Atomic Show #267 – Dr. Lauren Jackson addresses radiophobia
A couple of weeks ago, I heard Dr. (Isabel) Lauren Jackson talking to Bill Nye on his Science Rules podcast. At the end of his discussion with her, Nye seemed to have changed his mind in the positive direction regarding the importance of nuclear energy.
He seemed far less worried about radiation and the potential for accidental releases when he finished his discussion with Dr. Jackson than he did when opening the show.
After hearing that episode, I decided I had to meet this convincing radiation expert. Through modern magical means (search and social media) I began conversing with Dr. Jackson and even progressed to first name basis. She readily agreed to be the first guest on a reenergized Atomic Show.
We talked about her discussion with “The Science Guy,” about the importance of nuclear energy in a world threatened by climate change, about her research on effects of high dose radiation (in the range of 2-6 Gy received in a single, acute dose), and about her efforts to communicate with the public about the far lower, often unmeasurable effects of low dose radiation.
I think you will enjoy this show. But even if you don’t, please provide feedback on what you liked and what you didn’t. Should I invest more time here or keep getting distracted by other endeavors?
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Hey Rod, great to see you back!
As the 2020 election heats up, it looks like even some of the democrats are supporting nuclear energy – Cory Booker for sure, Yang, and Biden a bit and even AOC is “thinking about it”, which seems like a new development.
As a relatively neutral figure and an excellent interviewer have you thought about trying to get pro-nuclear politicians on all sides in between the technical interviews?
I really enjoy your podcasts and urge you to continue. I wonder what would happen if there were some type of terrorist “dirty bomb” exploded in an American city (dispersal of a radioisotope, not a nuclear weapon). Is this county ready to respond in a rational manner with carefully considered contingency plans, or would chaos rule as at Fukushima? I think this would make a good topic to explore.
If one has the materials at hand, dirty bomb construction presents no serious technical obstacles. What works against such a device is that all the radioactive materials are initially present. To facilitate transportation and allow a wide set of deployment locations, it is highly desirable to make the device as compact as possible. However, a compact device necessarily concentrates the radioactive material making it more a radiation hazard to the terrorists as well as making it easier to detect by radiation sensors. A conventional nuclear bomb creates both the explosive energy and the radioactive materials at the same time.
I remember reading that a “dirty bomb” dropped by a manned bomber aircraft was considered as a contingency if the Manhattan Project efforts were unsuccessful. It was concluded that such a device was more a hazard to the air crew than the intended targets and the idea was dropped.
Any potential terrorist capable of building such a device is probably has concluded it would be a waste if time. Which is probably why one has never been used.
I like how the specifically educated yet very polite physician walks back the implied ‘reality’ of hormesis. Mention or belief in radiation hormesis is presenting the neck in battle. If you believe the weak ‘statistical evidence’ of radiation hormesis, please keep it to yourself, because it is harmful to the cause.
I noticed most how this young lady evaded the spots. Seems like she is still good for hire and careful. She blessed by showing up.
I think you have mischaracterized Dr. Jackson’s comments about beneficial effects of moderate doses of radiation. As you noted, she is specifically educated and professionally involved in understanding the effects of acute doses in the range of 1-6 Gy. She has not spent much time and energy working on the effects of much lower doses and specifically mentioned in her explanation of radiation triage that anyone who received a dose below about 50 cGy (500 mSv assuming external gamma) would not even qualify for medical attention.
My cause is trying to share what I’ve learned from good studies and from conversations with experts about the actual, observed effects of low to moderate doses of radiation. The statistical evidence is far from weak, though the observed effects in all cases is limited to about 30% improvement in the measured endpoints. Responses to stresses created by low doses of ionizing radiation are similar to those created by moderate exercise, a well balanced diet, and sufficient intake of necessary vitamins and minerals that might be toxic at high doses.
If you cover your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears it wouldn’t be surprising if you saw nothing and heard nothing.
In a certain sense I agree, although it might depend upon one’s cause, and how one defines it. I personally am a bit reluctant to buy into radiation hormesis as I fear mention of it in context of nuclear power will be interpreted as promoting less strict radiation requirements for nuclear facilities, and by extension even more lax standards, and by extended extension ever more danger from an industry already perceived to be even now far too dangerous and environmentally irresponsible.
Before you know it, we end up exactly where we are today: 402ppm CO2 heading north, and an extremely-though-not-perfectly safe nuclear industry struggling for survival in the face of (sometimes) well-meaning environmentalists who, quite frankly and occasionally admittedly, would rather burn coal.
Or more frequently gas. Most of them will tell you it isn’t necessary to burn either, and some even believe it.
On the other hand are those — many with medical physics and biological backgrounds — who will admonish: “Evidence for LNT is at best weak compared to the world-wide epidemiological evidence against: there very clearly are thresholds.”
Now, negating LNT is definitely NOT the same as “proving” hormesis. But in a similar vein, those who do promote hormesis will argue that epidemiological evidence for hormesis is rather stronger than that for LNT.
Be that as it may, LNT is currently the Politically Correct Received Wisdom, and any radioactivist who suggests a more thoughtful analysis in public, had best be prepared to provide supporting evidence.
Like this: Effects of Cobalt-60 Exposure on Health of Taiwan Residents Suggest New Approach Needed in Radiation Protection.
There’s no question in my mind that the LNT model has misrepresented the health effects of ionizing radiation for years. Things like the Nuclear Shipyard Workers Study seem to indicate there really could be a health benefit to levels of IR slightly above background levels. We have extensive studies from populations in areas like Kerala India where the thorium rich monazite sands result in a higher level of background radiation and no noticeable increase in cancers specifically leukemia.
Some research now seems to be showing that ultra-low levels of IR are actually harmful to cellular function.
Which would make sense as we are all exposed to ionizing radiation on a constant basis from the natural decay of the radioactive isotopes we take into our bodies constantly.
Radiophobia is a real thing and when we look at the impacts of not phasing out fossil fuels in place of the only viable alternative in terms of scale and resources which is nuclear power, then it can be argued effectively that radiophobia is far more of a threat to people’s health than any exposure anyone is likely to get from nuclear power when we eventually do build the thousands of reactors we desperately need. Especially with developments like molten salt reactors that offer an even greater level of safety than the already very safe light and heavy water reactors.
To me ionizing radiation is like anything else that we need for life. Too much water for instance can have serious health effects from water intoxication. Too much food can lead to serious health effects and the oxidation from cellular respiration causes more DNA strand breaks than any other cause.
We don’t tell people to avoid water, food and oxygen at any cost, why do we do the same with ionizing radiation. It may have only been discovered in 1895, but has always been and will always be a part of our lives and world.
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