Posted in Health, news, nuclear

Yucca Mountain: Nuclear Waste Dump Proximity Health Risks

This week the House approved a bill (340-72) to revive the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Project in Nevada, the future site of the nation’s radioactive nuclear waste.  It is located 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas.  While the Yucca project is being built, temporary storage facilities will be established in New Mexico and Texas.  This leaves millions of Americans wondering, what are the health risks to living near a nuclear waste dump?

Currently so far so safe…..

Currently nuclear waste is stored in 121 different sites throughout 39 states.  Nuclear Regulatory Commission studies have NOT found an increase risk to cancer or other health effects in those living near nuclear sites.  Now they actually dropped the cancer risk study citing it would take as long as 10 years and cost over $8 million, but endorsed a previous study from 1990 by the National Cancer Institute finding no increased risk of death from cancer in people near nuclear facilities.

Does transport of nuclear waste pose a risk?

Small if any.  Transport vehicles have been transporting nuclear waste for years without incident. True many have not converged like a Walking Dead Terminus on one locationposing concern for terrorist attacks, but radioactive material has been transported to multiple other facilities throughout the world without exposure to nearby residents.

When would a nuclear dump site pose risks to residents?

Federal guidelines implore that the site safely stores waste for at least 10,000 years.  Although Yucca Mountain’s immediate area has not shown signs of earthquake activity, several active faults surround the site.   Ground disruption could cause release of radioactive material and since Nevada isn’t a site plagued with hurricanes or tsunamis, earthquake potential remains the highest risk for a nuclear leak at Yucca Mountain.

What would be the health risks of radiation leakage from Yucca Mountain?

When determining health risks we look at what resulted from other nuclear disasters.  With the 1986 Chernobyl accident, for example, The World Nuclear Association (WNA) reports:

Out of the 134 severely exposed workers and firemen, 28 of the most heavily exposed died as a result of acute radiation syndrome (ARS) within three months of the accident.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “the number of deaths in Russian emergency workers attributable to radiation caused by solid neoplasms and circulatory system diseases can be estimated to be about 116 and 100 cases respectively.” They continue, “the number of leukemia cases attributable to radiation in this cohort can be estimated to be about 30.”

Reassuringly, the WNA stated:

There has been no increase attributable to Chernobyl in congenital abnormalities, adverse pregnancy outcomes or any other radiation-induced disease in the general population either in the contaminated areas or further afield.

Thyroid cancer cases however were increased in surrounding countries in the aftermath, with one study diagnosing 6 of 100,000 screened in a Turkish population (Acar, et al.)

 

What about potassium iodide tablets?

These tablets help protect your thyroid from taking up radioactive iodine, as they saturate the organ.  It’s an inexpensive pill that will protect one against thyroid cancer but not the other medical sequelae of nuclear exposure such as bone marrow injury and skin irritation.

 

So the establishment of a nuclear dump site in the Nevada desert is not ideal by any means, however, it does not pose immediate or long-term health threats assuming no natural disasters or acts of terror cause a disruption in storage.

 

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network and Board Certified Family Physician

Posted in Health, news, nuclear

What to Do In Case of a Nuclear Attack

When Hawaii residents Saturday morning received this alert (later retracted):

false-alert-message.jpg

the rest of the country asked themselves, “What would I have done if I received this alert?”

So I think we can all agree we’re unprepared. Some scoff by saying, “Well we wouldn’t survive anyway!”  Actually, you can survive a nuclear attack.  Here’s how…

It’s never too early to prepare

Firstly, know your shelters.  There are two types:

Blast shelters offer some protection against the blast, heat, fire and initial radiation.

Fallout shelters offer some protection against the radiation from the fallout products.

Many public buildings in your city can act as fallout shelters.  These may be schools, hotels, subway tunnels, or below ground pubs.  However if your city doesn’t post or have either, you are more likely to be urged to “Shelter in Place”, which we’ll discuss later.

Secondly, make an “Emergency Kit” that has all your important papers, passports, medications, first aid, pet supplies, food and water.

Ready.gov suggests the following:

  • Water – one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food – at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
  • Radio (battery operated) so you can be up to date with what is occurring and be told when its safe to exit your shelter

Consider adding the following items to your emergency supply kit based on your individual needs:

  • Prescription medications
  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
  • Glasses and contact lense solution
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Cash or traveler’s checks
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect water
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

 

Where do I find shelter?

It’s best to get to a building that has a basement. Below ground is obviously safer than above ground.  Moreover being surrounded by concrete or even brick is better than stucco.

Mic.com also suggests that the center of a building offers more protection than other rooms as illustrated below:

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The farther away you are from the blast the safer, however, you do not want to be in your car in bumper to bumper traffic during an attack either.

Shelter in Place

If you don’t know where to go, than bunker down.  If you have a basement go there.  If not find an interior room with no windows and start praying.

What if I’m outside?

There is always the possibility that someone may be in the middle of a picnic when a nuclear attack hits.  If that’s the case, and you can’t get indoors, Ready.gov suggests the following:

  • Do not look at the flash or fireball – it can blind you.
  • Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.
  • Lie flat on the ground and cover your head. If the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the blast wave to hit.
  • Take shelter as soon as you can, even if you are many miles from ground zero where the attack occurred – radioactive fallout can be carried by the winds for hundreds of miles.
  • If you were outside during or after the blast, get clean as soon as possible, to remove radioactive material that may have settled on your body.
  • Remove your clothing to keep radioactive material from spreading. Removing the outer layer of clothing can remove up to 90% of radioactive material.
  • If practical, place your contaminated clothing in a plastic bag and seal or tie the bag. Place the bag as far away as possible from humans and animals so that the radiation it gives off does not affect others.
  • When possible, take a shower with lots of soap and water to help remove radioactive contamination. Do not scrub or scratch the skin.
  • Wash your hair with shampoo or soap and water. Do not use conditioner in your hair because it will bind radioactive material to your hair, keeping it from rinsing out easily.
  • Gently blow your nose and wipe your eyelids and eyelashes with a clean wet cloth. Gently wipe your ears.
  • If you cannot shower, use a wipe or clean wet cloth to wipe your skin that was not covered by clothing.

What about potassium iodide tablets?

These tablets help protect your thyroid from taking up radioactive iodine, as they saturate the organ.  It’s an inexpensive pill that will protect one against thyroid cancer but not the other medical sequelae of nuclear exposure such as bone marrow injury and skin irritation.

The false nuclear attack alert Hawaii residents received enlightened the rest of the country on how unprepared the average American is. It’s about time we have a game plan and cities educate their citizens on where and how to protect themselves.

 

Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, iHeart Radio and Board Certified Family Physician