The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan (APEGS) hosted an event on May 1, 2009 titled Round Table on the Future of Nuclear Energy. Pieter Van Vliet, P.Eng. provided a presentation on Low Dose Radiation that included a brief on the history of radiation protection, the Linear, No Threshold (LNT) assumption, the documented evidence of radiation hormesis, and the impact of providing scientifically unsound advice to potentially exposed populations.
The summary of the presentation along with some additional graphs to back up the statements is available at http://www.apegs.sk.ca/Default.aspx?DN=2989. It is a good read and provides some excellent food for thought and discussion. Here is one of my favorite passages from the paper:
During the past two decades many advances have been made in radiation biology, in the understanding of carcinogenesis, and in the discovery of defences against DNA damage and carcinogenesis. The conclusions, based on the application of the LNT model, that “no amount of radiation is small enough to be harmless” and that “a nuclear accident could kill hundreds of thousands” are not valid in light of current evidence.
The world has over a century of experience with radiation and six decades with reactors. This should dispel any negative images and implications of health risks, which are derived from unscientific extrapolation of harmful effects from high doses. The scientific findings of the last two decades contradict the LNT model and its applications. They should not have been used as a means of predicting health effects and death rates from exposure to low doses or low dose rates of radiation. To continue to do so and to perpetuate fear of radiation is socially irresponsible and must be challenged.
One thing that does not get mentioned in the paper is the motive behind the induced fear factor for radiation exposure. It is often interesting to acknowledge that there has been a great deal of misinformation provided about the potential for negative health effects for even tiny doses of radiation that are well below variations in background, but the far more important thing to understand and question is Why. What has motivated the people involved in the spread of misinformation on radiation health effects and why have they been so stubbornly resistant to conclusions based on lengthy and detailed study?
My theory is that making people afraid of any dose of “man-made” radiation helps to maintain the established order of things (the incredible wealth and power of fossil fuel interests) in the energy industry while also empowering those bureaucrats assigned the task of “protecting” us from the bad effects. What is your theory?
Update: (Posted July 16, 2009 at 1911) – Pieter Van Vliet has published an op-ed piece with additional information about the unscientific LNT assumption titled Nuclear fears unfounded in the Leader-Post dated July 9, 2009. End Update.
Update: (Posted July 18, 2009 at 0208) – In the extensive comment thread in response to this above article, one commenter introduced the topic of the negative effects of applying the LNT assumption to the effects of a “dirty bomb”. The LNT assumption allows people interested in spreading fear to state, with some assurance of government agency support, that there is “no safe dose of radiation”. My interpretation is that the continued acceptance of the LNT assumption by radiation regulators simply provides terrorists with one more way to impose terror without actually harming anyone.
If you want more information in the form of answers to Frequently Asked Questions, please visit Dirty Bomb Advice From Larry Grimm. With what I now understand about the importance of headlines, I would probably change that title to “Dirty Bomb Advice From a Professional Health Physicist” End Update.