Defending hormesis and pointing to economic motives for asserting “no safe dose”

The below is an improved version of a comment that I posted on the NRC blog titled Examining the Reasons for Ending the Cancer Risk Study. It was composed in response to accusations from a person named Gary Morgan who stated that I had attacked Greg Jaczko, misunderstood the biological nature of radiation, and promoted hormesis, which he labels as a fallacy. He also accused me and other people that support the nuclear industry of intentionally deceiving the public and claimed that our statements about radiation health effects proved that we could not be trusted in any matter.

Those are fighting words. Since my response on the NRC blog might never appear or might appear too late to matter much, I thought it would be worth repurposing my comment here for additional discussion.

@Mr. Morgan

Mentioning the fact that Chairman Jaczko pushed the initial study hardly qualifies as me making “an attack.” I freely admit to having attacked the former chairman — and current professional antinuclear activist — on a number of occasions on Atomic Insights, but the above comment was not one of those times.

Ionizing radiation does not “bioaccumulate.” In fact, ionizing radiation is a very short lived phenomenon that disappears as soon as the source is removed. The specific particles involved — alphas, betas, and gammas — give up their energy and merge into existing matter through ionization and absorption reactions.

Radioactive isotopes, unlike some materials that are hazardous because of their chemical nature, decay and lose their radiation hazard over time. Some of the specific materials that have a radiation component to their hazard – like uranium – also have a chemical nature to their hazard which does not disappear over time any more than the hazard of lead or mercury disappears.

Radiation hormesis is not a fallacy, but a heavily studied and repeatable phenomenon.

Even the BEIR VII report, which stated that there was not sufficient evidence — AT THAT TIME — to change regulations to incorporate the hormesis response, did not dismiss it as a fallacy. It devoted an entire appendix to the concept and described the results of several experiments that showed it was repeatable in a number of biological models.

That report, published in 2006, was based on science that had been peer reviewed and published sometime before 2004. It recommended further research, much of which was conducted during a ten year long, reasonably supported Low Dose Radiation Research Program by the Department of Energy.

The numerous studies produced as a result of that widespread, diverse research effort continues to add to the weight of evidence that shows the NAS BEAR 1 Genetics Committee was wrong when they overturned 50 years of observations on the effects of low level radiation on humans and issued a report declaring that all radiation was bad “from a genetics perspective.”

They had no evidence available to them. No experiments had been conducted at levels below about 50 Rad (50 cGy). The few that were in the neighborhood of 50 rad (50 cGy) indicated that there was a distinct threshold response below which the irradiated subjects had results that were not distinguishable from the controls.

The sad part of the story is that several of the scientists who knew about those results worked to obscure them from the record and to deny their important implications. They wanted to teach us that all radiation was bad. One of them, Hermann Muller, had been pressing that outlier idea for nearly 3 decades.

The notion that there was “no safe dose” of radiation apparently coincided with the interests of the Rockefeller Foundation, which steadily supported Muller throughout his career even though he earned a reputation as a poor teacher, a difficult colleague, a Communist sympathizer, and a man suffering from such severe depression that he made a serious, almost successful attempt to take his own life.

The Rockefeller Foundation initiated and provided 100% of the funding for the NAS committees on the Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation from 1954-1962.

Warren Weaver, the Chairman of the Genetics Committee, which is the one whose report was covered on the front page of the New York Times on June 13, 1956 and was published in full in the same edition of the paper, served as the director of the Rockefeller Foundation natural science funding program from about 1933-1959. Both before and after he obtained unanimous consensus from his 12 member committee of geneticists, his program provided at least half of the members with most of their research funding.

Bad science can exist and be promoted by people with economic interests. The RF, supported by an oil rich family with major investments in hydrocarbon focused companies, had a strong interest in instilling widespread fear of radiation and limiting the growth of a formidable competitor.

Of course, the Rockefellers were not the only people who were interested in slowing the development of abundant atomic energy. There are numerous economic interests tied to the business of finding, extracting, transporting, financing, refining, distributing, storing, trading, promoting, regulating, protecting and consuming oil and natural gas. Whole economies in several countries are nearly completely dependent on hydrocarbon linked revenues and hydrocarbon combustion has provided the foundation for modern society since the beginning of the Industrial Age.

Nuclear energy is a huge transforming technology. Many interests still have motives for asserting that there is no safe dose, but the mountain of evidence accumulating that refutes the notion is getting more and more difficult to ignore.

We are doing our part to resist the efforts to deny evidence. We refuse to stop talking about the harm done by ignoring evidence that low doses of radiation are not harmful to people. In fact, they are most likely beneficial.

Atomic Show #245 – Building a prosperity program on used nuclear fuel foundation

I applaud reasoned, long term thinking that aims to use science, technology and deep understanding of human wants and needs — aka politics — to set a course for success.

You can find one of my favorite current examples of an effort that meets my criteria in the expansive, lightly populated, rather dry state of South Australia. South Australia is blessed with abundant natural resources, including nearly one third of the world’s known uranium resources. It has developed a resources-heavy economy that is now paying the price of being a little too heavily dependent on the world commodities markets.

State debt is high on a per capita basis, unemployment is higher than average, and many leaders are casting about for ways to build a more solid foundation for continued prosperity.

Senator Sean Edwards, a Liberal Party Senator from South Australia, has sponsored the development of a solid prosperity plan guided by one of the basic principles of economic success — provide a product or service that solves a problem that is important enough for customers to be willing to pay dearly for a solution.

In this case, Edwards and his team — led by Ben Heard, a person who is no stranger to Atomic Insights participants — have decided that they should plan to offer a service to the world that effectively answers the frequently asked question, “What do you do with the [nuclear] waste?”

Their timing was fortuitous; they had already begun working on their used fuel storage and recycling plan when the South Australian government announced the formation of a Royal Commission on the nuclear fuel cycle. As they explain during our conversation; that announcement came as a surprise. It was a welcome surprise, but Sean and Ben assured me that they did not know that it was coming.

Their powerful prosperity plan is not something that was sketched out on a couple of white boards or Post-it notes; it is the result of months of research, modeling and intensive critical review. I’ve obtained their permission to share their plan — titled Transforming our economy. Cleaning our energy. Sustaining our future — with you.

It is a masterful piece of work; a vision that is solidly supported by facts, available technology, identified resources, and a well-founded optimism for the future.

Briefly stated, the plan envisions South Australia as an international destination for used nuclear fuel. The state will accumulate an inventory of the material in well-proven dry cask storage systems. With revenues from taking responsibility for the waste, it will build a commercially useful, pilot scale pyroprocessing plant to convert used nuclear fuel into metallic fuel assemblies suitable for fueling sodium cooled fast reactors, most likely using GE-Hitachi’s PRISM design.

When the plan reaches a mature state, used light water reactor fuel will be routinely accepted for storage, recycling systems will be in place, and enough nuclear power plant capacity will be installed to provide all the electricity South Australia can consume — with some left over for growth and selling to neighboring states.

To answer the South Australians who pose the inevitable question of “What’s in this for me?”, the plan proposes setting a wholesale price of $0 for the electricity generated for state residents, industries and commercial establishments.

If you can’t believe that price point can be profitable; you’ll have to download the plan and run the numbers yourself.

Sean, Ben and I had a great chat; we all agreed that it would be just the first of many as the plan gains acceptance and begins implementation. I hope you enjoy the show and send your best wishes to people who are striving to make the world a better place.


GE-Hitachi and DTE announce additional ESBWR detailed design work

GE-Hitachi issued a press release on October 5 indicating that they will be working with DTE to determine the resource requirements and schedule for performing the detailed design work necessary to build an ESBWR (Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor) as Fermi Unit 3. Though DTE has not announced a decision to build the facility, it […]

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Former NRC counsel attacks quoted source used in “Radiation isn’t the Real Risk”

In a recent post titled Message is reaching the public – radiation risks have been greatly exaggerated I pointed to a New York Times piece by George Johnson describing how the evacuations ordered after the Fukushima reactor core melt events has already caused about 1600 early fatalities. He also explained how the radioactive material that […]

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More financial motives for UBS’s effort to encourage nuclear plant retirements in Northeast

Yesterday, I wrote a quick post that linked a recently issued UBS report’s negative views about the economic viability of merchant nuclear power plants in the US to UBS’s large portfolio of troubled loans to companies involved in various aspects of the natural gas extraction technique known as “fracing” (alternatively spelled as fracking in many […]

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Why would UBS root for Entergy’s Merchant Nukes to Close?

UBS Investment Bank holds a large portfolio of loans to companies involved in extracting natural gas using the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Because of the healthy fees associated with generating those loans initially, UBS, along with several other large investment banks, supported drilling programs for production that was not justified by the […]

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Meredith Angwin with Pat McDonald on Vote for Vermont

Meredith Angwin, who blogs at Yes Vermont Yankee and Northwest Clean Energy, was recently invited to talk with Pat McDonald on her television show called Vote for Vermont: Listening Beyond the Sound Bites. Angwin and McDonald covered a number of topics during the conversation. Meredith explained how we safely store used nuclear fuel, why some […]

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Message is reaching the public – radiation risks have been greatly exaggerated

An important message that has been discussed often by web publications like Hiroshima Syndrome, Yes Vermont Yankee, Canadian Energy Issues, Nuke Power Talk, Neutron Bytes, Atomic Power Review, and ANS Nuclear Cafe has jumped to the mainstream press in the form of a New York Times article by George Johnson titled When Radiation Isn’t the […]

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Energy for Humanity vision explained by co-founder Kirsty Gogan

Nuclear4Climate posted the below video on their YouTube channel yesterday. It features Kirsty Gogan, the Executive Director and one of three cofounders of the U.K. based civil society group Energy for Humanity. Though there is a small issue with sound quality, I think you’ll agree that Kirsty makes a strong case for nuclear energy as […]

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Speaking in favor of nuclear at DEQ clean power plan listening session

"Tehachapi wind farm 3" by Stan Shebs. 
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

Yesterday evening, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) hosted one of several clean power plan listening sessions in Roanoke. I attended the meeting. It was a true listening session; the DEQ representatives did very little talking and a lot of note taking. Each person who signed up to make a comment was given five […]

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Why did Richard Nixon so strongly endorse nuclear energy in April 1973?


On April 18, 1973, President Richard Nixon gave a special message to the congress of the United States on energy policy. Unlike more recent offerings by presidents regarding energy, that document placed a huge emphasis on making regulatory and legislative changes that would enable the rapid expansion of nuclear power; the ‘N’ word appears in […]

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Atomic Show #244 – September 2015 atomic update

For the first time in several months, I gathered a group of nuclear energy experts to chat about recent events and announcements in nuclear energy. Participants in this episode include: Meredith Angwin who blogs at Yes Vermont Yankee and Northwest Clean Energy Steve Aplin who blogs at Canadian Energy Issues Les Corrice who blogs at […]

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