In a recent post titled Message is reaching the public – radiation risks have been greatly exaggerated I pointed to a New York Times piece by George Johnson describing how the evacuations ordered after the Fukushima reactor core melt events has already caused about 1600 early fatalities.
He also explained how the radioactive material that escaped from the plant, even using the admittedly conservative assumption that there is no threshold below which radiation is hazardous, might have caused as many as 160 early fatalities or as few as zero.
The computed radiation-induced casualties, based on the long-accepted LNT model, would have been spread over several decades after the event.
The article also mentioned that some scientists believe that the small doses of radiation, delivered in a very small, but steady rate, may be stimulative and produce more good than harm.
In response to the article, Peter Crane, identified as a retired person who once worked as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission counsel for special projects, wrote a critical letter to the editor of the New York Times. His letter, titled A Disputed Notion didn’t refer to the primary message that Johnson was trying to convey, that actions to avoid a trivial dose of radiation caused far more harm than simply accepting the exposure.
Instead, Mr. Crane berated the New York Times editor for publishing “a view of radiation risks that quotes only one source, Mohan Doss.” He then attempted to discredit Dr. Doss by implying he is some kind of heretic who is promoting hormeis and that “the National Academies of Science, along with the rest of mainstream scientific authority regard hormesis as wholly without merit.”
That characterization is false. There is no doubt that Dr. Mohan Doss, a medical physicist and associate professor at the Fox Chase Cancer Center, accepts the hypothesis that low doses of ionizing radiation stimulate the human immune system and result in an overall health benefit. He has published a number of peer-reviewed, heavily sourced papers explaining why. In other words, he accepts the evidence that supports hormesis and contradicts the 1950s vintage, no-threshold hypothesis.
The part of Mr. Crane’s statement that is demonstrably false is the assertion that the National Academies of Science “regard hormesis as wholly without merit.”
In 2006, the National Academy of Sciences committee on the Biological Effect of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) published its seventh report, which was titled Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR VII (Phase 2). Far from dismissing hormesis as being wholly without merit, Appendix D of the report is titled Hormesis.
It contains a lengthy discussion of a reasonably representative sample of the numerous studies that had been completed by about early 2004, allowing time for the study to be written up, peer-reviewed, published and included in the deliberations of the BEIR VII committee, which were completed in time to begin circulating the draft report in 2005. The summary of Appendix D is worded quite differently from the dismissive, rather insulting characterization from the former NRC attorney.
The committee concludes that the assumption that any stimulatory hormetic effects from low doses of ionizing radiation will have a significant health benefit to humans that exceeds potential detrimental effects from the radiation exposure is unwarranted at this time.
As a former counsel, Mr. Crane should be more careful with his words.
The NAS BEIR did not dismiss hormesis as a crackpot theory that was “without merit.” They reviewed the information available to them at the time of their deliberations and found it insufficiently convincing. A decade has passed since that statement was crafted. There have been numerous studies conducted in the intervening years, particularly those completed as part of the DOE Low Dose Radiation Research program.
The results of those studies were not available to the BEIR VII committee, so it is safe to say they have not been evaluated to determine if there is now enough evidence to change the committee’s collective judgement.
It is also safe to say that the National Academy of Sciences, which is the esteemed body whose 1956 committee on the Biological Effects of Atomic Radiation (BEAR) released and promoted the report that first asserted the no threshold hypothesis, has an inherited institutional reluctance to admit that its long standing position on the “no safe dose” assumption has been incorrect.
Advanced understanding of low dose radiation health effects – LNT 999. October 2015 issue of Health Physics News pp 23-24