Presentations from NAS BEIR VIII Planning Meeting Posted
On November 17, 2014, I attended a meeting at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington organized to determine if there is a need to convene an eighth committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VIII).
The presentations given during that meeting have been published on line at Planning Towards the BEIR VIII Report.
There are efforts among people who specialize in the health effects of low level radiation to analyze these presentations and create a document that provides their responses in the cases where they disagree with the assertions or where they note gaps in the research used as the basis for the presentations.
If you would like to contribute to this effort, please feel free to document your responses in the comment section. As an alternative, you can get in touch directly with me and I will forward your material.
I don’t see Ed Calabrese on the list of speakers, nor was his work mentioned in the few PowerPoints I perused. Do you know if his work (featured on a recent Atomic Show) was mentioned at all at this meeting?
In that forum debate from 2011, you posited 3 explanations for anti-nuclear beliefs:
1. They are ideologically opposed to human society development
2. They are ideologically opposed to any “unnatural” source of reliable energy, both fossil fuel and nuclear
3. They are economically opposed to developing nuclear energy because they recognize that it poses a competitive threat to whatever kind of energy supply system they prefer to sell into the market.
I think you missed out a 4th category:
4. They are politically (ideologically?) opposed to nuclear power because they think it prevents a ‘decentralized economy’ (DE). DE posits a world where technology is locally controlled – a sort of syndicalist economy. They believe that real democratic control is a value in itself. They think that nuclear power must lead to centralized solutions, and autocratic institutions.
I’m not pretending their posited ‘decentralized economy’ makes sense. It doesn’t. They believe it. This DE argument has become widespread since the end of communism. In early 1990s many Trotskyists migrated to green politics. Prior to that the DE argument was just latent in green thought. Since the 1990s it’s become of prime importance to these disillusioned politicos who value politics above all else.
Mark, since the left is my area of primary political work, I can add to what you say since I debate this a lot with lefty’s. I’m actually still a Trotskyist and run the Trotsky Internet Archive.
I think your description is accurate and, interestingly, the decentralized and ‘distributed’ generation paradigm plays into the hands of the very corporate speculators we all rail against. This flies in the face of a central Marxist tenet of a planned economy and the obvious centralizing effect this has on any country’s political economy.
I often ask them “what’s so good about decentralization? Does it raise our standard of living? Does it help *free* the productive forces in a rational way?” They can’t and won’t answer because they are wedded to a non-scientific but ideological (and very non-Marxist) view that ‘small is more democratic and better’. It’s very sad. I try to explain to them that things like rooftop grid integrated PV, CSP and especially wind require *vast* centralization to make it work together and that simply having a “wind turbine on a field” has little to do with ‘decentralization’ or ‘distributive generation’.
I poise the fact that a complete high energy carbon free source of energy like SMRs can actually serve a small villiage or town all by its lonesome. I suggested it’s better to campaign for municipalizaiton of energy sources and the grid along with SMR development as being some thing that is far more pro-working class than their dystopian nonsense of a race to the bottom.
One of the presentations deals with the ultra low dose experiments currently being conducted inside a mountain, and shows some of the tantalising early results from that research, namely that the organisms grown in the low radiation environment exhibit an abnormally high sensitivity to subsequent radiation exposure as compared to when they are grown in a normal radioactive environment.
I’ve not found any more information on this highly interesting research, which seems to be demonstrating that background radiation is indeed beneficial in the sense that it makes cells better able to defend against the effects of radiation. Similarly perhaps to the ability of the human skin to protect against UV radiation if the skin is first exposed to light doses of UV (i.e. ‘getting a tan’).
Reading all the presentations and revisiting the previous BEIR report, the impression I come away with is that radiation health doctrine centers entirely on the fact that ionising radiation undeniably damages DNA and therefore that all ionising radiation is harmfull, while any beneficial effects of low radiation exposure which might well counteract some or all of this damage do not invalidate the conclusion that damage is caused. The experiments in the low radiation environment is nevertheless supporting the concept that no radiation exposure at all is in fact detrimental to cells because it denies them the opportunity to develop certain resistence to damage caused by radiation. A very significant development! No?
@Joris van Dorp
As you have pointed out, the dogma of the no threshold dose response comes from the assumption — driven by steady, false assertions from people like Hermann Muller that he had experimental evidence — that all radiation carries the probability of damaging genetic material. Muller started making his assertions in the late 1920s to early 1930s, a couple of decades before Crick and Watson wrote their papers on DNA and identified the double helix configuration.
There is a thread of validity to the assertion from a molecular biology standpoint. If you ignore the wonderful systems engineering embodied in long-lived creatures like human beings and only measure immediate effects at the molecular level, it is possible to observe effects on chromosomes from almost any dose of radiation. However, more patient experimentalists that also recognize that creatures are not just inanimate molecules have detected the systematic feedback response mechanisms that repair the effects left by the ionizing radiations and also strengthen the organism against later effects caused by similar energy depositions. A useful Google search to learn more is “radiation priming dose”. The effect has been studied for at least three decades, but the dogmatic LNT proponents deny that the knowledge gained in those experiments should be incorporated in radiation protection regulations.
As you note, it is entirely analogous to the way tanning works to protect skin from UV radiation. Certainly, there are variations among individuals regarding the strength of their adaptive responses, but even the fairest among us do not have to reduce their solar exposure to zero. In fact, those who attempt to do so experience negative health consequences.
The error is to assume that what happens on the level of the cell is the same as what happens on the level of the organism. This is simply not true.
There are a host of mechanisms, within and outside the individual cell, that deal with insults and injuries. If those healing mechanisms weren’t there, we wouldn’t make it to birth, let alone old age.
Consider: Free radicals of oxygen blow holes in DNA in every cell, every day–indeed, many thousands of times every day. It is a side effect of using oxygen for energy, and a problem nature addressed when the first oxygen-users evolved.
Clearly, any protective mechanism can be overwhelmed, and large amounts of ionizing radiation can do that. Thus, there is a clear link between large amounts of medical radiation (e.g. for cancer treatments) and subsequent cases of leukemia. That’s why oncologists have gotten better at focusing the treatment and lowering doses, although the leukemia side effect is far from being eliminated.
Yet these are really big doses next to what a nuclear plant worker would receive, much less a member of the public.
The trick is to be really scientific (and non-dogmatic) in determining tolerable doses. It is clearly not zero.
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