Radiation, Pollution and Radiophobia

Cover - Nuclear ShadowboxingWhile researching answers to comments made on the Atomic Insights post titled Healthy doses of radiation, I found a book titled Nuclear Shadowboxing: Legacies and Challenges.

It includes a fascinating appendix titled Radiation, Pollution and Radiophobia that should be required reading for people who are interested in understanding more about the health effects of low level radiation, who want access to a useful single page table full of radiation-related conversion factors and who want to understand more about the fifty-five year old scientific, political and economic controversy over the use of the linear, no-threshold (LNT) dose assumption that is sometimes translated as “no safe dose” of radiation.

The document asks the following rhetorical questions.

Why do radiation-protection authorities have a public dose limit as low as 1 mSv per year? This is less than half of the average annual dose, and under 1 percent of doses in some countries? Why does the world spend billions of dollars per year to maintain the standard?

Before providing the list of answers that the document provides to its own question, I need to remind people of a principle derived from double entry accounting – one person’s cost is another person’s revenue. For every extra dollar spent to protect against ever smaller doses, someone collects one more revenue dollar than they would have collected if the dollar had not been spent.

Extra spending by utilities and governments — actually by taxpayers and ratepayers — is not the only effect of excessively strict radiation dose standards. Those standards — applied selectively to doses that can be traced to industrial sources of radiation and generally not applied to naturally occurring sources often associated with coal, oil and gas extraction and consumption — add a substantial cost penalty to nuclear-related products and services. Without those artificial costs and schedule-slowing impositions, nuclear-related products would be more serious competitors to products offered by established, non-nuclear vendors.

There are many tens of billions of dollars per year in sales at stake related to the assumption that every dose of radiation, no matter how small, is harmful. It is no wonder that resistance to change in this area is so virulent.

Here is a list of factors as provided in Radiation, Pollution and Radiophobia (pg. Va1-6) that make radiation health effects such an emotionally, economically and politically charged issue. I might have made some changes in the listing order, but it is a pretty comprehensive list.

Factors that have helped create of sustain radiophobia include the following:

  • government insensitivity in testing nuclear weapons in the air, underground, above ground and at sea;
  • emotional impact from using atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki;
  • excesses of the Cold War nuclear-arms race and the accompanying psychological warfare;
  • demonstrably false projections of casualties made after the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl-reactor accidents;
  • negative lobbying by fossil-fuel industries;
  • crass interests of radiation researchers for recognition and budget allocations;
  • self-serving politicians using radiophobia as a weapon in seeking power;
  • misleading “dirty bomb” scares by careless analysts;
  • public fear induced by news media that profit by hyping news;
  • counterproductive interests of “greens” (psuedo-environmentalists) who thrive by scaring the public; and
  • undue complacency and laxity within the nuclear industry.

Nuclear Shadowboxing was published in 2005, six years before the Fukushima Frenzy, so it is clear that the information it includes in the six concise pages of Appendix Va1 has not yet been distributed widely enough to make a difference.

Though I am probably stretching the fair use principle, I think it is important to make Radiation, Pollution and Radiophobia available as widely as possible. I encourage those who are intrigued by this sample of the book to go and purchase a copy; it is available in print and at a very affordable price as an e-book from Google Play.

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