Atomic Show #240 – Prof Gerry Thomas radiation health effects

Gerry Thomas, Professor of Molecular Pathology of the Imperial College of London, has a subspecialty in the study of the health effects of radiation. She strongly believes that “public involvement and information is a key part of academic research,” and she is “actively involved in the public communication of research, particularly with respect to radiation protection and biobanking.”

She was deeply involved in determining the health effects of the Chernobyl accident, particularly with regard to the effects of iodine-131 ingestion on thyroid cancer. She also studied the health effects of Cs-137 released during that accident and found out that there were none due to the short biological half-life, the patchy nature of deposition and natural cleansing effects of weather.

Dr. Thomas is an excellent public speaker and has been featured in a number of educational efforts including a talk at the United Nations University during which she highlighted the misconceptions associated with radiation health impacts during reactor accidents. Ben Heard of classifies her as one of his Credible Hulks – people whose knowledge is deep and whose words are worthy of attention.

Dr. Thomas and I talked about her experiences in studying Chernobyl, the vast difference in initial response between the Chernobyl accident and the Fukushima accident, the expected health effects from Fukushima (virtually zero from radiation, unmeasurable from ill conceived fear), and the need to improve public responses to rare, but still possible nuclear accidents. We commiserated a bit about the difficulty associated with changing people’s minds after they have already made choices about what they believe, and about the monetary incentives that encourage some people involved in related industries to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about competitive energy sources.

I hope you enjoy our discussion. It’s been too long since the last Atomic Show, though I did share some audio extra files from the 2015 ANS meeting.

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