Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy (EFN)
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06 August 2003
The Daily Telegraph
1 Canada Square
London E14 5DT UK
My attention has been called to a dispatch which appeared in the Daily Telegraph
on 24 June, under the headline "Minister wants Sellafield ban" concerning the
consequences of the detection of long&endash;lived radioactive technetium&endash;99 in farmed
Short&endash;lived technecium is regularly administered in radioactive studies of heart
function: it is chemically similar to potassium thereby permitting the radiologist to
follow the behaviour of potassium in the heart. As a scientist, I like to deal with
numbers. It appears that Sellafield proposed to release 30 terra&endash;becquerels of
technecium-&endash;99 into the North Sea (
http://www.bellona.no/en/energy/nuclear/sellafield/30157.html ). It seems
reasonable to assume that previous Sellafield discharges, those detected in farmed
salmon, were of the same size. That sounds like a lot &endash; a terra&endash;whatever is a
million million, although a becquerel is pretty small.
Although I am a scientist, I don't grasp large numbers any better than the next
fellow. But I have a trick to reduce them to numbers I can get hold of. Let me
apply it here.
The volume of the North Sea is 54 000 cubic kilometers, or 54 terra&endash;cubic meters
&endash; another large number. My trick is to divide one large number by the other. When
we do that we find that the suppressed Sellafield discharge would inject one&endash;half
becquerel of Tc&endash;99 into each cubic meter of North Sea water.
Now the sea can hardly be said to be dangerously radioactive. Yet it does contain
380 grams of potassium per cubic meter, and potassium is naturally radioactive to
the extent of about 31 becquerel per gram. Thus sea water contains almost 12 000
becquerel of potassium per cubic meter.
(I would point out in passing that the ionisaton produced by technecium decay is
five times smaller than the ionisation produced by potassium decay.)
That the scientists of the Norwegian Bellona Foundation are able to discern half a
becquerel of Tc-99 in farmed salmon in the presence of 12 000 becquerel of
potassium is, to my mind, a triumph of analytical science. But it is also a tragedy
that Bellona uses this triumph of analytical science as a club to beat nuclear energy
over the head.
Yours very truly,
Berol ROBINSON, active member and American correspondent of EFN - www.ecolo.org