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.
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.