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Clarification and Correction of Misinformation Regarding Radioactive Waste and Radiation Exposure

Dear Editor,

Subject: Clarification and Correction of Misinformation Regarding Radioactive Waste and Radiation Exposure I hope this message finds you in good health and high spirits. My name is Dennis A. Minott, an Energy and Instrumentation Physicist first trained at Post Graduate Level in nuclear energy and radiation safety then engaging in other intense research level activities. I am writing to address and correct a misconception regarding radioactive waste and radiation exposure that has been recently published by a Discus blogger responding to Ambassador Byron Blake, a columnist writing for the Sunday Gleaner newspaper. In that October 1 post by an individual identified as 'Guest', a comparison was made between radioactive waste from medical facilities and wastes from nuclear power stations. The assertion suggested a similarity in the dangers associated with both types of radioactive waste. However, I must emphasize that this comparison is fundamentally inaccurate and misleading to the public.

Radioactive Waste from Medical Facilities: Radioactive waste generated by medical facilities primarily consists of isotopes with short half-lives. These isotopes are used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes, and their radioactivity significantly diminishes over a short period, typically within hours or days. As a result, exposure to radioactive waste from medical facilities is minimal, typically resulting in an annual radiation exposure of 0.1 to 10 millisieverts per year for individuals working in these environments.

Marine tidal action is still washing up such mildly hazardous medical wastes on the beaches of Kingston and St. Andrew, as well as some St. Catherine beaches such as Half Moon Bay.

Radioactive Waste from Nuclear Power Generation: On the other hand, radioactive waste from nuclear power stations contains isotopes with long half-lives, lasting thousands of years, presenting a challenge in safe storage and disposal due to the potential long-term environmental and health hazards. While the annual radiation exposure from this waste is generally negligible---for radiation workers it is 50 millisieverts (mSv) per year averaged over 5 years, with a maximum of 100 mSv in any single year---for the average individual in a population. The concern stems from the necessity of secure containment of the highly toxic radio-nuclides such as radioactive Uranium and Thorium isotopic materials for thousands of years to come.

Credits: The National Maritime Foundation

Furthermore, spent fuel rods and beads, by unavoidable settled physics, are intense emitters of ionizing radiation that, if mishandled, can be acutely sickening and often fatal, in very short order, to most life-forms, including humans. Spent fuel rods and beads contain highly concentrated radioactive isotopes that can release vast amounts of radiation if they are broken or damaged.

The long half-lives of isotopes in nuclear waste from power generating reactors mean that they will continue to emit radiation for thousands of years, making it unbelievably difficult to find a safe and permanent way to dispose of them. After over 70 years of trying, Finland seems to have made the planet's first breakthrough in "finally" disposing of its own nuclear power plant wastes for a design time estimated at 100,000+ years. [See: Finland to open the world’s first final repository for spent nuclear fuel ]


It is crucial to emphasize the critical distinction between each type of radioactive nuclear waste to prevent misinformation that could shape public perceptions and policy decisions related to nuclear energy. I urge publication of my clarification to rectify this misconception, providing the accurate information presented above.

As one with certified expertise in the field, I am morally bound and more than willing to provide additional information or answer any questions that may assist in setting the record straight and ensuring an informed public discourse in Jamaica and CARICOM.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I look forward to your favorable response.


Sincerely,

Dennis A Minott, PhD.

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