Dr. James Conca has published another important post about the aftermath of Fukushima and the efforts of the people opposed to the use of nuclear energy to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about imaginary health effects of low dose radiation. The article is titled Fukushima 2.25 — The Humanitarian Crisis; it is a “must read” that includes a growing discussion thread of occasionally thoughtful commentary.
Jim’s premise is that the continued access restrictions to all but the most contaminated areas are harming people by preventing them from living normal, productive lives. Instead, potentially healthy Fukushima natives are being turned into victims of excessive stresses caused by living in temporary relocation facilities while being frequently subjected to fear-inducing stories about how they and their children will eventually become victims of cancer or other scary illnesses. In some cases, their fellow countrymen actively avoid contact out of irrational fear that they will somehow become contaminated themselves.
Ironically, however, the WHO report highlights the psychological effects of the disaster — fear, anxiety and depression to the point of psychosomatic illness, psychiatric disorders and suicide (Husband of Fukushima suicide victim demands justice). And, as only humans can do, people tend to stigmatize those hailing from the affected areas, making relocation even more punishing socially and physically.
The miniscule risks outlined by all these studies do not justify the continued harm and devastation perpetrated upon the Fukushima refugees. Except for the small, highly contaminated areas adjacent to the reactors which should stay off-limits until remediated, the risk of cancer and death from the increased use of coal and gas since the disaster has provided much more risk to the population of the Tohoku region, and to Japan as a whole, than any radiation effects from Fukushima (Killer Energy Sources).
Atomic Insights readers would not be surprised to learn that our old friend, Bob Applebaum, is actively involved in the discussion thread. He is posting as “anon”, but his habit of accusing anyone who questions the Linear, No-Threshold dose assumption of being a Creationist identifies him as accurately as a fingerprint. In response to one of Bob’s comments claiming that the LNT is a proven theory that has been tested and validated for about 100 years, I added my own thoughts. I’m vain and lazy enough to capture and repurpose them here as a way of encouraging additional discussion.
@anon (AKA Bob A)
I find it interesting that you both date the LNT hypothesis to the work of a man who lived more than 100 years ago, and then claim that it is the central theory of low dose radiation health effects because of its statistical effect on DNA.
You are aware, I hope, that scientists did not even know that DNA existed 100 years ago. People like Hermann Muller and Hugo DeVries had no way to study how DNA repair mechanisms work for complex, multicell creatures like human beings.
There was no way for them to begin to understand WHY Caspari’s (working in Muller’s own lab) experiments showed such dramatically contrary results that invalidated the LNT assumption.
Here is a brief history. Caspari was interested in determining if mutation rates really were related to radiation doses in a linear fashion all the way down to zero. He had studied Muller’s results and was aware of his linear, no threshold hypothesis. Like a good scientist with a questioning attitude, he wanted to validate – or invalidate – that hypothesis through a well-designed experiment.
He used radium as the source of what was then considered to be low doses. He exposed large samples of fruit flies to doses of about 50 Rad (50 rem or 500 mSv) given at a lower rate (2.5 r/day) than the 100 R/min x-rays that Muller used in his own mutation experiments. Caspari’s experimental results showed that mutation rates for the exposed fruit flies were indistinguishable from the mutation rates in a similarly large control population that was NOT exposed.
Muller was aware of Caspari’s results BEFORE he gave his Nobel Prize speech, but he ignored them because those results did not support Muller’s political desire to stoke radiation fear as a means of encouraging people to actively resist the atomic bomb testing program.
In recent years, scientists like Feinendegen, Pollycove, Callabrese, and Neumann have learned how low doses of radiation stimulate (up-regulate) metabolic defenses and molecular repair mechanisms and how those defenses stop working only when doses exceed a reasonably high threshold. Unlike Muller and DeVries, today’s genetic researchers can study DNA and detect the way that redundant repair mechanisms succeed. They can also study DNA in living organisms to find out that spontaneous DNA damage rates from many other influences exceed those caused by low dose radiation by 3 to 6 orders of magnitude.
Adaptive response works. Doses below a single whole body dose of 100-150 mSv (10-15 rem) and below a chronic dose rate of about 700 mSv/y (70 rem/year) are safe and even somewhat beneficial to human health. Unlike the situation of 50 to 100 years ago, we now have the tools available to test and validate those numbers.
High doses of radiation are dangerous and must be avoided. Fortunately, we can detect radiation at levels far below the harmful level with a high degree of confidence.
We do not need to tremble in fear of ionizing radiation as a silent killer; by conducting simple measurements we can learn when levels are safe and when they are high enough to cause concern. We can go about our lives in confidence and make good use of Nature’s gift of exceedingly energy dense fuels that do not destroy our shared atmosphere.
Of course, people whose wealth and power are based using any energy source other than nuclear energy or those whose prosperity is based on getting paid large sums of money to PROTECT people from the imaginary danger of low doses of radiation (I’m looking at you, Bob) will continue to spread FUD and hope that no one notices.
People who understand the science of radiation health effects and its potential economic impacts must effectively resist the fossil fuel, “renewable energy”, “smart grid”, conservation and radiation protection sales efforts with facts and science.
Many powerful people have a lot to lose when the rest of us figure out that we have been duped into believing a failed hypothesis that produces INCORRECT results when applied to radiation doses in the range of possible variations in normal background.
It is incredibly empowering for human society to recognize that we already know how to design resilient power plants where three large reactors can melt at the same time without exposing anyone to harmful levels of radiation. We’ve had that knowledge for nearly 50 years; we just did not conduct the validating experiment until March 11, 2011.
Update: (Posted 6/20/2013 at 03:28) A commenter named Patricia provided a detailed response to Bob’s continued protestations that the LNT was more than just an unproven hypothesis that provides a convenient, mathematically simple means of establishing ever more strict rules designed to strangle fission as a threatening economic competitor to all other formers of energy production. Here is a quote from her comment, which is worth reading in its entirety:
In the case of LNT, there are thousands of studies that point to the fact that doses less than 10 rem (100 mSv) are not problematic for human health. In 1981 the GAO examined the thousands of studies of low dose radiation (at that time about 80,000+ credible scientific studies) and concluded at that time that “there is no way yet to determine precisely the cancer risks of low-level ionizing radiation exposure and it is unlikely this question will be resolved soon.” GAO 1981 “Problems in Assessing the Cancer Risks of Low level Ionizing Radiation Exposure” It is now 2013, thousands more studies have been undertaken; more and more research on cells and radiation exposure has been conducted; hundreds of epidemiologic studies have been published and yet there remains no proof of LNT (the “T” by the way stands for threshold, not theory).
Unfortunately no amount of study can prove LNT to be true- the doses are simply too small, there are too many confounding factors and there simply aren’t enough people on the planet to test it. It is an un-testable premise.