death behind your daydreams.


      Aug 12, 2011 at 5:38am

      And what is the government supposed to do about the radiation? Maybe put a lead umbrella over the country?

      another concerned citizen

      Aug 12, 2011 at 8:41am

      check out the youtube geiger counter readings by truckers in western canada. if its not a concern, why do the the geiger counters read "high raidiation"? the cdn govt is part of the coverup. if its not a problem, why did health care canada disallow people to buy treatments for iodine poisoning without a doctor's prescription?