A Sunny View of Risk
By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association
Like many blue-eyed, middle-aged men who’ve been hiking, cycling, canoeing and kayaking since childhood, I have basal cell carcinoma, in the form of little low-grade cancerous spots on my skin.
Exposure to non-sun radiation is one of the main risk factors. It’s apparently #2 after too much sunshine – and not counting being blue-eyed, middle-aged, and male, none of which I can be expected to avoid, at least not at this point.
So how come the medical advice I get doesn’t say anything about avoiding licensed nuclear facilities? My doctors know what I do for a living, but none of them tell me to stay clear of Chalk River, Blind River, Kincardine, Port Hope, Darlington or Pickering.
Instead, the advice I get from them is 90% about hats, shirts, glasses and sunscreen (fair enough). About 5% is about avoiding tanning beds and sun lamps (no problem). About 3% is about staying in the shade (ha!). And the remaining 2% is about taking vitamin D so I won’t mind sitting in the shade for the rest of my life.
Why nothing about the nuclear industry? Because emissions from nuclear facilities are so low, they don’t matter.
The non-sun radiation sources that health care organizations talk about include anything other than nuclear power plants, including:
- Cancer treatment itself (radiation to treat a first cancer might cause a second cancer)
- Naturally occurring radon gas in my basement
- Weapons testing programs that occurred before I was born.
Why nothing about the nuclear industry? Again: emissions from nuclear facilities are so low, they don’t matter.