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[cdn-nucl-l] Fw: German radioactive spa says 'Hail, Radonia!'
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From: Michael C. Baker <email@example.com>
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Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2001 9:46 AM
Subject: German radioactive spa says 'Hail, Radonia!'
> German radioactive spa says 'Hail, Radonia!'
> GERMANY: January 17, 2001
> SCHLEMA, Germany - As NATO's Balkans veterans fret
> about health risks from uranium munitions, a
> generation old enough to remember the last great
> European war is happily paying for a bit of extra
> radiation exposure.
> Every day hundreds of elderly Germans splash around in
> the spa waters at Schlema, which contain low levels of
> radon, a radioactive gas generated from the decay of
> uranium, with the conviction it can cure a variety of
> like rheumatism.
> "I'm here for the first time and it's rather nice," said
> Wolf, a 67-uear-old retired farmer, after a swim in a
> pool overlooked by hills famous for their rich lode of
> uranium. "I'm not afraid of radiation...I plan to come
> next week."
> As in the current debate over the risks faced by NATO
> soldiers because of the use of depleted uranium munitions
> in Kosovo and Bosnia or early in the Gulf War against
> experts disagree over the possible dangers from
> spas such as Schlema and Bad Gastein in Austria.
> German Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping, who said this
> month that soldiers were not at risk from contact with
> depleted uranium shells, raised some eyebrows by
> comparing their exposure to the radioactive spas.
> "For example, one gram of depleted uranium that was used
> for this type of ammunition is about the same amount of
> radiation as in 10 litres of water from the Bad Gastein
> he told reporters.
> AN IRRADIATED PAST
> Germany's handful of radioactive spas have a tradition
> dating back a century. And even during this
> age, more sensitive to radioactivity, local officials are
> betting that the town's future revives that radioactive
> Schlema, with a population of about 6,000, enjoyed its
> heyday during the Nazi era when it boasted of being the
> most radioactive spot on Earth and had more than 100
> hotels and guesthouses to receive visitors. It thrived
> during World War Two, receiving its record number of spa
> visitors in 1943.
> After the war, the victorious Soviet occupiers realised
> uranium in this region, about 230 km (150 miles) south of
> Berlin, was too valuable for just splashing around in.
> They sent in an NKVD secret police general who once ran
> gulag labour camp to set up a giant mining operation for
> Soviet nuclear warheads. The spa was destroyed, visitors
> The mining continued until the collapse of East German
> communism in 1990, when the reunified Germany inherited
> an ecological disaster, even though much of the uranium
> was by then already extracted.
> "The strongest radioactive source in the world was right
> here," said Peter Wolff, 58, head of the ongoing local
> clean-up operation, which is expected to cost 13 billion
> marks ($6.3 billion) across the region.
> He led a visitor to an elevator shaft and descended into
> maze of dimly-lit mining tunnels where he has worked
> "No one needed to be forced to mine here. Miners earned
> lots of money back then, twice as much as in other jobs,"
> he said. "It was known that uranium was radioactive, you
> learned that in school. But it's like flying. There are
> accidents, but you think it won't happen to you."
> The danger was always there however.
> Experts say more than 5,000 miners died from
> radon-related lung cancer which developed while mining
> uranium for the Soviet Union after the war.
> SPA AS NEW BEGINNING
> Yet few dwell on these past dangers, least of all those
> running the town's 43-million mark ($20.7 million) spa
> facility that opened two years ago. In front, Radonia, a
> statuary tribute to radon personified as a water nymph,
> stands naked inside a fountain, drinking from a jug of
> irradiated water.
> "Two thousand patients die from aspirin a year," said spa
> director Steffen Matthias. "There is not one known case
> patient dying from radon."
> "It's more dangerous to take three flights a year to
> or New York," he added, noting the additional solar
> radiation exposure people receive while flying at high
> Spa marketing director Evelyn Weiss says the radon
> treatments not only cure ailments, they revive visitors'
> lives. As is normal in Germany, male and female guests
> share a naked sauna.
> At the government's Radiation Protection Agency,
> say the radon spa is fine for those suffering health
> "One does get a bigger exposure to radiation here, but
> cannot say it is a bigger risk," said official Winfried
> "Patients who receive the spa cure have less pain, so
> need less medicine. The savings in medicine, which itself
> can pose risks, is worth the small exposure."
> Germany is not alone in promoting radioactive spas, which
> still operate in Austria, the former Soviet Union, Japan
> elsewhere. But some experts say the healing powers of
> radioactive radon are dubious and risky.
> "Other aspects of the 'spa experience' may be beneficial
> overall. But the irradiation of internal organs by radon
> its decay products or exposure to radon, per se, is
> to be helpful," said Otto Raabe, professor emeritus of
> radiation biophysics at the University of California at
> William Field of the University of Iowa's College of
> Health points out that patients suffering from arthritis
> feel better after any regular hot water bath. Yet he says
> there are health risks from radon.
> "Numerous epidemiological studies of radon-exposed
> underground miners and the recent residential
> study we performed in the United States indicate that
> gas exposure causes lung cancer," he said.
> "The radon spas should not serve as a substitute for
> conventional health care," he continued. "While it is
> possible that the radon gas exposure does cause some
> beneficial health effect, owners of the spas should
> the spas' users that there might also be some risk
> RADONIA AEROBICS
> In Schlema, nearly everyone discounts such risks and
> a 1992 study that said radon was more effective than hot
> "On weekends we have little babies swimming here," said
> marketing director Weiss. "We couldn't do it if it were
> Just in case, however, workers in the area of especially
> concentrated radon baths wear a dosimeter on their
> smocks to measure radioactivity.
> At the spa's main swimming pool, a disco version of the
> Beatles "All my Loving" started playing as a geriatric
> aerobics class got under way. Grey hair and
> candy-coloured bathing caps bobbed up and down.
> Off to the side rested Gerd Richter, 66, who once mined
> uranium in the nearby hills. Now he is turning to Radonia
> again, hoping she can cure his aching joints from decades
> of tough work in the mines.
> "I've noticed that it does help," he said, adding that he
> comes twice a month.
> Spa director Matthias said the baths are also the only
> for the region's economic woes such as high
> "Economically the whole region has suffered the shutdown
> of many firms since reunification," he said. "This is the
> future for the city...It would be very sad here without
> Story by Adam Tanner
> REUTERS NEWS SERVICE