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Just in case you missed it, here’s why radiation is a health hazard

By Tilman Ruff | The Conversation | March 25, 2011

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and complicating nuclear crisis throw into sharp focus concerns about exposure to ionising radiation. What is it, how is it harmful, how much is too much? Inside a nuclear reactor, the radioactivity is increased about a million times as some of the uranium or plutonium is converted to a cocktail of hundreds of different radioactive elements.

There are many different pathways through which people can be exposed to radiation: inhalation of gases or particles in the air, deposits in soil or water, ingestion of food, water or dust. Some radioisotopes mimic normal chemical elements in living systems and therefore make their way up the food chain and onto our plates.

Ionising radiation

Radiation is called “ionising” when it has sufficient energy to knock the electrons off atoms to produce ions (atoms which have a net positive or negative electrical charge).

Ionising radiation damages large complex molecules either directly or by creating highly reactive chemicals inside cells.

The biological potency of ionising radiation is not related to the amount of energy it contains so much as that this energy is packaged in a form which can reach and damage complex molecules – particularly the DNA that is our genetic blueprint, that is passed on to form each new generation.

A lethal dose of radiation may contain as little energy as the heat in a cup of coffee. Our senses cannot warn us about ionising radiation – it cannot be seen or touched or felt or tasted or smelt.

Levels of exposure

Some effects of radiation only occur above certain thresholds.

In the short term, high levels of radiation exposure can cause acute radiation sickness. In the longer term there is an increased risk of cataracts, birth defects, sterility and hair loss.

High doses of radiation can kill cells – this is the reason targeted radiation is used in the treatment of some cancers.

Acute radiation exposure at doses over 100 milliSieverts (mSv), and particularly over 1000 mSv, has most impact on our rapidly dividing cells. These are the blood-forming cells of the bone marrow, lining of the gut, and ovaries and testis. The symptoms of acute radiation sickness therefore include vomiting and diarrhea, bleeding, and reduced ability to fight infection.

The major long-term effect of ionising radiation exposure is an increased risk of a wide variety of cancers. There is no “safe” level of radiation below which there is no increase in cancer risk. The earliest to appear, after around three to five years, are leukemia and thyroid cancer. The 1986 Chernobyl disaster, for instance, has resulted in an epidemic of thyroid cancer with 6,500 children affected so far.

Other cancers begin increasing after 10 years – lung, breast, colon, ovary, bladder and many others. Excess rates of cancer in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors continue to rise.

Sources of exposure

All of us are exposed to ionising radiation all the time – from the stars, from the earth and rocks, from common equipment and appliances. The global average estimated human exposure is 2.4 mSv per year.

The biggest natural source is radon gas produced from radium, part of the decay chain of uranium, which is widely distributed in the Earth’s crust. After smoking, radon is the second most important cause of lung cancer worldwide.

The bulk of ongoing exposures of human origin are from medical X-rays, and there is considerable concern about the rapidly rising medical radiation exposures, particularly from the growing number of CT scans being performed. CT scans involve radiation doses of between 3 and 11 mSv.

Exposure to ionising radiation from all sources should be kept as low as is feasible.

In Australia and most countries, it is recommended that 1 mSv per person per year be the maximum permissible exposure from non-medical sources for the general population; and 20 mSv per year the annual permissible limit for nuclear industry workers. In Japan the maximum permissible dose for the emergency nuclear workers in Fukushima has been increased to 250 mSv.

Health harms

The most authoritative current estimates of the health effects of low dose ionising radiation are contained in the Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation VII report from the US National Academy of Sciences (BEIR VII).

This report reflects the substantial weight of scientific evidence that there is no exposure to ionising radiation that is risk-free. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk.

BEIR VII estimates that each 1 mSv of radiation is associated with an increased risk of solid cancer (cancers other than leukemia) of about 1 in 10,000; an increased risk of leukemia of about 1 in 100,000; and a 1 in 17,500 increased risk of cancer death.

But while radiation protection standards are typically based on adult males, it is important to note that not everyone faces the same level of risk. For infants (under 1 year of age) the radiation-related cancer risk is 3 to 4 times higher than for adults; and female infants are twice as susceptible as male infants.

Females face a lower risk of leukemia, but a 50% greater risk of developing a more common solid tumour, so their overall risk of cancer related to radiation exposure is 40% greater than for males. Fetuses in the womb are the most radiation-sensitive of all.

Over time, estimates of the health risks associated with radiation exposure have inexorably risen.

Some of these risks are probably still under-estimated, particularly the impact of internal contamination, such as from plutonium particles lodging in the lung. Internal contamination may not be picked up by external devices designed to detect gamma radiation alone, such as the hand-held radiation monitors now being widely used to screen people in Japan.

In Germany, a recent national study showed that normal operation of nuclear power plants in Germany is associated with a more than doubling of the leukemia risk for under five year olds living within 5 km of a nuclear plant, and increased risk was seen to more than 50 km away. This was much higher than expected.

The longevity of some radioactive minerals is almost incomprehensible. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,400 years. It will take almost a quarter of a million years for it to decay to less than one thousandth of the starting level. So the same particle inhaled into someone’s lung could go on to increase cancer risk for other individuals over successive generations.

Dr. Ruff is Associate Professor, Disease Prevention & Health Promotion Unit, Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne. He is IPPNW’s regional vice president for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and is Chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

May 4, 2012 Posted by | Nuclear Power | , , , | Comments Off on Just in case you missed it, here’s why radiation is a health hazard

Orwell Comes to the Guantanamo Tribunal

By Steve Gosset | ACLU | May 3, 2012

The hundreds of lawyers, reporters and observers headed to Guantanamo Bay for Saturday’s arraignment of five defendants at the 9/11 military commission better check their calendars: Suddenly, it feels a lot like 1984.

The government wants to censor any statements the defendants have made about how they’ve been treated while in U.S. custody. If they were tortured or abused by CIA or Department of Defense personnel, that’s information the government wants to keep classified.

If it sounds Orwellian for a government to claim it can classify statements made by a defendant about their own experiences with illegal government conduct such as torture, that’s because it is. Such a move also has no basis in law, which is why the ACLU filed a motion yesterday with the military commission that asks it to deny the government’s request to suppress the defendants’ statements.

As Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project notes: “The most important terrorism trial of our time should not be an exception to the rule of public access because its legitimacy depends in part on its transparency.”

The ACLU is also asking the commission to bar a delayed audio feed of the proceedings. Right now, observers can see the hearing live behind a glass, but the audio they hear is on a 40-second delay to give censors the ability to cut off any mentions of purportedly classified information.

The truth may be ugly, but better to get it out in the open than keep it under wraps. Those seeking justice for the victims of the 9/11 attacks should want nothing less.

May 4, 2012 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, False Flag Terrorism, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | Comments Off on Orwell Comes to the Guantanamo Tribunal

Colombia’s Patriotic March

By CHRIS GILBERT | CounterPunch | May 4, 2012

Colombia’s highly restricted democracy got a good slap in the face two weeks ago when 100,000 protesters entered the capital city and filled to overflowing the giant plaza that spreads out before the Congress and the Palace of Justice. In fact, just looking at the hurried reactions of president Juan Manuel Santos – new cabinet appointments, launching a populist housing project, and buying more arms from the US – one would know something serious is afoot.

But what, precisely, is it? The protesters call themselves the Patriotic March and were born with a more or less spontaneous celebration of the Colombian bicentennial two years ago. At that moment, in 2010, there was an earlier and likewise massive march to Bogotá plus the formation of cabildos (open councils) to treat questions of urgency in Colombian politics and life (such as human rights).

Today the marchers’ two principal slogans are innocuous enough: one the one hand, the effort to bring about a second and definitive independence and on the other hand peace; that is, a political and negotiated solution to the country’s 50-year conflict, a peace with of social justice. So what is all the fuss?

In fact, only in Colombia are the search for peace and sovereignty themes to which the state generally responds with massive repression, even approaching genocide. Some twenty-five years ago Colombia’s longest lasting guerrilla, the FARC-EP, opted for a peaceful rather than armed expression of its non-conformity. This led to the systematic assassination of something like 4,000 of the unfortunate cadres of the Patriotic Union who thought there might be a space for a strictly political opposition in Colombia’s much touted democracy, which seems to have durability rather than authenticity as its principal characteristic.

Though strictly speaking it may not be a world that has lived 100 years of solitude, Colombia’s politics has its very specific and even archaic qualities. For example, one of the principal struggles still seems to be that which takes place between city and country. Superficially at least, most of the patriotic marchers are people of rural origin: small or displaced farmers. Likewise there is an obvious racial or color element; the marchers tend toward brown and black while Power in Colombia tends to be white – except of course for the sepoy police and armed forces.

The marchers are clearly that group or class which Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano called “the nobodies… who don’t speak language but dialects… who don’t have culture but folklore” (and “cost less than the bullet that kills them”). But that doesn’t keep them from being very clear about what they want and need. “We’re being displaced by transnationals and the national government,” said one small-scale miner from the Bolivar department, “and participating in the march is the only way we will be heard”. Almost to a man, they are clear that their government is a puppet, militarist regimen in which the White House, if it doesn’t call all the shots, is at least consulted on most of them.

The march, patriotic and gutsy given the conditions in which it must operate, is one of those events that show that class struggle cannot be eliminated from any context, even by the most aggressive and totalitarian state tactics. There comes a point in which – as Martin Luther King said – one cannot not go on. The marchers have reached that point. They cannot be willed or dispelled away by even the most powerful mediatic wands (the mass media seems to insist contradictorily both that they don’t really exist and that they are very dangerous).

One of their repeated claims – that passes from the mouth of the inimitable ex-senator Piedad Córdoba to almost every spokesperson – is that the March, come what may, will go forward. That means that it will and has taken the form of a political movement and that it will try to take state power, as every responsible political movement tries to do. That claim, when it comes from the mouth of someone with Córdoba’s mettle, and when backed up by such conscious and committed social bases, is enough to make even the most ruthless politician of the establishment tremble. And some of us, one must say, tremble with delight.

Chris Gilbert, professor of Political Science in the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela, formed part of the international delegation that accompanied the Patriotic March, between April 21 and 23, in the formation of the National Patriotic Council.

May 4, 2012 Posted by | Economics, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , | Comments Off on Colombia’s Patriotic March

Annan Spokesman Says Syria Peace Plan on Track, White House Claims Opposite

Al-Manar | May 4, 2012

UN-Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan’s spokesman stated that Annan’s plan for Syria is on track, even though progress in implementing the ceasefire is slow.

Speaking before reporters in Geneva on Friday, Ahmad Fawzi said that “the Annan plan is on track and the crisis that has been going on for over a year is not going to be resolved in a day or a week.”

“There are signs on the ground of movement, albeit slow and small,” he added, indicating that “some heavy weapons have been withdrawn, some heavy weapons remain. Some violence has receded, some violence continues. And that is not satisfactory; I’m not saying it is.”

Moreover, AFP quoted the spokesman as saying that “Annan would brief the UN Security Council on Tuesday by video teleconference from Geneva to give an update on progress implementing the plan… Overall, the plan and the UN military observers who are on the ground overseeing it have had an impact.”

On the other hand, the White accused Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad of making “no effort” to implement Annan’s peace plan.

“If the regime’s intransigence continues, the international community is going to have to admit defeat and work to address the serious threat to peace and stability being perpetrated by the Assad regime,” White House Spokesman Jay Carney said, adding that “political transition is urgently needed in Syria. It is certainly our hope that the Annan plan succeeds.”

May 4, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , | Comments Off on Annan Spokesman Says Syria Peace Plan on Track, White House Claims Opposite

The Lutfallah II Arms-Smuggling Scandal

By FRANKLIN LAMB | CounterPunch | May 4, 2012

It would be an incautious stretch to suggest any sort of parity between Watergate and the unfolding Lutfallah II arms shipment-to-Syria drama, that each day brings more revelations. But some of what we are daily learning about the who, what and why of Lutfallah II reminds some of us of a Watergate, type atmosphere including  “bit by bit, drip by drip” revelations,  denials, setting up fall guys and remarkable examples of incompetence.

The still unfolding Lutfallah II weapons running misadventure, in which a claimed Syrian-owned vessel registered in Sierra Leone but apparently flying the Egyptian flag, was detained off the Lebanese port of Batoun, by the Lebanese Army Marines because it was sailing too high in the water, and appeared “suspicious,” and was then found to contain 300,000 pounds of weapons may erupt unpredictably with serious political consequences for the region.

“Deepthroat”, the FBI mole who met secretly with Woodward & Bernstein and leaked confidential US government information to the duo, as revenge against President Nixon for rejecting him as successor to the deceased FBI Director, J.Edgar Hoover, outed himself in 2005.  “Deepthroat”, after a quarter century of hundreds of sleuths trying to divine, if he/she even existed, turned out to be none other than Deputy Director of the FBI, William Mark Felt, Sr. “Deepthroat” repeated advice to the Washington Post reporters was to “Follow the Money!”

They did. The rest is history.

If a ‘deep throat’ appears in Libya, Qatar of elsewhere, and offering advice to reporters who appear in Benghazi and Misrata in order to dig into what really happened, it might be that he will counsel:  “Follow the weapons”.

Eyewitness Hassan Diab is a Libyan researcher who has been working with a group of American and International lawyers preparing a case against NATO to be filed with the International Criminal Court. Hassan and three of his friends actually saw the ship Lutfallah II being loaded in Benghazi, Libya. Hassan claims that it is well known at the docks that Qatar and Saudi Arabia control a total of five warehouses in the area of Benghazi & Misrata and supplied the weapons and money to hire the  Lutfallah II container vessel.

Libyans in the area are reporting that the intercepted arms are from both Gadaffi stockpiles left over from NATO’s Libya campaign and some from the Qatar-Saudi six month weapons pipelines into Libya. When NATO declared a cessation of its bombing on Halloween night, October 31, 2011 the scramble for weapons began and Qatar stored and purchased whatever weapons came to its notice and from various militias who were willing to do business.

Libyans and foreign dock workers at Benghazi Port, who observed the Lutfallah II being loaded, saw three containers filled with 150 tons of weapons put on board, although the initial plan, according to the owner of the boat was to ship as many as 15 containers.  It is estimated that they would have carried more than 2000 tons of weapons.

A Lebanese judicial source, who is a sitting judge based at Beirut’s La Maison des Avocates and advises the Lebanese government on procedural rules that ought to be followed in this case, confirmed to me and also to the Beirut Daily, As-Safir, that the Lutfallah II shipment was funded by two Syrian businessmen living in Saudi Arabia. In addition, the ship’s captain in Syria is the gentleman who claimed ownership of the shipment. All are affiliated with the Syrian opposition and all are seeking regime change in Syria.

According to a late breaking report,  all have been arrested and remain in custody despite  claims that they thought the cargo was general merchandise. Libya does not export anything  much but its  light crude oil and the Lutfallah II is clearly no oil tanker.  Crew members of the container ship are facing trial on charges of illegal gun-running.

The owner reportedly told his interrogators, including Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr, that “It would be against Lebanese law and international maritime law for me to demand to examine the content of the containers.”  Some international lawyers would argue that the law is exactly the opposite in both, and that international law establishes not just the owner’s right to inspect cargo being carried on his ships–for hazardous or contraband cargo etc– but that maritime law clearly mandates his responsibility to do so.  Likewise, his insurance company.


The US-Saudi backed Future Movement was not involved in the arms shipment according to party official Mustafa Allouch. However, he later told Lebanon’s OTV that “The Syrian people have the right to find the appropriate means to defend themselves.” The Free Syrian Army has denied any links to the weapons-carrying vessel.

Hezbollah official Ammar Musawi praised the Lebanese army for its seizure of a Syria-bound illegal arms shipment and urged the authorities “to prevent Lebanon from turning into a conduit of destruction toward its neighbor”.  “For the sake of Lebanon’s stability, I urge our authorities  to exert greater effort to prevent Lebanon from turning into an arena through which the tools of crime cross into Syria, as the involvement of some Lebanese in fueling the situation in Syrian will have negative repercussions on Lebanon,”  Hezbollah International Relations Director said.

On 5/2/12, Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim, following a meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, accused Gulf countries, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, of being behind the Syria-bound arms shipments.

“The ship was bound for the Syrian opposition; this is sure given that the political and security leaderships in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other countries are behind these acts, which undermine the security of Syria, Lebanon and the region.”

Many questions remain in need of answers. Any serious first year law student would ask the questions that presumably Lebanese investigating judges and the media will ask. A few of the more obvious ones would include:

Who funded the shipment discovered in the cargo bay of the Lutfallah II? Who had custody over the original 12 containers of what was planned, according to the jailed owner, as a shipment of over two million tons of “general merchandise”?

Who supplied the weapons and from which warehouse locations in Libya were they taken? Who controls the warehouses? Who made the decision to hold back 12 of the original contract and why?  Where are the 12 containers? Who prepared the ships manifest? What was the involvement, if any, of the Syrian owner of the Lutfallah II? Why was the Lutfallah II not searched at the port of Alexandria as well as Turkey?  It docked at both. Why was it given ‘green light passage’ by Israel and UNIFIL?

Eyewitnesses claim some activity on the Lutfallah II was evident while it was docked in Turkey? What was the activity? Which, if any, Lebanese politicians and political parties were involved. Who was to meet and take custody of the shipment once it arrived at the Tripoli, Lebanon dock?Which land routes into Syria were to be used following  the offloading  of the cargo at Tripoli Port?

It is not for this observer to offer advice to investigative journalists, whether free-lance or corporate, but as a fairly long-term US Congressional aid in the post-Watergate era who actually read the transcripts of US Senator Howard Baker’s Watergate Hearings, I would have thought that one or more might want to book a flight to Benghazi, Libya, toute de suite, with an inclination to:  Follow the Money and follow the Weapons!

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and is reachable c/o

May 4, 2012 Posted by | Deception, Militarism, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Lutfallah II Arms-Smuggling Scandal