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Tuesday, 5 June 1984
Page: 2559

Senator JESSOP(10.30) —Mr President, I rise to absorb a little time in the adjournment debate to demonstrate my concern about the rally that was held in front of Parliament House today. It seemed to me to highlight the alarmist tactics that are employed throughout Australia by people to create an emotional reaction in the public in pursuit of their antagonism towards the development of the uranium industry in Australia. I expressed my concern about this at the rally today and took the trouble of checking out the background radiation of the environment surrounding Parliament House. I discovered that the grass on the lawn in front of Parliament House displayed a reaction to the scintillometer that I used of 38 counts per second. The granite monument of King George IV, I think it is, displayed a reaction on the instrument of 52 plus counts per second. The low level waste that was split on the road in front of the steps of Parliament House initially reacted to the level of 80 counts per second, but after sawdust was put on top of it the instrument recorded 54 counts per second. This indicated to me that these people were overacting, I believe in a fraudulent way, to demonstrate their point of view.

Some time ago there was a demonstration in Port Adelaide because a small amount of water leaked from only one of 15 containers which held some ore from Olympic Dam at Roxby Downs in the northern part of South Australia. This demonstration occurred to prevent the export of that material to Finland to test the copper ore in that body to ensure that the appropriate blister of copper was able to be formed in the smelters in that country. The demonstrators created quite a lot of commotion about this. Subsequently, the health authorities in South Australia revealed that the equivalent of four grams of uranium had leaked from that container during the journey from Olympic Dam to Port Adelaide, and that amount of uranium was equivalent to that which we could find in one cubic metre of garden soil.

This tends to highlight the lengths to which these people will go to prevent the Government from proceeding with what I regard as an industry-I give full support to the Minister who is in the chamber, the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh)-which will mean so much to the employment of Australians and to our economic future, both nationally and particularly in South Australia.

I demonstrated myself to the people who were concerned about the rally at the front of Parliament House that in nature there are quite significant background levels of radiation. For example Granite Island off Victor Harbor has a radiation level which is five times the normal accepted background level. That is difficult to determine because of the cosmic rays from outer space which fluctuate considerably in a matter of hours and certainly in a matter of days. Granite Island has five times the normal background level of radiation. Moana Beach, south of Adelaide, contains small areas of monazite, which contains 15 times the background level of radiation that is normally accepted in this country. The dump at Port Pirie is fenced in and displays something of the order of twice the background radiation level of the areas outside Parliament House.

What do these people expect us to do? Do they expect us to fence in all the beaches of Australia? There would be many of them that display radiation that is 15 times the background levels. I think it is incredible that our development should be frustrated by such people.

I have a paper-I have given a copy of it to the Minister-that I wish to have incorporated in Hansard. It contains 3 pages. It was prepared by Mr L. H. Keher and presented to the Victorian Branch of the Professional Officers Association in July 1977. It was published in the journal of the Atomic Energy Commission in January 1978. Among other things it describes some normal background levels of radiation that we have learned to live with and expect to persist in our community. It starts off by saying:

It appears to be considered by many people that radioactivity and radiation commenced with the nuclear age. They appear to be completely unaware of the radioactivity and radiation to which they are exposed every day as part of normal life.

It goes on to describe X-rays-the radiation to which the medical and dental professions expose our bodies and our teeth.

Senator Teague —And themselves.

Senator JESSOP —And themselves, that is right. The document states:

Typical X-ray doses to parts of the body are: Teeth 1 000 mrem/series; Chest 100-5 000 mrem/exposure; Gastro-intestinal tract 1 000 mrem/exposure; Fluoroscopic 10 000-20 000 mrem/minute.

Senator Walsh —Why don't you just incorporate it?

Senator JESSOP —I want to demonstrate this. I realise the Minister wants to retire and I do not want to hold him up any longer. But the evidence is here, that we are living with radiation. We have accepted it for a long time. We are all conscious of the need to be careful with respect to radioactive storage waste technology. I just rise to highlight the demonstration that occurred today in front of Parliament House as being irresponsible, overdramatic and unnecessarily alarming to many people throughout Australia. I seek leave to incorporate the document in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Radioactivity and Radiation

It appears to be considered by many people that radioactivity and radiation commenced with the nuclear age. They appear to be completely unaware of the radioactivity and radiation to which they are exposed every day as part of normal life. We live in a radioactive world. We are exposed to radiation and radioactivity by cosmic radiation, the ground, the buildings we live in, the air we breathe and the food and water we consume. This is called ''background radiation''. Its effect on biological tissue is measured in units called the rem . This is a large unit and for convenience we generally use one-thousandth of the unit-the millerem (mrem). On an average we are exposed to 140 mrem a year from natural background radiation from the following sources:

Average Range mrem/a Cosmic radiation 50 30-80 Ground and buildings 60 20-2 000 Air 5 Food and water 25

It is unwise to assume that that average applies to each individual. The background radiation dose is commonly twice and in a few places 10-20 times as much.

The cosmic radiation does varies with latitude and altitude. At sea level it is about 30 mrem/a increasing to about 80 mrem at an altitude of about 1 500 m at middle latitudes and then increasing to higher levels with higher altitudes. Probably the biggest variations in background radiation occur with the radiation emanating from the ground and the buildings we live in. Very few accurate surveys have been performed throughout the world and particularly in Australia. A random survey in the Sydney area showed dose rates emanating from the ground between 16 and 91 mrem/a, whilst around Armidale in N.S.W. readings of 250 mrem/ a are common.

Probably the most complete survey dose in Australia was performed in 1970 of the natural background in Perth, Western Australia. The survey revealed dose rates from the extremely low value of 1.7 mrem/a in limestone and sand plain areas to a maximum of 306 mrem/a over a laterite formation in the Kalamunda/ Gooseberry Hill area. Dose rates inside buildings were variable but, in general, the difference between inside and outside measurements was insignificant for timber/asbestos (fibro cement) houses but was significantly greater up to a factor of two, for brick, and concrete or granite houses. However, the average dose rate determined for the population of the Perth metropolitan area was 60 mrem/a taking into account distribution of population and the various types of dwellings.

Very high ground background radiation readings of up to 2 000 mrem/a have been measured on thorium beach sands in Kerala, India. It would be no surprise if similar high readings existed in parts of Australia adjacent to where the beach sands are mined for their monazite (a thorium compound).

In general living in a brick house exposes a person to 15 mrem/a more in background radiation than a person living in a timber house. A very complete survey performed in the Federal Republic of Germany showed that where extensive use of pumice stone for house construction was made the average background radiation to people living inside the house was 75 mrem/a. The largest value reported was 600 mrem/a where the house was constructed from slag from a phosphate fertiliser factory. More frequently doses up to 300 mrem/a were found, certainly higher than the number of cases where individuals may receive a dose of up to 1 mrem/a from the release of radioactive substances from nuclear installations.

The background radiation resulting from the food and water we drink is largely due to potassium 40, a naturally occurring radio-nuclide found in all potassium. An average man contains about 140 gram of potassium mostly located in body tissue. A lesser contribution is radium, very small quantities of which are present in many foods. Because of the radioactivity in our bodies we are naturally irradiating all people we come in contact with and they are irradiating us. In fact, when a group of people holds a meeting, they receive much more radiation from each other than they would from a nuclear reactor. Or, to quote Dr Edward Teller, ''In sleeping with a woman, one gets just slightly less radioactivity than from a nuclear reactor; but to sleep with two women is very, very dangerous.''

In addition to background radiation we are exposed, on the average, to a variety of man-made sources, which include:

Medical exposure 50 mrem/a

Occupational exposure and consumer sources 1-3 mrem/a

Jet air travel 0.7 mrem/hour

The major source of medical exposure is diagnostic X-rays which average about 50 mrem/a in developed countries. However, this exposure is, of course, very variable and dependent on the X-rays which one has in a year. Typical X-ray doses to parts of the body are:

Teeth 1 000 mrem/series

Chest 100-5 000 mrem/ exposure

Gastro-intestinal tract 1 000 mrem/ exposure

Fluoroscopic 10 000-20 000 mrem/minute

Occupational exposure in US averaged out over the whole population has a mean of 0.8 mrem/a with the nuclear industry contributing

0.1 mrem/a. Miscellaneous consumer sources contribute about 2 mrem/a with the major contributors being luminous dials (mostly watches) 1-5 mrem/a and from watching television 1-10 mrem/a for children with a mean of 0.4 for adults.

Jet air travel has become a major radiation contributor. At the dose rate of 0. 7 mrem/a the trip from Sydney to Perth will provide a radiation dose of 3 mrem whilst for Sydney-London the additional dose is 17 mrem.

The average radiation dose received by radiation workers at Lucas Heights on account of their work is about 200 mrem/a, whilst in the UK the mean for radiation workers in the period 1976/77 was 580 mrem (5 000 mrem is the annual maximum permissible dose for radiation workers-see page 20). These values should be compared with air hostesses who in Australia would receive about 670 mrem/a from their hours in the air. Pilots average about 450 mrem/a because they have lower working hours.

No biological effects have been demonstrated in man, or animals, at these low dose rates. It requires doses of tens or even hundreds of rems to specific organs, delivered in short periods, before effects become statistically observable in man. On the other hand, it has not proved possible to demonstrate either experimentally or theoretically that no damage occurs at these low doses.

In this situation, in establishing radiation protection standards, the cautious assumption is made that any exposure to radiation, no matter how small, carries with it some risk of injury. To give some numerical estimate of the risk as a function of dose, it is further assumed that the risk is proportional to dose down to the lowest levels of exposure. That is, if a dose of 100 000 mrem to an individual results in a chance of his contracting leukaemia, say, of two in 1 000, a dose of 10 000 mrem will carry a risk of two in 10 000 and a dose of 100 mrem, which is about the dose each of us receives from background radiation in a year, will still have associated with it a risk of two in a million for leukaemia induction. There are reasons for believing that such a linear extrapolation will not underestimate the hazards though it may well overestimate them.

With numerical estimates of the risk of cancer induction and of genetic effects established in this way it is possible to set radiation standards for individuals, either at work or as members of the public, such that associated risks are comparable with other occupational or non-occupational risks. Protection standards for populations as a whole are set at a sufficiently low level such that any further reduction in risk would not be considered by society to justify the effort required to accomplish it.

Radiation protection standards have been recommended by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and these are internationally accepted. The States of Australia, though not the Northern Territory, have legislated these standards and they are also recommended in the Australian Code of Practice and Radiation Protection in the Mining and Milling of Radioactive Ores 1975. The basic annual maximum permissible doses for persons who work with radiation are:




dose Organ or tissue

(mrem) Gonads, red bone-marrow, whole body 5 000 Skin, bone, thyroid 30 000 Hands and forearms, feet and ankles 75 000 Any other single organ, e.g. lungs 15 000

These dose limits correspond to risks which are comparable with those in other industrial or scientific occupations with a high standard of safety. The ICRP has recommended that, for planning purposes, dose limits for individual members of the public should be set a factor of ten below those for radiation workers.

Further restrictions on exposure are recommended when whole populations, or large sections of the community, are exposed. In this case possible hereditary effects as well as risk of individual injury must be taken into account.

It is important to note that the ICRP dose limits refer to radiation exposure received in excess of natural background and medical exposures.

Overriding all of these dose limits the ICRP has added a final injunction. Since it has been assumed that any exposure to radiation may involve some degree of risk, ''it is recommended that any unnecessary exposure be avoided and that all doses be kept as low as is reasonably achievable, economic and social consideration being taken into account''.