One of the more reliably anti nuclear groups in Canada is the Energy Probe Research Foundation. Here is a quote from that organization’s web site regarding its position on nuclear energy:
In the early 1970s, Energy Probe saw nuclear power as a relatively clean and economic alternative to coal, then a highly polluting form of electrical generation. Energy Probe became anti-nuclear in 1974, after producing a report – the first of its kind — showing nuclear power to be uneconomic.
Since Energy Probe adopted its anti-nuclear position in the 1970s, hundreds of nuclear plants that were on Canada’s drawing boards have been cancelled and no new nuclear plants have been completed. Energy Probe has also been successful in stopping the export of Canada’s Candu nuclear reactors, most of which have been sought by states with nuclear weapons aspirations – the Candu design lends itself to surreptitious diversion of spent fuel suitable for reprocessing into weapons grade material
Energy Probe is also a leading critic of nuclear power on health and safety grounds.
Lawrence Solomon is one of the primary writers for Energy Probe; his anti-nuclear and pro-gas commentary is frequent and predictable.
With all of that background, it was therefore quite a shock to read an article from yesterday’s Financial Post titled Radiation’s Benefits and to see that the by-line was no other than Lawrence Solomon. Not only did the piece have an intriguing, positive headline related to nuclear energy, but it also started with a rather surprising admission. Here is the quote:
‘There is no safe level of radiation.” For the last 30 years, my colleagues and I at the Energy Probe Research Foundation have held that view, and espoused it through books, media appearances and presentations to regulatory bodies, helping in no small measure to tighten Canada’s radiation standards. The science on radiation as published by official bodies, we knew, made clear that any dose of radiation, no matter how small, carries with it an additional risk of contracting cancer. The upshot was a better-safe-than-sorry stance: Don’t frivolously accept X-rays; take special care in disposing of smoke detectors, worry about routine releases of radiation from nuclear facilities.
This stance is now reeling. Low levels of radiation, science is increasingly telling us, are not only safe, they are actually healthful. It may be more prudent to worry about getting too little radiation than too much.
Here is a man who has made a career of writing and advising based on a particular notion of hazard, yet he is admitting that it is possible that he and his colleagues were wrong. That is an important and difficult admission for anyone to make. A lede like that demands further reading to find out what could have possibly caused Mr. Solomon to rethink his career long position. The answer comes quickly – he read a book, but not just any old book.
The latest book to question the conventional wisdom on radiation comes from Springer-Verlag, a venerable academic science publisher whose stable of writers over the years has included some 150 Nobel laureates. Springer’s book is not for the pop-cure reader, as attested to by its $240 price tag and its intimidating title, Radiation Hormesis and the Linear-No-Threshold Assumption.
. . .
“Literally millions of lives are less healthy because they have been convinced that living in radiation-deficient environments is healthy; lives are lost in not implementing effective low-dose radiation therapy to treat cancer; lives are lost out of fear of diagnostic radiation that saves lives,” writes Charles Sanders, the book’s author and a participant in radiobiological research over half a century.
Mr. Sanders makes his case for the robustness of hormesis research by citing hundreds of studies — this heavily footnoted scientific text does not make for easy reading. For those readers not interested in ploughing through descriptions of studies that often infer the effects of radiation–it would be unethical to deliberately expose a large healthy population to radiation for the sake of an experiment –the book’s real-life scientific studies will more than suffice.
This reaction from one of nuclear energy’s leading critics in an important nuclear energy supplier country shows what can happen when careful, meticulous researchers follow facts rather than adhering to conventional wisdom. The massive amount of evidence that Sanders was able to gather into a book sufficiently convincing to make Solomon begin to believe did not happen overnight. It did not happen by itself or happen because of a government program. It happened because there were some stubborn, observational scientists who kept noticing that the gap between predictions based on the Linear-No Threshold dose response assumption and reality was too large to explain without tossing out the assumption.
The science gathered over the past fifty or more years has not shown that the LNT is a conservative, risk avoidance theory that just needed some additional supporting research. The science has shown that it is a deficient assumption that actually increases risk for billions of people. The LNT theory of radiation dose response is no less dangerous that an assumption that every dose, no matter how small, of niacin – also known as nicotinic acid – carries some amount of risk and should be avoided.
Sander’s book is apparently so thorough in its detailing of radiation hormesis science that it was able to convince a man with every reason to avoid being convinced. I am looking forward to watching carefully during the next few weeks to see if it will lead to some revisions in Energy Probe’s positions and its web site.
It is a shame that such an important book will have a limited audience; few general readers will step forward to purchase a $240 research tome. More serious readers, however, should be able to get access to the book through libraries at universities, companies and governmental organizations. If anyone would like to help me find a copy that I can borrow for my own light reading, please make contact via email.
The rather impressive price of the book, however, is no excuse at all of failing to make sure that important bodies like the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have sufficiently accessible copies to enable them to use the information to support their important decision and rule making efforts.