The truth about the health effects of low level radiation are beginning to appear in the main stream of public media. I am not sure when the segment in the video above actually ran on ABC, but it has been available on the web for more than a year. As you can see if you watch it, there are excerpts from other stories that also should have received wide distribution that also help people to understand that a little radiation is most likely harmless and might even be good for you.
I am encouraged by the fact that this truth is getting out. As the video clearly demonstrates, we have several examples around the world where there were scary and often repeated predictions of massive effects from certain well publicized events, but the long term studies after the fact have show just how wrong those predictions have been. There is a quote that often repeats in my brain that seems to apply here.
You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.
Abraham Lincoln, (attributed)
16th president of US (1809 – 1865)
Aside: Until ten seconds ago, I had no idea who first said that, but there is no excuse any more for publishing unattributed quote – there are far too many terrific search tools out there that make fact checking fun, interesting and quick. End Aside.
What Lincoln was saying in such a quotable and memorable way was that the truth will come out. No matter how strong the campaign to obscure it, there will be some people who keep watching reality and reporting what they see. Eventually, even extravagantly well supported fictions can collapse because those who are not fooled will make themselves heard.
When it comes to low doses of radiation – below 5 REM in a year or 10 REM in a lifetime – the truth is that the “risks of health effects are either too small to be observed or are nonexistent” (Source: Health Physics Society position statement titled Radiation Risks in Perspective). That is a level that is thousands of times higher than what anyone in the general public gets from routine nuclear energy operations. It is even many times higher than what any member of the public would receive under the “worst case” realistic accident scenarios.
Aside: Please read the above carefully. I am not saying that radiation is harmless or even that there are not accident scenarios that can produce real danger to people who are close to the source. Ionizing radiation is a powerful force that can cause painful and fatal effects. What I am saying is that there is no danger for people who are protected by distance, dilution, and shielding from high doses. It is quite possible to receive harmless amounts of radiation. In fact, it happens constantly. Reasonably designed, sensibly located nuclear energy systems do not threaten their neighbors. The Health Physics Society agrees.End Aside.
So if the most qualified people who have done the most penetrating studies tell us that low level radiation is not something to worry about and if even main stream media sources are beginning to get and share the message, why are there still so many people who are afraid of even the mention of the word? More importantly, why are there still so many sources of information that refuse to accept the science and insist on repeating and reinforcing the scary messages? Even more intriguing, why has there been so much effort already to build that fear when there was no evidence to suggest that small doses were harmful?
Could it possibly be that there is profit to be made by stoking the fear of radiation? Is it possible that even in the days of Eben Byers there were people who stood to make a lot of money by as many people as possible as far away from nuclear energy knowledge the propagators of fear, uncertainty and doubt could manage?
Just to start off the discussion – how profitable has it been for the coal, oil and gas industry to keep people living in fear of radiation that they might get if a local nuclear energy plant had a catastrophic accident of a kind never yet experienced? How many consultants have created lifetime employment out of producing the paperwork and models to prove that even low probability events will not lead to radiation releases? How many nuclear engineers with degrees from RPI have created careers as “expert witnesses” to spread myths about the dangers from tiny amounts of tritium found in wells near nuclear power plants?
Note about the source of the above thought provoking video: An associate shared the link to a YouTube reproduction of a segment out of a John Stossel Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity countdown produced by ABC. According to the YouTube channel where it is posted, the video has been up for a year and seen on the web by about 8,300 people. I assume that more people saw the segment when it was originally published. At the risk of a takedown notice, I have decided to embed that video here for your convenience, but I am only pointing out what is already available.