Thursday, April 13, 2006

Radio Pope causes cancer

The Vatican Radio's high-power antennas stand accused of causing cancer. How's that for unexpected? First of all with the glut of christian religious talk stations, its amazing the Pope still needs his own radio outlet. but apparently he does. The first signal to be sent out on HVJ was in Morse code. The technician types the words, In nomine Domini, Amen, that is In the Name of the Lord, amen! Marconi introduces the pope, somebody does the little dramatic two-note thing with some trumpets then Pius starts mumbling in latin. It was a pretty big deal. More here.It was Guglielmo Marconi himself who came to the Vatican in 1931 and kissed the popes ring. By February 12th of that year Pope Pius XI inaugurated the airwaves. Marconi was an Italian catholic, and Pius was originally from Milan. The two fervently religious men were both icons, and neither could have been more excited. they had been planning the event as early as 1925. The idea originated with the Dir. General of Communications for Vatican City, Giuseppe Gianfranceschi who drew up plans for a wireless station in the Vatican that year. Film footage of the event, which is conserved in the archives of Vatican Radio. That's a picture of Marconi and the pope hanging out below.
The size and number of the Vatican's antennas are imposing. Signals from two medium-wave transmitters reach all of Italy at all times, while those from 27 shortwave antennas are beamed at selected parts of the world in different languages at varying times. Thus, papal speeches, news programs, and religious events are dispatched in 34 languages to all the corners of the world, making this complex as important to the Vatican as the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe were to the United States at the height of the Cold War.But to the inhabitants of Cesano and neighboring communities, the antennas, some transmitting at an effective 600 kilowatts, represent not only a blight on the landscape and something of a nuisance—hearing the Pope's voice picked up by your front-door intercom is not always appreciated—but also a possible health threat. About 6000 people live in the immediate vicinity.

In 2000, a small number of cases of childhood leukemia, first reported by a local physician, were blamed by residents on the strong radio-frequency fields generated by the Vatican antennas. Two scientific studies have suggested a field of Vatican Radio broadcasting antennas north of Rome may have caused high rates of cancer in the area. The first, in 2001, found that magnetic fields around the transmitters were much higher than normal limits allow. Finally in 2005 Cardinal Roberto Tucci and Father Pasquale Borgomeo of the Vatican were convicted of knowingly causing cancer in hundreds of children.

They were given suspended 10-day jail sentences, and the Italian court also ordered them to pay damages and court costs. The Vatican is appealing. Book on HVJ radio here.