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The great CANDU cover-up.

Two of the most biased health studies ever created for a government were released by Canada's Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) in 1991. One study examined birth defects and infant deaths near the Pickering nuclear station in Ontario, and another looked into child leukemia near four Ontario nuclear facilities, including the Pickering nuclear station. This article examines the reasons for this bias and related issues concerning the political economy of Canada's CANDU nuclear reactor.

While both studies claim to have found no relationship between radioactive emissions and citizen health, I believe that despite their denials, their epidemiological evidence in fact indicates that radioactive emissions from the Pickering station are indeed causing Down's Syndrome, nervous system defects and leukemia in local children. First, it is necessary to look at what the studies actually found.

The actual findings

The AECB birth defect study found a statistically significant increase in Down's syndrome in Pickering: 24 cases, with 12.9 expected, or 86 per cent above the provincial rate. These cases were found to be correlated with tritium releases to the air from the plant. Although not a statistically significant correlation, this requires further research, especially since the elimination of methodological biases in the study discussed below could well strengthen the correlation.

This is a key finding indicative of radiation effects since Down's Syndrome in children has been associated with parental radiation exposure by researchers in Canada, the United States, Ireland, Scotland, England, Denmark, Germany, Italy and India. The radiation sources were maternal x-rays, high background radiation, or radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl (1986) and Windscale (1957) nuclear accidents.

The same birth defect study found a statistically significant correlation of central nervous system (CNS) birth defects with large releases of tritium to air: five Pickering infants with CNS defects (anencephaly, microcephaly, spina bifida with hydrocephalus, and two others whose defect code was not on record) were born in January-July 1978, following the airborne tritium releases of April-October 1977. Medical experts link CNS birth defects to radiation exposure, and the discovery of microcephaly in Pickering after a major release of tritium to air is unequivocal evidence of a radiation effect since microcephaly was a unique type of birth defect found after the atomic bombing of Japan.

The AECB child leukemia study found an increase in child leukemia about the Pickering nuclear power station, one which was nearly statistically significant. This finding relates to the first study since leukemia and Down's Syndrome are interrelated genetic diseases: 5 per cent of all children with Down's Syndrome have leukemia, and chromosomal studies elsewhere of these two genetic diseases reveal they have similar chromosomal abnormalities. Many studies elsewhere link leukemia to parental radiation exposure. The real possibility that radiation caused both the increased child leukemia and Down's Syndrome in Pickering must be studied.

Biases in the AECB birth defect study

Yet the AECB birth defect study and the AECB leukemia study are riddled with biases which hide stronger findings of the health effects of radioactive emissions in Pickering. These studies even appear to be "fixed" to hide health effects by the "overly conservative" methodologies of the researchers.

For instance, in the last few years, pregnancy screening has become routine and women can elect to abort when major birth defects are found. Most do. Ultrasound pregnancy screening is commonplace, and this would detect foetuses with multiple birth defects, such as I'd found in Pickering in my 1991 report. Because of the well-known male bias in the medical profession, this isn't taken seriously, and was completely ignored by the AECB birth defect study. Yet it is a mechanism by which the effects which industrial pollution have upon reproduction are hidden, in Pickering and elsewhere. While freedom to choose is a necessity, data on the state of health of the foetus and reasons for the abortion must be collected and analyzed to track down industrial sources of reproductive damage. This isn't presently done.

Many other biases exist in the two AECB studies. The raw data of the birth defect study was recoded so as to eliminate multiple birth defects from the study. This was completely unjustified, since multiple birth defects may well reflect a greater degree of genetic damage due to radioactive emissions.

To save time, the AECB birth defect study researchers unjustifiably aggregated birth defects into 22 categories, from over 200 types known. Down's Syndrome was one of only four birth defects looked at individually. The AECB denies that increases in birth defects rarer than Down's Syndrome can be of significance, unlike other researchers. The AECB and others must recognize that increases in rare diseases can be very significant and can indicate the health effects of industrial pollution. Such data aggregation could thereby mask increases in other birth defects due to radiation. The study also ignored carbon-14 radioactive emissions also released in abundance from our nuclear reactors, which may well cause still more genetic damage, and which likely behave like tritium. It also ignored radiation exposures in the months before conception when radiation damage to sex cells has been

found to occur in male British nuclear workers. Other biases exist in the study.

Bias in the leukemia study

A major bias distorts the findings of the AECB leukemia study. The 25 km radius was unjustifiably large, and much larger than that used in leukemia studies in other countries. The AECB report itself admits 25 km is too large, and inappropriate for the suburban Pickering area. Studies in the USA are now carefully examining populations within radii of 3.2 km about industrial facilities for leukemia, about eight times less.

Leukemia cases in Pickering were counted and diluted with those in high population Scarborough within the 25 km radius. This likely masked a statistically significant cluster of child leukemia in Pickering. In contrast by correctly focussing on Pickering data alone, the AECB birth defect study found the statistically significant Down's syndrome cluster.

In the face of such biases, new studies are obviously required. A new leukemia study should be done, using Pickering health data alone. A new birth defect study must also be conducted without the biases identified. Yet some of these biases are "institutional" in that they are built into the way which epidemiologists and public health officers traditionally operate, which tends to hide the health effects of pollution. Some progressive epidemiologists are beginning to recognize such biases for what they are, and to eliminate them.

These biases lead one to conclude that such AECB research is not objective, and this means that Canada has performed virtually no objective research into the health effects of these two radioactive substances. Our epidemiological studies in Pickering are heavily biased, and Canada has also historically neglected to perform fundamental lab research. Canada's reputation as a country which neglects research is most evident in its neglect of research into the health effects of radiation, and pollution generally. Lab studies using test animals and chromosomes must be performed to determine the actual amount of genetic damage occurring in the chromosomes of the residents of Pickering.

It appears that Canada hasn't sought to discover anything which might impede the sales of our CANDU nuclear reactors, or our lucrative sales of uranium. The reasons for this are rooted in economic self-interest, military secrecy and medical scientific biases in support of this.

The 1988 McArthur report

I've been at the centre of the controversy since December 1988, when Durham Nuclear Awareness, an Oshawa public interest group, released my study into fatal birth defects, infant deaths and tritium emissions from the Pickering nuclear power station. Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, created by neutron activation of heavy water in the CANDU nuclear reactor. Tritium is also the hydrogen in the H-Bomb and supplies the horrendous energy of the fusion explosion.

My report pointed out that increased infant deaths, and certain types of fatal birth defects occurred during years of elevated emissions of tritium from the Pickering nuclear station. This was validated by the British radiobiologist Dr. Barry Lambert in 1990, who found that the relationship between annual tritium emissions to water and infant deaths in Pickering was statistically significant, from 1974 to 1985.

Annual comparisons such as this appear to be necessary to uncover the health effects of tritium released to water. Since 1985, pregnancy screening and elective abortions seem to be reducing the relationship. My 1988 study sparked the AECB birth defect study.

As an editor employed with the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) from 1978 to early 1988, I'd become concerned about the published research revealing the genetic effects which tritium has on lab animals, studies which aren't conducted in Canada and which few people in Canada are aware exist. Our CANDU nuclear reactors release large amounts of tritium to the environment, and far more than other types of reactor. Tritium has been found to cause birth defects, sterility, infant deaths and cancer in trace amounts in lab animals.

Tritium researchers in other countries, like Dr. Mewissen of the University of Chicago, have spoken out in vain efforts to warn the public about the genetic effects of tritium (see Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 1984). These researchers are aware that tritium accumulates in chromosomes and causes much greater genetic damage than international radiation standards acknowledge.

CANDU a grand failure

It is time to recognize that our nuclear power program, and the CANDU reactor, may not be a major achievement of Canadian technology, but actually a grand failure. The reality is that it is a relic of World War II and Cold War power politics. The CANDU design was originally created to breed plutonium for allied nuclear weapons, as India also was able to do when it used a Canadian nuclear reactor to breed plutonium for its peaceful' nuclear explosion in 1974.

The international radiation standards, which greatly underestimate the health effects of tritium and radiation generally, are mainly based on the population health studies resulting from the atomic bombing of Japan in 1945. These studies were influenced by the military secrecy surrounding the occupation of Japan by the Americans after WW II. Dr. Alice Stewart, Professor Emeritus of the University of Birmingham (who first discovered that maternal x-rays cause child leukemia), has revealed just how bad such data are, since many people, although radiation-exposed, died of non-radiation effects in the harsh post-war conditions. The genetic effects of radiation such as Down's Syndrome were completely missed in the studies of radiation-exposed Japanese, and the risks of cancer were severely underestimated.

Much radiation research, like that of the AECB, is designed to agree with these findings. The International Commission on Radiological Protection (the ICRP, which recommends the international radiation standards which Canada follows), the AECB and Ontario Hydro all actively suppress research findings which don't agree with the radiation standards based on the erroneous Japanese data. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that the medical profession too utilizes the same radiation standards, and has become an unwitting accomplice by defending radiation standards which cause birth defects and cancer, even when used in medical diagnosis and therapy.

Yet some have found the CANDU reactor to be useful. American multinational subsidiaries in Canada are great beneficiaries of CANDU construction contracts. These companies and others also benefit from artificially low nuclear electricity prices, which encourage our low-tech, low-productivity, inefficient and wasteful resource-based industry. The CANDU reactor helps Canada lead the world in the inefficient use of energy and technology. The Progressive Conservative governments of Ontario until 1985 used CANDU construction contracts as part of their empire-building strategy, which resulted in the bloated bureaucracy of Ontario Hydro, nuclear plant construction costs which were wildly over budget and unprecedented provincially guaranteed debt. Over $30 billion is now "invested" in nuclear facilities in Ontario.

This is an investment in a Chernobyl-style technology: Ontario reactors have already experienced two catastrophic fuel channel accidents and have required multi-million dollar retubing efforts. While employed by the CNA, in 1987 I also personally learned from an Ontario Hydro expert of an instance in which Ontario Hydro's Nuclear Studies and Safety Department apparently hid the risk of a Chernobyl-scale nuclear accident occurring at the Pickering nuclear station, and thereby misled the provincial commission of Dr. Kenneth Hare which investigated the safety of Ontario's nuclear reactors.

When CANDU reactors have been built overseas, scandal and bribery has occurred, paid for by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation which sells them. Overseas, the reactors have been built in authoritarian regimes where democratic freedoms have been restricted.

Yet the main failure of the CANDU reactor may be its effect on people, and the health effects of the CANDU reactor could well be great. In my 1991 report, I've estimated it has caused several hundred birth defects in Pickering: fully one third of the birth defects occurring in Pickering may be due to radioactive emissions. It may also have caused many infant deaths, cases of cancer, sterility, and other medical conditions. Due to the biases of traditional public health monitoring which hide the health effects of industrial pollution, only community health studies of Pickering families will uncover the truth. Many Ontario uranium miners have definitely died from lung cancer in a radiation effect due to underground uranium mining. Much of that uranium was used by the American weapons program.

The great CANDU cover-up

It may be understandable that the AECB is eager to prove that citizen health is not being affected by radioactive emissions from the Pickering nuclear power station. Yet to sponsor studies which are so blatantly biased and scientifically indefensible must at the very least raise questions about the objectivity of the AECB and its researchers. It should raise questions about the very integrity of the AECB, and those of the Canadian scientific and medical establishment who performed and endorsed the studies.

Readers of Canadian Dimension are already familiar with the dissimulation of the federal government concerning job losses in Canada due to the Canada-US free trade deal. What Canadians don't realize is that similar deceit underlies the activities of the Atomic Energy Control Board, a federal regulatory agency, which sponsors pseudo-scientific studies on the health effects of our CANDU reactors. just as it is widely believed that a cover-up of the health effects of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident is underway, so is one apparently underway concerning the health effects of the Pickering nuclear station.

The Mulroney Government must stop hiding behind biased neo-conservative health studies and, in collaboration with local governments, accept its responsibility to honestly determine the degree of harm this dangerous and unresearched technology has caused. Canada must also lead the world away from this destructive, military-based technology into softer and benign energy paths, based on conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable and sustainable energy sources.

Anti-nuke groups targetted

In July 1988, a leaked AECL consultant's report suggested strategies by which AECL could interfere with and discredit 20 Canadian environmental groups. Groups which were targeted included Energy Probe and Dr. Rosalie Bertell's International Institute of Concern for Public Health (IICPH), both who've demonstrated their ability and expertise in revealing the major, genetic effects of radiation. AECL, Ontario Hydro and the AECB possess no experts able to objectively investigate the biological effects of radiation. The existence of the AECL report was alleged by representatives of the groups to be evidence that AECL was spying on Canadian environmental organizations, particularly since the report contained information which was not publicly available. Marcel Masse, then Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, warned AECL in the House of Commons that he won't tolerate any attempts by AECL to interfere or spy on Canadian environmental groups. Apparently by coincidence, in 1990, the Ontario Environmental Network, which has been specifically targeted for infiltration by the AECL report, was broken into and computers and a database of Canadian groups were stolen (Toronto Star, April 30, 1989).

Tritium targets DNA

Dr. Dieudonne J. Mewissen is Professor of Radiology at the University of Chicago and as a researcher who investigates the health effects of tritium in lab animals, he is very concerned about its genetic effects. His concerns were described in the article "Tritium warning" published in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 1984, and are excerpted here: "Tritium replaces ordinary hydrogen atoms and can incorporate into all body tissues, including ovaries and testes producing reproductive cells containing the genetic [material] DNA."

The ability of tritium to become assimilated into the cells of the body poses special concerns about its cumulative effects, says Mewissen. Indeed, it is known that in a contaminated environment the radiation dose from incorporation of tritium into cell components continues to accumulate for years -- eventually yielding to some molecular structures and particularly to DNA a total accumulated dose much larger that the average dose absorbed by the body as a whole, according to Mewissen. Hence his concern.

Mewissen believes the International Commission [on Radiological Protection] sets high tritium limits because it is generally assumed that tritium is evenly distributed into body tissues. "In fact," says Mewissen, "tritium becomes predominantly incorporated into DNA, thus irradiating selectively the cell nucleus at a relatively high dose rate as a consequence of the cell's very small volume."

"Where do you want the concrete containment structure to land?"

While employed by the Canadian Nuclear Association, in the fall of 1987 I learned that Ontario Hydro's Nuclear Studies and Safety Department had discovered that a Chernobyl-scale nuclear accident could occur at the Pickering "A" nuclear station. I heard the following dote from Keith Weaver, a consultant to Ontario Hydro's Nuclear studies and Safety Department. He'd heard it from his associate Richard Fluke of that department, who was involved in a key study into one of the most serious accident possible at the Pickering "A" nuclear station, one which involved a major loss of coolant accident with a loss of reactor shutdown capability. According to Fluke, the conclusion of the draft Ontario Hydro study could be framed as this question: "If there is such an accident at a reactor at the Pickering "A" nuclear station, the question want to ask is, where do you want the concrete containment structure to land?" The containment structure is the massive, reinforced concrete housing each reactor, and only a Chernobyl-scale explosion could cause it to become airborne.

This conclusion meant that a Chernobyl-scale nuclear accident is indeed possible at any one of the Pickering "A" reactors, which possess only one fast shutdown system (all other later CANDU reactors have two fast shutdown systems), Yet subsequently this conclusion was modified, and the final version of the study concluded that the accident scenario could have no such drastic consequences, only some burst pressure tubes and cracking of the reactor and containment structures.

The provincial commission of Dr. Kenneth Hare, the Ontario Nuclear Safety Review (ONSR), released its report in 1988 for which the Ontario Hydro report was prepared), and was thus able to assure Ontarians that a Chernobyl-scale accident couldn't occur at the Pickering "A" station, or anywhere in Ontario. Yet the draft Ontario Hydro report did conclude an accident of the scale and consequences of the Chernobyl nuclear accident could occur.

An "agents fee" by any other name ...

When CANDU reactors, were sold to Argentina and South Korea in the 1970s, mysterious multi-million dollar payments known as "agent fees" were made by AECL, which were alleged by Canadian Progressive Conservative MPs in 1977 to be bribes to Argentine and South Korean government officials to clinch the deals.

In 1985, the Argentine government revealed that a former Peronist economy minister, Jose Galbard, received about $4 million from AECL and a partner firm, paid into a Swiss bank account. The recipient of the even larger South Korean agent fees has never been revealed.

AECL has recently sold a second CANDU reactor to South Korea, yet at no point has it disclosed the possible genetic risks of radioactive emissions from its reactors to CANDU purchasers.

For several years, AECL has also spent millions of dollars as the main funder of the Canadian Nuclear Association's media advertising campaign promoting nuclear power via TV and magazine ads.

David McArthur has held editorial positions with the Canadian Nuclear Association and now writes about birth defects caused by nuclear power and other sources of industrial pollution. His reports are available from Conception Research of Toronto.
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Title Annotation:includes related articles; nuclear reactor in Ontario, Canada
Author:McArthur, David
Publication:Canadian Dimension
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Sep 1, 1992
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