Monday, 18 March 2013

Toxic link: the WHO and the IAEA - Why We Can't Trust WHO to be Honest About Health Hazards of Radiation

Fifty years ago, on 28 May 1959, the World Health Organisation's assembly voted into force an obscure but important agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency – the United Nations "Atoms for Peace" organisation, founded just two years before in 1957. The effect of this agreement has been to give the IAEA an effective veto on any actions by the WHO that relate in any way to nuclear power – and so prevent the WHO from playing its proper role in investigating and warning of the dangers of nuclear radiation on human health.

The WHO's objective is to promote "the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health", while the IAEA's mission is to "accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world". Although best known for its work to restrict nuclear proliferation, the IAEA's main role has been to promote the interests of the nuclear power industry worldwide, and it has used the agreement to suppress the growing body of scientific information on the real health risks of nuclear radiation.

Under the agreement, whenever either organisation wants to do anything in which the other may have an interest, it "shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement". The two agencies must "keep each other fully informed concerning all projected activities and all programs of work which may be of interest to both parties". And in the realm of statistics – a key area in the epidemiology of nuclear risk – the two undertake "to consult with each other on the most efficient use of information, resources, and technical personnel in the field of statistics and in regard to all statistical projects dealing with matters of common interest".

The language appears to be evenhanded, but the effect has been one-sided. For example, investigations into the health impacts of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in Ukraine on 26 April 1986 have been effectively taken over by IAEA and dissenting information has been suppressed. The health effects of the accident were the subject of two major conferences, in Geneva in 1995, and in Kiev in 2001. But the full proceedings of those conferences remain unpublished – despite claims to the contrary by a senior WHO spokesman reported in Le Monde Diplomatique.

Meanwhile, the 2005 report of the IAEA-dominated Chernobyl Forum, which estimates a total death toll from the accident of only several thousand, is widely regarded as a whitewash as it ignores a host of peer-reviewed epidemiological studies indicating far higher mortality and widespread genomic damage. Many of these studies were presented at the Geneva and Kiev conferences but they, and the ensuing learned discussions, have yet to see the light of day thanks to the non-publication of the proceedings.

The British radiation biologist Keith Baverstock is another casualty of the agreement, and of the mindset it has created in the WHO. He served as a radiation scientist and regional adviser at the WHO's European Office from 1991 to 2003, when he was sacked after expressing concern to his senior managers that new epidemiological evidence from nuclear test veterans and from soldiers exposed to depleted uranium indicated that current risk models for nuclear radiation were understating the real hazards.
But the scientific case against the agreement is building up, most recently when the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) called for its abandonment at its conference earlier this month in Lesvos, Greece.

At the conference, research was presented indicating that as many as a million children across Europe and Asia may have died in the womb as a result of radiation from Chernobyl, as well as hundreds of thousands of others exposed to radiation fallout, backing up earlier findings published by the ECRR in Chernobyl 20 Years On: Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident. Delegates heard that the standard risk models for radiation risk published by the International Committee on Radiological Protection (ICRP), and accepted by WHO, underestimate the health impacts of low levels of internal radiation by between 100 and 1,000 times – consistent with the ECRR's own 2003 model of radiological risk (The Health Effects of Ionising Radiation Exposure at Low Doses and Low Dose Rates for Radiation Protection Purposes: Regulators' Edition).

This is important information in relation to the Fukushima disaster that involved the full meltdowns of three reactors. Radiation is an extreme hazard not to be taken lightly.

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, March 18th, 2013.]


steven andresen said...


I noticed that this report appeared in 2009. Has there been any more current information on this issue? I suspect not and also that the WHO still will not consider data showing that radiation dangers are greater than what the WHO will allow.

I live in a political dessert, meaning none of my acquaintences let on that there is a world outside their jobs or our limited time together. And so, I suspect this issue, like the issues related to war, finance, and other social problems, suffer from a lack of public engagement.

That is, I think there has developed a complete disconnect from the people and the goings on of the world around them. They do not consider that world, partly, I suspect, because they see that they cannot in any way make any changes to it. And so, politics is just like to weather, you can complain all you want, but you can't do anything about it.

The WHO relies on this fact, as well as all other aspects of government and corporations.

It might be that policy could be changed by public actions, but the public would be very skeptical that any changes would ever occur from public action.

You could see the largest public protests ever existing to protest war in Iraq,, and all the President might say is that these questions about war and peace are not something you put up for a vote.

Well, same for whether the nuclear industry uses the planet as their toilet.


SpookyOne said...


It's a bit sad isn't it, with people having no interest in the wider world? Until something really bad happens to them they will not be interested.

The TV taught most people that such issues are not as interesting as watching faux Gladiators running around to win some prize. We are inundated with trivia, and unless your household makes a habit of watching the news, striking out and finding what is really going on will be difficult for many.

Our Western world has not been through a real catastrophe since the end of the second world war. The protests against the War in Vietnam, and the actions by Congress post Watergate were practically the last hoorah before the corruption in politics and media took firm hold.

My problem is I see a direct connection between the corruption and our daily lives. I am looking down the railway track and seeing that the tracks have been torn up.

I will wave the flag as much as I can in this small way here online and lend support to others that do, so when things do go wrong, we may have a chance to pounce on the real cause of the trouble rather than address the symptoms.

Spook !