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RADIATION DOSES FOR URANIUM MINE AND MILL WORKERS IN SASKATCHEWAN

Bill Adamson, Member of ICUCEC, Saskatchewan

1. The AECL (Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.) has maintained the flagship of uranium science and endeavors at its research facilities at Chalk River, Ontario. It has always monitored its employees to keep the radiation dose limits low.

However, a study of 13,570 employees over a 31 year period, by the American Journal of Epidemiology discovered that there had been 948 cancer deaths in that time. (Vol. 128, No.6, p. 1366, 1988) This should have alerted regulatory agencies that “low dose” did not guarantee safety.

2. In the period from 1932 till 1967 there were numerous small mines started up in northern Saskatchewan. Regulations on mining conditions in those early days were very sparse or non-existent. However, statistics of worker employment, health (cancer) statistics, plus radiation exposures had been compiled.

In 1982 the Beaverlodge Study Group, a team of epidemiologists, began to work, studying 8,487 miners from 73 mine sites from 1951 till 1982, which showed lung cancer cases at twice the normal average.

3. In the year 1995 an Eldorado Study was initiated to correct and to refine the earlier Beaverlodge statistics concerning a cohort of 20,000 workers between 1932 and 1967.

In March 2006, Dr. Geoffrey Howe, epidemiologist, updated and revised the Eldorado Miners Cohort study and found that among 17,660 early workers, that some 5372 cancer deaths were reported from 1955 to 1999, plus another 2335 cancer cases, plus 618 recent cancer deaths, with three quarters of the miners still living. In other words, the lung cancers among the uranium miners were 30% higher than that of the general population.

4. Then in 2002 a further study was proposed to include a modern cohort of 12,000 workers from 1975 to 1996 to be called the Saskatchewan Uranium Miners’ Study. Over the years mining regulations had been greatly improved to protect workers from radiation—ventilation, robotic measures, ore slurry in steel pipes, dosimeters, air control, limits to work hours, and mandatory low exposure doses. Nevertheless, the statistics were available to learn what was actually happening to our miners. However, this Part II portion of the Study was to be proceeded by a Feasibility Study.

5. The CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission—formerly the AECB or Atomic Energy Control Board) blocked the Study. It let out a contract to a consulting firm to assess the “feasibility” of a study of the modern cohort of workers. It manipulated and rigged the situation by requesting whether an excessive risk of 5 – 10% could be statistically assessed.

In June of 2005, it was announced that with a low number of workers (12,000 ?) and low doses to workers, there was little chance that there could be generated “ a statistically accurate study.” Hence, the Study was cancelled by the CNSC. The local Press went ecstatic and ballistic running headlines—“Uranium Mining is Safe.”

Since then, the findings of BEIR VII and the ECCR Report have been communicated to the Regulatory Agencies concerning “low dose” exposure, to no avail and no change of stance.

The former Premier of Saskatchewan was asked to initiate an epidemiological study by the Province of Saskatchewan apart from the CNSC. His response was :

“If current occupational exposures were significantly above levels experienced by the public, I would agree that an epidemiological study of increased risk should be considered. However, this is not the case. . . . Saskatchewan has been a leader in Canada and the world in setting stringent dose limits for workers in uranium mines, relying on the recommendations of the International Commission of Radiological Protection (ICRP) for guidance on establishing appropriate limits for worker exposure for environmental protections.” (Sept. 19, 2007)

The numbers of workers in the uranium industry being exposed to radioactivity are significantly large. Everyone clings to the simplistic formula that “low dose means low risk,” without knowing the anomalies of alpha radiation. One of the factors which enables the industry to maintain the status quo is the “latency period,” where the cancer does not show up until 15-20 years after exposure.

Addendum
An epidemiological study of 21,346 miners at several mine sites in the region of Elliott Lake and Bancroft in the Province of Ontario from 1932 till 1967 concluded that uranium miners were at three times the risk of lung cancer than the average citizen. It also concluded that lower doses of radiation were more hazardous that higher doses. (Kusiak, Ritchie, Miller, Springer, and Chovil—1993,1989,1981).