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Why Are Researchers Finding Traces of Radioactive Particles in Baby Teeth? via AlterNet

Data indicates we still don’t understand the dangers of nuclear energy.

The meltdown disasters at Fukushima and Chernobyl have solidified the American public’s reticence about nuclear energy. The full health significance of these events is still being debated, as government and academic monitoring programs generate a patchwork of data about their impact. And while many studies show that the risks from nuclear power are negligible in the U.S., these two catastrophes continue to raise questions about long-term safety and the cumulative affect of small and large releases of radioactive material. Meanwhile, researchers are attempting to track these contaminants in the food chain, in our bones and even in baby teeth.

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Fallout from nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and ’60s spread Strontium 90 widely throughout the environment. By comparison, nuclear power plants are  thought to contribute a minute fraction of this contamination. Public concerns about the health risks ultimately led to the global ban on nuclear weapons testing and an expectation that environmental and human body burdens of Strontium 90 would drop over time.

By 1999, government monitoring programs of Strontium 90 had largely been phased out, based on significant decreases in milk and teeth found in the first four years after the ban went into effect. But a small group of academic researchers conducted followup tests and were surprised to find Strontium 90 in new baby teeth, at levels higher than expected, concluding that there must be some  unidentified sources to account for the levels found.

They turned their focus to nuclear power plants. Though tiny by comparison to atomic bomb tests, releases from power plants are not an uncommon result of accidents, planned leaks or releases from incidents the Nuclear Regulatory Commission deems of little consequence.

How much of the Strontium 90 in teeth that comes from these releases and how much is past contamination that’s recycled and further concentrated up the food chain is heavily debated, and the work of the Radiation and Public Health Project has been widely criticized. However, no other studies have been done in the U.S. to challenge the findings which link concentrations in baby teeth to proximity to nuclear power plants.

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National averages reported for foods tested to date are well below quantities that would be considered a health threat. Still, the American Medical Association and other advocates are calling for more comprehensive ongoing tests, both in Japan to characterize fully the health risks from Fukushima and its impact on the Japanese food supply, and in the U.S. to rule out possible pockets of contamination that may emerge from unreported releases from U.S. nuclear power plants or atmospheric drift from the incident in Japan. Recent tests by researchers at Oregon State University have identified minute, but significantly increased levels of radioisotopes in albacore tuna that trace back to the Fukushima reactor meltdown. Researchers are undertaking a larger study.

Read more at Why Are Researchers Finding Traces of Radioactive Particles in Baby Teeth?

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