Hitachi- from the country that brought the world Fukushima

Hitachi- from the country that brought the world Fukushima
We feel very sad for the people of Japan who want to end nuclear energy whilst a potential new government and big business are desperate for it

No Fukushima at Oldbury

No to Fukushima at Shepperdine!

No to Fukushima at Shepperdine!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Tritium Factsheet For Oldbury


The Grayston Centre

28 Charles Square

London N1 6HT

Factsheet on tritium at Oldbury February 2010

by Dr Ian Fairlie

The existing Oldbury nuclear power station emits much tritium – the radioactive isotope of hydrogen. Tritium is by far the largest and most important of the radionuclides released from Oldbury. Any new station at Oldbury would also release large amounts of tritium. This Q&A sets out plain answers to frequently-asked questions about tritium. More detailed information is set out in smaller font.

Q.1 What is tritium?

A.1 Radioactive water or water vapour. The water molecules themselves are radioactive - not something dissolved in the water.

Tritium is the radioactive isotope of hydrogen. That means tritium is unstable and gives off radiation when it disintegrates. In the environment, the most common kind of tritium is tritiated water - that is, water molecules in which one of the hydrogen atoms is radioactive.

Q. Is tritium dangerous?

A. Tritium is hazardous when it’s inside you. For example, if you drink it in contaminated water, eat it in contaminated food, breathe it in contaminated air, or absorb it through your skin.

Tritium is not considered an external hazard, but it is an internal one. It has a radioactive half-life of more than 12 years. It has many unusual properties - extremely rapid transport in the environment; avid uptake by humans; and fast exchange mechanisms with other hydrogen atoms. Most important, it has the ability to bind with organic molecules in our bodies during cell formation and cell metabolism. This creates organically bound tritium, which is even more hazardous than tritiated water, as it stays in the body longer.

Q. What are tritium’s health effects?

A. Cancers, congenital malformations and genetic mutations.

Tritium is a radionuclide and all radionuclides when ingested or inhaled give off radiation inside us. Radiation is a carcinogen, teratogen and mutagen, and these effects are thought to occur down to the very lowest doses.

Q. Why should we be concerned about tritium from Oldbury?

A. Oldbury releases large amounts into the air and the Severn estuary. In 2008, Oldbury emitted 1,590 GBq of tritium to the air and discharged 184 GBq to the Severn.

One gigabecquerel (GBq) is a billion becquerels (Bq). A Bq is a unit of radioactivity and means one nuclear disintegration per second. Air releases are more hazardous than water discharges because the radiation doses from contaminated food and air are higher than from contaminated water.

Q. Are nearby residents at risk?

A. They may have raised levels of tritium depending on wind direction, proximity to the power station and how long it has been since the last tritium emissions.

Tritium emissions to air result in all downwind biota becoming tritiated to ambient levels. This is due to drinking, breathing and absorbing tritium-contaminated water, and eating tritium-contaminated food. This means people living downwind nearby are likely to have raised levels of tritium.

Q. What do radiation regulators think?

A. That tritium isn’t very hazardous and that the amounts released are well below health limits.

Radiation advisory bodies rely on computer models for estimating the radiation doses from tritium exposures to people. These result in very low doses but may contain serious scientific uncertainties as recognised by the Government’s CERRIE Committee on internal radiation risks ( This Committee considered whether tritium’s risks should be increased 10 fold but was unable to reach a consensus. The Government’s radiation advisors are opposed to any increase but Independent scientists consider tritium more dangerous than Government scientists. Over the years, the more scientists have learned about tritium, the more hazardous it has been perceived.

Q. How can I decide between differing scientific views?

A. Independent scientists are likely to give precautionary advice.All scientists are concerned about adverse health effects, but there is a tendency for some radiation scientists and regulators to be less than straightforward about radiation risks. They rarely use the Precautionary Principle for example. Many radiation scientists remain concerned about some aspects of tritium, but these concerns are rarely publicised.

Q. Does tritium occur naturally?

A. At very low levels, yes, but this does not justify releasing large added amounts.
Background tritium is created in the upper atmosphere by cosmic rays. This means very low background tritium levels (a few Bq per litre) exist around the world. We can’t do anything about these, but we can decide not to add to them.

Q. Have any studies shown increased cancers near nuclear power stations?

A. Yes. Many.
In 2008, a famous study in Germany (called KiKK) showed large leukaemia increases in children living within 5 km of all German nuclear power stations. These also release large amounts of tritium. See reading list below for more information.


1. An extensive review of tritium by an independent scientist.
Fairlie I. The hazards of tritium revisited. Medicine, Conflict and Survival. Vol 24:4. October 2008. pp 306 -319.
2. A major report on tritium by UK Government expert committee which recommended doubling tritium’s risks. Unfortunately, this was refused by the ICRP and the EU’s Article 31 Group of Experts as a result of pressures from the nuclear industry and from some national Governments.
AGIR. Review of Risks from Tritium. Report of the independent Advisory Group on Ionising Radiation (RCE-4) HPA. Oxford.
3. Two discussions of the important KiKK study which reveals large increases in cancers near nuclear installations which may be connected with high tritium emissions.
Fairlie I. New evidence of childhood leukaemias near nuclear power stations. Medicine, Conflict and Survival, Vol 24:3, 219 — 227. August 2008
Fairlie I. Commentary: childhood cancer near nuclear power stations. Environmental Health 2009, 8:43. 12 pages.
4. Discussion of a discredited government study which was established to cast doubt on the KiKK study.Körblein A and Fairlie I. Commentary on J. F. Bithell, et al Childhood Leukaemia near British Nuclear Installations: Methodological Issues and Recent Results. Radiation Protection Dosimetry (2009) Vol 137, Number 3-4 doi:10.1093/rpd/ncp206
5. Discussion of the >60 studies worldwide on cancer incidences near nuclear facilities, the large majority of which found increased cancers.
Fairlie I and Körblein A. Review of epidemiology studies of childhood leukaemia near nuclear facilities: Commentary on Laurier et al. Radiation Protection Dosimetry (2009) Vol 137, Number 3-4 doi:10.1093/rpd/ncp246

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