Fission advocates should cooperate to dispel misinformation about radiation health effects
I correspond regularly with advocates for various nuclear fission technologies; there are many disagreements about the best way forward. The advocates can get pretty passionate about what they believe to be the weaknesses of competing technologies. There are times when I need to step in to remind them that their competitive target should be the fossil fuels that supply about 85% of our current energy markets.
Most of my reminders end up reaching only a small audience, but every once in a while one of them is worth sharing more broadly. Here is a recent message about the health effects of low levels of radiation that I sent out to a group that was spending a lot of time worrying about ways to reduce tritium formation in a particular type of molten salt reactor.
Ralph: If the threshold theory of radiation dose to people were found correct and adopted for a basis of regulation rather than the linear theory that appears to be wrong, the tritium issue would still be with us but easier to solve.
Rod Adams: This is another example area where fission advocates of all persuasions should work together to recognize and then contradict the massive amount of misinformation has been spread about radiation and radioactive materials in the past 50 years.
Aside: I firmly believe that a major portion of that misinformation has come from wealthy, politically connected, powerful people who benefit immensely by suppling fuel to a worldwide economy that is habitually dependent on burning hydrocarbons. End Aside.
While scientists know for sure that a radiation dose of between 100 – 200 Rem (1 – 2 Sv) received in a brief (few seconds to several minutes) period of time will cause radiation sickness, no one knows for sure what an accumulated dose of 10 – 20 Rem (100 – 200 mSv) administered over a several day period will do in terms of altering the already substantial probability that someone will develop a lethal case of cancer at an indeterminate time in the future.
No one is absolutely sure what will happen to any particular individual who is exposed to a dose rate of 2 – 5 Rem (20 – 50 mSv) per year for a lifetime, but there is a growing body of peer-reviewed science studying large, exposed populations against control populations that shows that such a dose is statistically, at worst, harmless and, at best, a modest health boost that stimulates adaptive responses.
For decades, perhaps dating back to Herman Muller’s 1946 Nobel Lecture (http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1946/muller-lecture.html), the politically correct assumption for the health effects of low level radiation has been the Linear, No Threshold dose response model. That model assumes that even the tiniest level of radiation has a negative health effect. There is no science that directly supports that assumption; but there is a whole profession called “radiation protection” that is based on acceptance of that assumption.
Aside. LNT proponents base their assumption on extrapolating a line from much higher doses. They tie nearly all of their models to the data that has been collected during the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivor Life Span Study that has been steadily funded by a small, relatively unknown office buried inside the US Environmental Protection Agency. That office includes some specific influencers that choose the researchers that get funded and that become members of the BEIR committees. Those influencers firmly support the LNT assumption and tend to filter out anyone who disagrees with their point of view. End Aside.
Muller apparently knew there was, in reality, science that had been conducted by a colleague named Curt Stern (with whom he corresponded on that very topic), that contradicted the LNT assumption based on studying the effects of low doses on an enormous population of fruit fly germ cells. That conclusion, however, did not support something else that Muller was passionate about – halting the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons. (http://ts-si.org/horizons/30988-edward-calabrese-alleges-hermann-muller-suppressed-radiation-effects-evidence-in-1946)
Many would agree that halting nuclear weapons testing was a noble endeavor, but well-funded efforts to reinforce the same invalid assumption – that there is no safe level of radiation – have been worth hundreds of billions of dollars per year for the people who fight the use of nuclear energy. That loose alliance wants society to turn its back on the advantages that effective use of nuclear technology can provide because they do not want to lose their dominant share of the lucrative energy market to the competition.
A vocal, highly public portion of that loose alliance seems motivated by preventing human society from having access to all forms of reliable, affordable energy, but I believe that segment of ideologues is rather small and powerless compared to fossil fuel pushers. You can understand why I believe that when you listen to people like Amory Lovins, Carl Pope, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., or Joe Romm talk about using natural gas as a bridge to their utopian future.
If you are interested in learning more, I suggest a search on the web for “health effects of low level radiation”. There are some terrific peer reviewed papers from people like Luckey, Pollycove, Calabrese, Cuttler, Kondo, and Rockwell.
Every technology that takes advantage of the marvelous energy density of fission has to deal with radioactive materials. It behooves us all to share as much real information about what that means to as many people as possible. We have about 100 years of intensive studying of the topic that backs up my contention that low levels of radiation are not a special boogyman that must be avoided at all costs. It is a natural phenomenon that has always existed on earth; every multi-cell organism on earth has developed ways to mitigate the damage that the energy can deposit into our DNA.
This is where the WNA and IAEA are doing a poor job according to me. They have to promote and enforce knowledge based on science.
Areva, when called upon to evaluate the situation in Japan, showed a lack of leadership knowing what they do know about radiation levels and safety.
These stupid evacuation zones metrics that Japan came up with are only prolonging the suffering of its citizens.
And the press in Japan, NHK World News, was always a day or two behind Reuters when positive and realistic news were released regarding Fukushima.
Areva, Cameco and all the US utilities should also provide links and opinions on their web sites to expose the truth on radiation.
Also Universities around the world that have nuclear engineering or nuclear medecine programmes should unite and form some type of consortium and body of knowledge regarding radiation effects on human health.
Provide opinions to expose the truth?
I think you could have found some better wording for what you were trying to say, Daniel.
It’s one group of religious believes versus the other. Luckey, Pollycove, Calabrese, Cuttler, Kondo, and Rockwell vs. Caldicott, Sherman, Gufman, Resnikoff, and Mangano.
I prefer the science.
Bob, are you suggesting that Calabrese isn’t a scientist, simply because he would study the possibility of a hormetic effect?
Isn’t the purpose of science to study and discover how the natural world works?
No, I’m not suggesting Calabrese isn’t a scientist because he would study the possibility of a hormetic effect. Yes, the purpose of science is to study and discover how the natural world works.
None of that makes hormesis true.
So, are you sticking with your classifications of those 2 groups you claimed to be in different religious belief camps?
Or will you give some of them credit for actually performing scientific work (not Caldicott, obviously)?
I would exclude Caldicott from having anything to do with science.
What about Rockwell?
You provided a link to a list of people who are members of the Parapsychological Association.
Here is a description of that organization.
Parapsychological Association is an international professional organization of scientists and scholars engaged in the study of psi (or ‘psychic’) experiences, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, psychic healing, and precognition. The primary objective of the PA is to achieve a scientific understanding of these experiences.
First established in 1957, the PA has been an affiliated organization of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) since 1969. The PA is a non-profit, non-adjudicating organization that endorses no ideologies or beliefs other than the value of rigorous scientific and scholarly inquiry.
Are you trying to imply that this group is NOT full of scientists with inquiring minds who rigorously explore their world using the scientific method as the basis for their understanding?
Well, what about Rockwell?
The scientific study of possible paranormal phenomena does not automatically turn the scientists concerned into fruitcakes.
Are you seriously putting Dr. Theodore Rockwell, a man who has been studying radiation and its effects on human beings since the early 1942s and who is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the New York Academy of Sciences and is the namesake of the lifetime achievement award for the Radiation Protection and Shielding Division of the American Nuclear Society in the category of a “religious believer” when it comes to understanding the health effects of radiation?
Are you seriously suggesting that Dr’s Luckey, Cuttler, Calabrese, Pollycove and Cuttler are on a similar intellectual plane as nut cases like Caldicott? Do you really think that their science is on a level with that of Dr. Baby Teeth – aka Joseph Mangano?
Give me a break and explain again where you get your information and beliefs. Tell me again what profession provided you with a rather generous living and why you are so adamant about protecting that profession that you waste your time with rapid response efforts on a modest little blog like Atomic Insights. You reliably jump into the comment stream every time I suggest that it is time to revisit the Linear No Threshold dose assumption.
You keep claiming that the LNT is supported by science. The reality is that your friends have never tried very hard to disprove that particular hypothesis; they rely on a study of a population that was NOT exposed to a chronic, relatively low dose, but to a flash of exposure caused by exploding two atomic weapons. They work hard to defund or discredit every study that might help us better understand radiation health effect. Examples of those efforts include the nuclear shipyard worker study and the recently defunded Low Dose Radiation Research Program.
The BEIR committee meta-study efforts to which you have harnessed your gravy train systematically filter out every large study that exposes scientific evidence that calls the hypothesis into question.
What it is called when a funded group of people has a hypothesis and refuses to see any evidence that might disprove that hypothesis? What do you think it is called when it turns out that the continued flow of funds is contingent upon them never acknowledging that evidence?
Although the effects are very small, if they exist at all, and are therefore difficult to measure, I would like to know if there have been any long-term studies involving animals. Long-term for a mouse isn’t that long (guinea pigs?) but I wonder if we could learn anything by exposing a few thousand rodents to low-levels of radiation against a control.
Even if LNT is correct it is still illogical that people care this much. On a comparable basis we should all be marching in the streets to shut down all the coal-burning power plants and oh yes, why not all the cars in the country. The dangers from burning coal are so enormously greater than any conceivable problem with a modern nuclear plant it’s clear that this is driven by misinformation and emotion.
Yes, there have been plenty of long term studies involving animals, that is partly the basis for the slope of the LNT line (see BEIR VII, Annex 10B). So we have learned from this evidence, though how to transfer the risk to people involves obvious uncertainty.
Note contrary to many claims there is excess risk below 10 Sv evidenced in the LSS study.
The Life Span Study (LSS) (it is redundant to call it the LSS study) of atomic bomb survivors does not include any population with a measured dose of chronic low level radiation exposure.
Its population is exclusively composed of people whose doses have been reconstructed and whose doses were almost exclusively delivered in a flash. How is that study population a superior basis for understanding the health effects of low dose radiation to the study populations used in the nuclear shipyard workers study, the British study of radiologists or the Co-60 exposed population of Taiwanese apartment dwellers?
Straw man. Who is claiming that there is no risk below 10 Sv?
The LD-50 level (lethal dose to 50% of those exposed) for acute exposure, even with medical intervention, is less than 8 Sv.
Bob – You get weirder with each comment you post.
Even assuming that Bob goofed up and forgot to add the small ‘m’ in front of his units, there is still no reason to point to the LSS as supporting a presumption that there is excess risk below 10 mSv (10 Rem).
The population used in that study did not receive their doses through chronic, low rate exposure. They received it in a flash.
If I take a bottle of 1000 typical asprins at one time, I am quite likely to experience negative health effects and perhaps even death. If I take that whole bottle over a three year period with one tablet per day, I would be following doctor’s orders to lower my risk of heart attack. (I am, after all, on the far side of my 50th birthday.)
I have been wanting to ask you a question about the relative risk of death from radiation. Could you – as a professional and scientist who is commenting regularly on this subject, please give me the relative risks of death from low dose radiation, say from the background radiation in Iran. I am a lay person in this regard, not a scientist or engineer. I would like to know what the risk of dying from cancer induced by radiation from the Fukushima plant releases, as opposed to the following. Death from other already occurring cancers. Death from heart disease. In Japan – death from Suicide. Can you give me the numbers in terms of the numbers of people a year who will die from Radiation cancer and then the likelyhood of a number of people who will die in the population in and around the Fukushima plant over their whole lifetimes specifically from the effects of the radiation there? It seems to me that you should be able to give these numbers since you are deeply versed in the safety of radiation.
thank you for your response.
There was a study in Finland of the tribal people who regularly consume reindeer meet. The reindeer in Finland have high concentrations of Cs-137 in their flesh (must be what makes Rudolph’s nose so bright) because of atmospheric nuclear tests. They found that overall the population experienced no additional cancers (actually lower rates) when compared to their fellow countrymen who don’t eat reindeer meet. There were some very slight increases in children.
No increase in cancer incidence in Northern Finland due to global fallout of past decades
With friends like this…
NY Times: Indian Point: The Next Fukushima? By VICTOR GILINSKY
Why would a former NRC commissioner publish an op ed such as this?
Because it’s Gilinsky. You’re obviously not familiar with the guy.
This just goes to show you how bad the NRC was back in the 1970’s around the time of the TMI-2 accident.
Imagine a commission filled with Jaczkos.
Didn’t Gilinsky serve at the same time as Peter Bradford? Weren’t both of them part of the totally clueless body that could not figure out how to help the governor of Pennsylvania respond to the Three Mile Island accident?
Rod, Looks like about 5 years of overlap for those 2. Interesting that they both seem to have profited from taking an anti-nuclear stance in their years after being on the Commission.
Rod – Bingo.
No, I’m not familiar him and based on what I read in his op-ed, I wan’t to keep it that way.
Funny thing, when I read Jaczkos’ name in your comment, my mind accidentally replaced the “o” with an “a”.
An editorial in the Fargo Forum quotes Duane Sand, senate candidate. “Finally the myths associated with nuclear power’s dangers need to be exposed as mostly frauds.”
I want to point out that our species evolved in a world that had much higher levels of radiation. Radiation, like vitamins, is good for us in small amounts but toxic in large quantities. Animal studies provide evidence that ionizing radiation is not only good for us, its presences in our bodies is a necessary requisite for health. The scientific literature is filled with some 3000 studies that show a moderate increase in radiation improves our health and decreases our risk of cancer.
Naturally occurring radiation varies greatly depending on locale. The annual individual exposure to natural radiation from the Earth’s mantle and radiation of cosmic origin expressed in milliseiverts (mSv), ranges from 1 mSv to 260 mSv. Residents in Ramsar Iran are exposed to 260 mSv annually. Studies found no increase in cancer incidents, birth defects or other health issues in Ramsar residents as compared with Iranian neighbors where natural radiation is low. The conclusion to be drawn from the Ramsar studies is that radiation levels that fall within the range of naturally occurring background levels pose no detectable risk to health.
Here are some basic facts about low and moderate radiation levels that provide us a basis for risk assessment of health effects. Immunologists have found that additional moderate radiation exposure induces several mechanisms in the immune system which function to improve our defenses against diseases. We now know that a process, “radiation hormesis”, mediates beneficial effects on health in humans. Benefits of radiation stimulation to the immune system’s damage-control is much greater than its direct damage done to DNA molecules. The increase in the amount of DNA damage caused by moderate levels is relatively trivial—orders of magnitude less than the benefits from immune stimulation. Additional radiation turns on the synthesis of DNA repair enzymes and enzymes capable of destroying reactive molecules which have the capacity to cause mutations. Additional radiation also stimulates an arm of immune defense that rids the body of DNA damaged cells which could potentially turn malignant. Additional radiation actually lowers our incidence of cancer.
British radiation expert, Wade Allison, author of “Radiation and Reason” proposed that radiation limits be set the same way other such limits are set – not by seeing how little we can obtain, but what is the maximum we can tolerate, including a generous safety factor. The answer he gets is a 1000 millisieverts per year or 1000 times the current “permissible limit.” He says this proposed limit is still well under the clinical data on which he bases his proposal. A cancer risk from a 1000 millisievert per year for chronic exposure or a one time exposure of 100 mSv is so low you cannot measure it. He bases this conclusion partly on life span survivor studies of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki The bomb survivor study included a population of approximately 100,000 people monitored carefully for more than 50 years. Professor Allison states that it is difficult to conceive of a larger or more well followed study group. Victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are living longer than their countrymen not exposed to radiation from the bombs. Those survivors exposed to a moderate amount of radiation, 180 mSv or less, have a lower incidence of cancer than the general public in Japan.
I just had to check my copy of “Radiation and Reason” – the numbers in the above quote weren’t quite what I remembered. (I’m glad some people at least are reading Allison and taking him seriously!) In Chapter 10, “Action for Survival”, he suggests limits of 100 millisievert for a single acute dose, 100 millisievert per month for chronic or repeated doses, and 5,000 millisievert for total lifetime exposure. He doesn’t give an explicit “per year” figure, but the implied figure is 1,200 millisievert per year. I guess saying “1,000 millisieverts a year” is a reasonable way of summing up the recommendation in about five words.
Rod – thanks for this post. I think you’re absolutely correct – education is the key to counteracting fear. There are a large number of different audiences that need to get the message, and each needs a different approach (media is the field in which I have the most work experience). The news media may be the toughest audience to educate and get to change their reflex responses to any news item containing the word “nuclear”.
Seems to me that the probability that radiation will cause genetic damage to a cell while not destroying the cell should be pretty small. Yet if you listen to the nuclear naysayers, genetic mutations from nuclear accidents could be an end to our species.
Your comment that the probability that radiation will cause damage to a cell while not destroying should be pretty small is even made smaller by the immune system. Damaged cells place a marker on their cell surface that is recognized by killer T cells. This immunoservalence is another mechanism to lower cancer incidence. The T cell gets physically close to the damaged cell and finishes it off with chemical bullets. Also, cells contain a bag of digestive enzymes. A damaged cell can commit suicide by releasing the digestive enzymes. This programed death is called apoptosis.
It is going to be very difficult to mount any sort of campaign to defuse the fear the public has of radiation if the current radiation priesthood is going to cut the legs out from under it by continuing to give credence to LNT. In my opinion they are playing turf guard here to protect their status and will not back down. Without their support we have lost before we have started.
Fear and misinformation about radiation goes very deep. Just today my wife saw a respirologist with an CAT scan that had been ordered by her GP. The scan was clean, but she was treated to a lecture on the hazards of x-rays and the increased risk of getting cancer – this by someone that should know better. Fortunately she has heard me rant on the subject on several occasions and took his advice with a grain of salt. Nevertheless this sort of ground-in ignorance will be very tough to beat.
How about the shielding effect of the lead-shot full-frontal apron that is put over the patient before a dental xray?
I’m sure the Mr. Applebaum can provide his guidance, but here is a snippet from the HPS:
“Use of the lead apron to protect the patient undergoing dental radiographic examination was recommended some 50 years ago, when equipment was crude. This was because x-ray beams were not restricted to the area of clinical interest, beams were not filtered, and x-ray film was slower, causing radiation exposures 10 to 100 times higher than received today. With the current technology reducing radiation exposure significantly and the beam limited only to the area of interest, there is little or no measurable difference in whole-body dose whether a lead apron is used or not. The lead apron is no longer regarded as essential although some consider it a prudent practice, especially for pregnant and potentially pregnant females.”
Then there are the fear-mongers like Dr Oz:
The comments here support Rod’s premise that fission advocates should stop fighting among themselves.
In the earlier comments things were drifting into mud slinging (your expert is a nutcase but mine is a true scientist). While those BEIR folks may be scientists they are only looking for negative consequences from radiation exposure, so “Confirmation Bias” is inevitable.
The word “Hormesis” seems to bring out the worst in some commentators. Although there is plenty of evidence of health benefits from accidental exposure to quite large doses of gamma radiation nobody is advocating setting up “Gamma Salons” to deliver therapeutic doses.
Before you ask, I am a trained radiation worker with experience of managing lethal radiation sources and “Personnel Protection Systems”. I served on “Radiation Safety Committees” for many years.
@gallopingcamel – actually, there are some researchers who advocate something close to “Gamma Salons” to administer thereputic doses of radiation. One that I correspond with has described the regime that his wife has been following for quite some time with demonstrated positive results.
Fascinating! Do you have any links relating to “Gamma Salons? I am curious to see whether anyone has submitted a license proposal.
It would not be easy to get an operating license under the regulations I am familiar with (North Carolina).
If memory serves me right, Nevada used to have one or two a while ago.
@gallopingcamel – One more thing – the people who slung that mud up thread are NOT fission advocates. Some people who actually dislike the idea that fission will soon be providing society with vast quantities of low cost, emission free energy visit Atomic Insights to spread their antinuclear messages. I think they find that their arguments fall on mostly deaf ears here.
Let us not forget than before we got ‘scared’ of radiations, it was fashionable in Europe to spend quality time in highly radioactive ‘SPAs’. (early 1900s for example)
It still is. Every day hundreds of elderly Germans splash around in the spa waters at Schlema, which contain low levels of radon, most springs in Icaria, Greece are hyperthermal radioactive saltwater springs of high and medium radioactive content and are actively used by tourists that come for ‘curative spa therapy’.There is also the radioactive spa in Heviz, Hungary, a number of them in Spain, and elsewhere that are in use.
It’s quackery, no doubt, but people are not dropping dead from exposure.
Probably many of those facilities were in operation long before anyone heard of ALARA!
Here’s a link to a story about an 8 year old with brain cancer actually wants the exposure to a radioactive spa in Japan. http://inventorspot.com/articles/radioactive_hot_spring_leaves_guests_glowing_good_health_26134
Comments are closed.
Recent Comments from our Readers
The Clinton Nuclear Plant also in Illinois was shutdown essentially for almost 2 years before it was taken over by…
Good Podcast – Very informative One thing that was not discussed is how to deal with a particular fear that…
Renewables people are masters in marketing. Unreliable intermittent generators whose output is all over the place, and usually badly correlated…
Looking at their lineup, Westinghouse seems bound and determined to keep Gen IV in its “place” which is apparently the…
So they are developing a scaled down version of the AP1000, which is a scaled up version of the AP600,…