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Hazards from Nuclear Radiation and Russian Asbestos

Written By krishna on Monday, November 14, 2011 | 11:01 PM

ToxicsWatch Allianc(TWA) Occupational Health India (OHI)


Mr Gadzi M Akemedov,
First Secretary
Embassy of Russian Federation
Dy. Director
Russian Centre of Science & Culture
New Delhi

Subject- Hazards from Nuclear Radiation and Russian Asbestos


With reference to our conversation on November 4, 2011 at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi after the Public Lecture on “How Germany Decided to Give up Nuclear Energy” by Professor Dr.-Ing. Matthias Kleiner, Co-chairman, Ethics Commission for a Safe Energy Supply on behalf of Dr. Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor.

Following his lecture I had made the following observations and asked him some questions:

1. Germany’s decision to abandon Nuclear Energy is 25 years late. Had this decision been taken in the aftermath of Chenobyl’s nuclear disaster by the then German Chancellor, Mr Helmut Kohl, the world have become free of dangers of catastrophe from nuclear energy related initiatives.

2. It appears that women leaders are more concerned and sensitive to the plight of future generations. Consequently women leaders like Dr Angela Merkel in Germany, Ms Mamta Banerjee in West Bengal and Ms J Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu have decided to abandon nuclear energy. More than 15,000 people have been gathering every day from villages around Koodankulam from three districts of Kanaykumari, Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli. They are protesting against the two 1,000 MW nuclear reactors. Moved by the villagers' struggle, Justice V R Krishna Iyer (Retd) had written to Ms. Jayalalithaa, "I plead with you on bended knees to judge sensitively to the appeal of the masses and show compassion and political wisdom without further delay" making her act just after a land slide electoral victory. Prior to her unpredicted victory, Ms Banerjee had promised the people in West Bengal that if her party comes to power, it will abandon the nuclear power project. Her Government announced it in the State Assembly. They are not acting in isolation. Italy's prime minister who plans to resume the country's nuclear programme has been voted against, the Swiss government is also phasing out nuclear plants

3. Truth has consistently been a casualty in debates on nuclear issue. How can there be a truthful dialogue as long as the agreement between International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), World Health Organisation (WHO) exists. IAEA-WHO cannot be trusted with sharing truth about the past nuclear catastrophe and such imminent disasters in India because of a 52 years old treaty between WHO and IAEA, which is heavily influenced by Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), established in 1975. Notably, on 28th May 1959, the WHO ’s assembly voted into force an obscure but important agreement with the IAEA founded just two years before in 1957. This agreement has given the IAEA an effective veto on any actions by the WHO that relate in any way to nuclear energy. This prevents the WHO from playing its proper role. The WHO’s objective is to promote “the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health”. The IAEA’s mission is to “accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomjic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world”. Since the 21st anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster in April 2007 efforts are on to persuade the WHO to abandon its the WHO-IAEA Agreement. The protest has continued through the WHO’s 62nd World Health Assembly. The scientific case against the agreement is building up, the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) called for its abandonment at its conference held in May 2009 in Lesvos, Greece.

4. Is there a capping on the liability from nuclear disasters in Germany? I submit that the cost of a worst-case nuclear accident at a plant in Germany, for example, has been estimated to total as much as $11 trillion, while the mandatory reactor insurance is only 3.7 billion. Prof. Olav Hohmeyer, an economist at the University of Flensburg and a member of the German government's environmental advisory body states, "The 3.7 billion will be just enough to buy the stamps for the letters of condolence."

5. On the subject of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, the then secretary, Indian ministry of health and family welfare, Ms K Sujata Rao submitted to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science, Technology, Environment and Forests in the matter of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 that "Since the response system to deal with any kind of emergency of such type, the hospitals are not well-equipped, it is natural that mortality and morbidity due to multiple burn, blasts, radiation injuries and psycho-social impact could be on very high scale and medical tackling of such a large emergency could have enough repercussions in the nearby areas of radioactive fallout. She also mentioned that in the entire bill, there is not a single clause which speaks about taking healthcare during radiological emergencies. It reflects only about payment of compensation due to health impacts of such radiation. She suggested while setting up nuclear plants consideration may also be given to the fact that there should be hospital having trained doctors near such establishments and arrangements should also be made for free treatment of people who are affected by serious nuclear fallout." She confessed that her ministry is nowhere to meet an eventuality that may arise out of nuclear and radiological emergencies.

I submit that prior to this lecture Prof. Kleiner had addressed on the subject “Consequences of Fukushima and a Proposal for Post 2012 Climate Regime: The Energy paradigm shift in Germany. The tile itself is a message against nuclear energy. Is it not true that more than 440 nuclear power plants are being run world over without any insurance coverage?

In such a backdrop, although belated Germany’s decision has eminent merit that needs to be adopted by both Governments of Russia, India and the members of Nuclear Suppliers Group . “There are plenty of credible and scientific studies by pioneering institutions and experts who have developed convincing models of a comprehensive “carbon- free, nuclear- free” energy policy with a mix of energy conservation, efficiency, R & D on renewable sources, and larger social social-political changes ensuring greater community and public use of resources” a report of Union of Concerned Scientists points out.

Therefore, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) and Occupational Health India (OHI) urge you to recommend to Government of Russian Federation and Government of India to abandon the proposed nuclear plants at Koodankulam, Tamil Nadu.

Let me take this opportunity to draw your immediate attention towards the issue of Russian Asbestos which I had mentioned during our conversation. We know that Russia is the world's biggest asbestos producer. With around 1 million tonnes a year, it is India’s biggest supplier followed by Canada.

I submit that it is relevant to recollect that at the time of the unification of Germany, the West Germans were shocked to know that East Germany had a contractual obligation to buy 50000 metric tons of Russian asbestos in 1990. A decision was made to send payments to the Russians and to tell Russians to keep the asbestos.

We were quite happy to note that the Russia’s Justice Ministry enacted a law recognizing the occupational hazard posed by chrysotile asbestos and chrysotile-containing materials on September 7, 2011. We have learnt that the law (sanitary/epidemiological rule and standard, SanPiN was proposed by the Chief Sanitary Inspector.

While Government of Russia has rightly started addressing the health hazards from asbestos within its own borders, so far it has paid no attention to the victims of Russian asbestos in India. We appreciate the proposed regulation by the Russian Federal State Unitary Enterprise to impose ban on asbestos in friction materials, enforceable throughout the Eurasian Economic Community, members of which include Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Belarus.

The adoption of standard SanPiN and the proposal to ban asbestos in friction materials is a turning point from a public health point of view. A Russian expert has aptly said that “It looks like a very progressive document in comparison with all documents previously developed in the country. It stresses asbestos danger and the need for protective measures. It is very much focused on asbestos containing waste, the health and safety of workers, occupational safety measures including those needed during the refurbishment and demolition of asbestos containing buildings. It even said that the health of workers in the asbestos industry has to be monitored for life; this, of course, includes during retirement.” Asbestos is banned in 55 countries the following countries including 27 members of European Union.

I submit that most recently, a 37-year prospective cohort study was undertaken to provide additional evidence for mortality risks associated with exposure to chrysotile asbestos among Chinese workers. In China, 577 asbestos workers and 435 control workers in original cohorts were followed from 1972 to 2008, achieving a follow-up rate of 99% and 73%, respectively. Morality rates were determined based on person-years of observation. Cox proportional hazard models were constructed to estimate HRs of cause-specific mortality, while taking into account age, smoking and asbestos exposure level. The results of study found that there were 259 (45%) deaths identified in the asbestos cohort, and 96 died of all cancers. Lung cancer and non-malignant respiratory diseases were major cause-specific deaths, in contrast to nine lung cancers and 11 respiratory diseases in the controls. The risks for lung cancer and respiratory disease deaths in asbestos workers were over threefold that in the controls. There was a clear exposure–response trend with asbestos exposure level and lung cancer mortality in both smokers and non-smokers.

The Chinese study concluded that “Data from this prospective cohort provide strong evidence for increased mortality risks, particularly from lung cancer and non-malignant respiratory diseases, associated with exposure to chrysotile asbestos, while taking into account of the smoking effect.” (Source: http://thorax.bmj.com/content/early/2011/09/21/thoraxjnl-2011-200169.short?rss=1) Besides this both World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation have called for the elimination of all forms of asbestos including Russian asbestos.

In view of the above, TWA and OHI urge you to recommend similar measures for India as well in order to eventually ban trade in Russian asbestos and stop its supply to India to save the lives of Indian workers and consumers.

In the matter of nuclear energy, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the body of the world's leading climate scientists convened by the UN have came out with a 1,000-page Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation in May 2011 underling that the renewable energy could account for almost 80% of the world's energy supply within four decades. In the post May 2011 world, nuclear energy advocacy is akin to living in a time warp of pre-Chernobyl era.

We urge the statesmanship of His Excellency, Mr Dmitry Medvedev, President of Russian Federation through you to set up a Commission to re-visit the assumptions of nuclear energy for the sake of present and future generations, to persuade IAEA to come out with a White Paper on Health Impact on Workers in more than 440 nuclear power plants, to seek scrapping of WHO-IAEA treaty and to announce a moratorium on nuclear energy related projects.

Thanking You

Yours Faithfully
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Occupational Health India (OHI)
New Delhi
Tel:91-11-65663958, Fax: 91-11-26517814, Mb: 9818089660
Email: krishna1715@gmail.com, Web: toxicswatch.blogspot.com
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