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Tuesday, 10 October 1972
Page: 1369

Senator WILLESEE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - In addressing a question to the Minister for Health I add to your words, Mr President, and say to him: 'Welcome back'. I trust that in the next 3 weeks he will be as happy z.s he is at the present moment. I ask: Is it a fact that a United Nations scientific committee's report shows that there has been a significant increase in the level of radioactive iodine in milk in the southern hemisphere since the recent French nuclear tests? What programme does the Department of Health conduct to monitor the level of radio-iodine in Australian milk?

To what extent has the radio-iodine level in Australian milk risen since the French nuclear tests?


It is true, as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said, that recently there have been newspaper reports on the dangers of fall-out of radioactive iodine, iodine 131, following nuclear testing. The document on which these news items are based is the 1972 report to the United Nations General Assembly of the Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, which has the rather extraordinary alphabetical name UNSCEAR. The report is a complex technical document and some of the published interpretations have not been entirely accurate. I am informed that iodine 131 does pose special problems as it becomes concentrated in the thyroid gland after ingestion by humans and, therefore, irradiates that gland especially. The intake is mostly through milk. The report notes the presence of radioactive iodine in milk in 14 countries and regions of the southern hemisphere, based on data supplied by these countries. Even the highest annual doses were well below that recorded in the northern hemisphere as far back as 1963. Australian figures for 1970 and 1971 are included in the Scientific Committee's report. However, these figures have already been published in detail in Australia in the reports of the National Radiation Advisory Committee which are freely available. The Advisory Committee has assessed the figure as presenting no hazard to the Australian population. It is incorrect to say that the United Nations report made any reference to the French nuclear tests of 1972. When 1972 figures become available they will be evaluated as to their potential health effect in the usual careful way.

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