Radioactivity at the Olympic site

Sigh.

Last night Liberal Democrat Olympic spokesman Don Foster MP called on the Olympic Delivery Authority to reveal scientific proof that the site would be safe for future generations.

The soil was contaminated by several former industries, including plants which made luminous dials for military use. Thorium, a radioactive isotope with a half-life of more than 14 billion years, was used in making London’s gas street lights.

Hmm, so, that half life (which I haven\’t bothered to check btw, but it looks like around and about the age of the Universe) shows, by definition, that it isn\’t very radioactive.

Just as an example of how not radioactive thorium is you could have a lump of a few pounds sitting on your desk and you wear a radiation detector (one of the film ones, not a Geiger Counter) and over the course of a year you wouldn\’t fog the film at all.

Yes, it was used in making gas street lights: to make the mantle. It was also used in all of those Calor Gas and the like camping lights. So anyone who went camping before the 80s (when use was gradually phased out) should be dead now of course.

Radium, used in the manufacture of luminous dials, decays into radon which can seep into the atmosphere, into water and into homes.

That is a slightly more valid worry, radon can indeed build up in homes and can and does kill people. However, we know how to deal with this, just ventilate the house properly. The odious Don Foster (my local MP for whatever sins I\’ve committed) only needs to travel some 10 miles outside his own constituency to the Mendips to see people who face much higher radon concentrations than anything which is likely to occur in London.

Or to Cornwall: or is Donny Baby insisting that London be safer than an entire county in the SW of England?

10 thoughts on “Radioactivity at the Olympic site”

  1. Burying radioactive waste at the Olympics site sounds like an excellent idea. Based on Sydney and Athens, no-one will want to use them again anyway.

  2. Don Foster, being a physics graduate and former head of a science education project, is presumably aware that many Thorium isotopes have much shorter half-lives, and that ingestion and inhalation of carcinogenic thorium dust, particularly from industrial waste sites, is regarded as hazardous to health. In addition to the thorium the former industries on the site involved a number of other potential pollutants. Without over-dramatising the risk, it seems reasonable for the ODA to be able to demonstrate proof of decontamination.

    Tim adds: You mean this Don Foster: “Foster was born in Preston, Lancashire, and educated at the Lancaster Royal Grammar School and Keele University where he was awarded a BSc degree in Physics and Psychology in 1969 and also received the CertEd the same year. He studied later for his MEd in Education at the University of Bath in 1981. He became a science teacher at the Sevenoaks School in Kent in 1969, before becoming a science project director with the Avon Education Authority in 1975. He became a lecturer in education at the University of Bristol in 1980, ”

    And, err, other isotopes: 232Th 90 142 232.0380553(21) 1.405(6)E+10 a 0+ 1.0000

    That is, of naturally occuring (ie, not generated in a reactor) ….which is what was used for gas mantles…..the other isotopes are not present.

    You mean that sort of knowledge that a former science project director for Avon Education Authority would have?

  3. You assert that “the other isotopes are not present”, yet the article itself reports that “Experts say many other radioactive isotopes are likely to be present” , that drums of radioactive and chemical waste were dumped at the West Ham landfill, and that the site also formerly housed a research nuclear reactor. The article also notes concerns over absence of a full safety report.

    By focusing on the radioactive stability of thorium isotopes, you also miss the point about the potential for heavy metal contamination of groundwater and/or soil – I certainly wouldn’t be recommending planting any fruit trees in the vicinity of this bunker, or as the article notes, extracting groundwater for irrigation.

    In the circumstances surely it is legitimate for DF to call for publication of an independent safety assessment, particularly given his scientific background. Seems to me that you are letting your political view of DF cloud your objectivity on this one.

    Tim adds: “You assert that “the other isotopes are not present”, yet the article itself reports that “Experts say many other radioactive isotopes are likely to be present””

    This might shock you, but there are other radioactive elements than Thorium. Like the radium I mentioned?

    “Seems to me that you are letting your political view of DF cloud your objectivity on this one.”

    And of course this could not possibly be true of someone calling themselves “Visiting Lib Dem” in defending the rabble rousing of a Lib Dem MP like the odious Don Foster, could it?

    BTW, about scientific backgrounds, I’ll admit to not having much of one. But I have had licences to buy, sell and transport both radioactive metals and the so called “nuclear metals”, those used in the nuclear industry (Zr, Hf etc). Why, I’ve even had licences to both import and export such nuclear metals from Russia and the US. I’ve supplied thorium itself (in one year I think it was some 50% of all thorium bought and or sold in the entire USA, not much of a boast given the tiny size of the market). The major metallic oxide that I deal with (in some years, a majority of the world’s trade in that specific oxide) is processed out of the waste from a uranium concentration mill and we have to be extremely careful about the residual levels of Th and U.

    I’ll happily put up my knowledge about radioactive wastes against that of a secondary school teacher turned MP willing to scare the shit out of the populace by shouting “Ooooh! Woe! Radioactivity! Run for the hills!”

    “you also miss the point about the potential for heavy metal contamination of groundwater and/or soil – I certainly wouldn’t be recommending planting any fruit trees in the vicinity of this bunker,”

    There was a reason I mentioned the Mendips you know, just outside the odious DF’s constituency. There are villages up there advised not to grow cabbages (they preferentially concentrate heavy metals from the soil) because of the U and Cd that will be sucked up from the old lead mine tailings.

    This is DF weebling about minute risks when there are others, far greater, that he ignores. There’s a reason I call him “odious” you know…..

  4. You’re backtracking now. You mentioned the Mendips in specific reference to radon gas, not contamination of soil. You also now appear to accept my point that other non-thorium isotopes may be present.

    It’s also unreasonable to claim DF is in any way scaremongering – your “run for the hills” sneer is particularly unworthy.

    The story here is that there is a potential source of hazardous waste on this site – whether radioactive or otherwise – and that in the circumstances the responsible thing to do is call for the ODA to publish an assessment of the waste therein and to ask for an independent confirmation that the site will be safe in the future, particularly if homes are to be built on it.

    My reading of this article is that the Express have got hold of the story and rung up an Opposition party Olympics spokesman for a quote.

    What, in the circumstances, would be the most appropriate response?

    a) I don’t believe a word of it. I’m sure everything will be perfectly all right, and there’s absolutely no need to safeguard the public interest in this case by ensuring proper scrutiny.

    b) “My immediate reaction is one of concern. It does not do anybody any good to have stuff like this buried next door to where they live. The ODA should now provide a detailed statement of exactly what is there. We need independent experts to assure the public that the environment is safe for future generations.”

    c) “Ooh! Woe! Radioactivity! Run for the hills!”

    Finally, the fundamental difference between radon in the South West and thorium and other hazardous waste on this site is that the radon is naturally occurring throughout large swathes of the landscape, whereas in this case the waste is purposefully being kept on a prominent site which is intended for a major international event costing billions of pounds and which is earmarked for residential development afterwards.

    The risks are quite conceivably negligible, but it is still in the circumstances necessary to ensure appropriate risk assessment and mitigation, not to mention appropriate transparency and scrutiny.

    Tim adds: “You also now appear to accept my point that other non-thorium isotopes may be present.”

    You’ve not quite got this radioactivity thing yet, have you? You’ve not even grasped “isotopes” yet.

    All elements (and thus all matter) are composed of isotopes. Some of many, some of only one (although others might be possible to create). So, given that absolutely no one is claiming that the site is solid thorium of course “non-thorium isotopes may be present”. This isn’t something which I need to “accept”, this is a blindingly obvious statement of fact about the universe.

    If you’re the best that the odious DF can manage to employ as his rapid reaction unit then there’s obviously hope for Bath to be free of him yet.

  5. Are you also prepared to accept that the presence of thorium dust is deleterious to health if inhaled or ingested regardless of radioactivity? If so, DF’s point would seem to be valid and your argument would seem to be specious.

    Tim adds: from the original piece: “Contaminated soil found around old industrial works on the site will be sealed in a radiation-proof concrete container just 400 yards from the athletics track and 250 yards from Stratford International rail station.”

    No, this is DF indulging in wibble, woo woo.

    He does like his name in the papers though….

  6. “the fundamental difference between radon in the South West and thorium and other hazardous waste on this site is that the radon is naturally occurring …: well, naturally occurring – obviously that’s OK. We might almost call it “organic radon”, eh?

  7. “Contaminated soil found around old industrial works on the site will be sealed in a radiation-proof concrete container just 400 yards from the athletics track and 250 yards from Stratford International rail station.”

    So for all those hours I spent waiting for trains at Stratford Station I was being bombarded with newclear radiashun? Shit! Anyone know a good lawyer?

  8. Oh hang on, isn’t there something called the inverse square law.
    Maybe an MP could get it repealed.
    Anyone suggest a good one to contact ?

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