DR. RUBEN UMALI
University of the Philippines
Most of us, unfortunately, were trained abroad, either in the United Kingdom or the United States. Therefore, we are very much aware of how sensitive plants and animals are to radioactive releases, but these are animals and plants of temperate countries. We don’t know how sensitive our mango, sampalok, avocado trees, our rivers, lakes, mollusks, fishes, and animals are to radiation. Different organisms would have different coefficients. Different organisms would have different rates of keeping the radio-isotopes, depending on their metabolism. All we know is that radio-sensitivity will be very much related to the chromosome number and to the volume of the nucleus. At the moment we’re just beginning to find out the chromosome number of most of our local plants in Bataan. Then only can we determine which of these plans to use as indicators of radioactive leakage.
Most of us are interested, of course, in the genetic significant dose. What kinds of mutations will radiation produce? This will be a legacy. Mutations are forever, will be transmitted from generation to generation.
One thing we can expect is an increase in caratogenic effects (abnormalities in foetuses) and an increase in the incidence of cancer due to direct or delayed effects of radiation, or due to the accumulation of certain radioactive materials in some very sensitive areas. For example, strontium-90 in the bones could easily lead to leukemia, cancer of the bones.
But right now we know very little about what happens to radio isotopes that are absorbed internally. How long will they stay there? Will they be removed or eliminated? Where will they go? To the very important tissues of the lungs, the heart, the bones, or will they be all over the body, or only in the thyroid, or in the blood? And you cannot assess any of that unless you go one by one through the list of isotopes and also through the different organisms of the food chain the land and water ecosystems. It’s not that simple.
We’ve told NAPOCOR a number of times that we need to do these kinds of studies but their usual answer is that they’re not a research institution, that PAEC and some universities can do that kind of work. But since there’s no funding for research in this area, few studies have been done.
Question. What if it came to a vote?
I’d vote negative. And not because of safety problems . . . I am confident that the technical aspects can be handled . . . but for economic reasons. My conviction is that since Juan de la Cruz needs only two bulbs to light his house, $2 billion is too much to pay.
[“A Primer on Nuclear Power.” Alternative Futures. Vol II. No 1. 1985. 27-32]