1. I think saying the radiation protection profession has successfully obscured hormesis based on spell check is chimeric. Hormesis is to be found in medical dictionaries, encyclopedias, and the such. Hey, I’ve found a number of spell-check problems over the years, but I would never blame it on some sort of conspiracy. There’s no doubt that government agencies whose job it is to “protect” people from additional radiation exposure are indeed obscuring the issue. But, the health physics profession – perhaps the the “true” radiation professionals – is not involved with the obfuscation. To the contrary, the HP community is trying to spread the word, and has been for 20 years. I feel the roadblocks to public enlightenment are many, including bureaucratic vested interest, the counter-intuitive nature of hormesis, and a popular Press committed to keeping radiophobia alive…it’s a sure-fire eye catcher. I’m one of your biggest fans, Rod, but I think you dove into the deep end on this one.

      1. Jorffan – You’ve got it. It was “geek humor” in that it was not terribly funny, even though that was the intent.

        Leslie – i was not trying to imply any dark conspiracy, just noting that hormesis is not terribly well known or frequently used in normal conversation or writing.

    1. Leslie – I think both Ted and Bill would separate “radiation protection professionals” from “health physics professionals. There is no doubt that excess radiation doses are a risk worth protection and measurement.

      There is also a huge cost associated with attempting to achieve zero, even at times trying to get doses down to less than normal background. The cost, however, is often revenue and jobs for certain types of contractors and specialists.

      1. The cost can often be quality of life due to disease caused from the alternative to nuclear – coal and gas.

      2. I do appreciate that you clarify the difference between health physicists and radiation protection professionals as Leslie does. My wife is currently getting her Master’s in Health Physics and she as well as many of her colleagues are optimistic about the theory of radiation hormesis. We both would like to see more research done to finally drive the nail into the debate once and for all.

  2. I just had to get a comment in before Bob Applebaum shows up and predictably accuses Ted of being a zonked out weirdo.

  3. One would think that PBS, whose mandate it is to educate the mass, would have already picked up on that.

    But then, there are those natural gas info mercial….

  4. “Muller shuns the “hormesis” hypothesis – the theory that low levels of radiation actually inoculate people against cancer by stimulating the body’s defense mechanisms.”

    Even if there is evidence that low levels of radiation inoculate people against cancer, it is really a fetch to conclude the reason is by stimulating the body’s defense mechanisms. Now *that’s* a study I’d like to see.

    It reminds me of the “butterfly study” where it seems OK to just slap on causation if you see what you think is some correlation in your data.

    1. Is it really that hard to imagine? Your muscles get stronger through exercise which forces them to heal themselves stronger. Too much exercise and you overwork them and you get tares and other ailments.

      Why can’t stimulating your cells defence mechanism’s on a low level have a positive effect on the strength of those mechanisms?

      On another note, before I began my master’s degree in nuclear engineering, I had not once ever heard the term hormesis. I guarantee most people outside of the industry and anti-nuke activist groups (they ignore and scientific evidence of it, however) don’t know of the term hormesis.

      1. @ George

        I know many radio oncologists who have never heard of the term hormesis. This is distressing.

      2. Hi George,

        It’s easy to imagine, but difficult to show that it “exercises” your immune system as a cause. Even if Hormesis proves out for low dose radiation, it probably isn’t a good idea to tack on a cause that is clearly unproven.

        I suspect a hormetic effect for low dose but I doubt that “exercising” your immune system is a worthwhile explanation. If a hormetic effect is shown, then more research is highly indicated to even to begin to understand the mechanics of it.

        1. I agree John. I was just putting that forward as an example in which slightly adverse conditions are actually beneficial to the body.

          Biology is not my field although I am fascinated by the mechanisms within our cells that are constantly operating.

        2. The hormesis that is evidenced in plants is explained by the death of harmful organisms (microbiotics mainly) before serious damage is done to the plant. This mechanic is favored as plants do not have an active immune system.

          1. Hmmm… Reading that it appears I’m claiming hormesis may act as an antibiotic for animals as well. I was simply adding this to show that the mechanism is difficult to determine and focus on the results may be more productive.

    2. Well, they are going a lot closer to understanding this in detail.

      Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:


      Evidence for formation of DNA repair centers and dose-response nonlinearity in human cells
      Teresa Neumaiera, Joel Swensonb,c, Christopher Phamd, Aris Polyzosd, Alvin T. Lod, PoAn Yangd, Jane Dyballd, Aroumougame Asaithambye, David J. Chene, Mina J. Bisselld,1, Stefan Thalhammera, and Sylvain V. Costesd,1

  5. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch for people to understand a little of something is ok when it comes to radiation. People readily accept they need a little sunshine for their body to process vitamin D but also know that too much sunbathing can cause sunburns and potentially skin cancer. Too much infrared waves will burn your skin, just the right amount keeps you warm. Too much ultraviolet waves can do harm.

    The trouble is people don’t understand the difference between ionizing radiation and EM radiation. Heck, most people don’t don’t understand EM radiation either. The bottom line to make a difference is more public education.

  6. I have tried to explain hormesis to some people, including that it is apparently no more than a hypothesis, andI got one interesting counterargument a few months ago. It went a bit like this:

    “Sure, radiation hormesis may be true, but is it also true for people who live in an area of a certain level of low-dose radiation, and then suddenly (because of a Fukushima) find themselves living in an area with some higher low-dose radiation? Are all of those people just as likely to benefit from the increased radiation? Or is it more likely that only people who live all their lives at such a radiation level have the benefit of this hormesis?”

    I couldn’t get into that discussion. Still, I don’t think the radiation hormesis question is very relevant. It seems enough to consider that low-dose radiation (such as around Fukushima and Denver right now) has negligeable environmental and health effects. I would not want to try to go further and risk appearing ‘zonked out’.

    Another question if I may: I’ve read (on this website I think) that non-nuclear causes of DNA damage typically outnumber radiation-caused DNA damage by many, many orders of magnitude. That would make sense, seeing how prevalent ‘natural’ cancer is as a desease. But how is this reconciled with the supposed benefits from hormesis due to low-dose radiation? Doesn’t the low-dose radiation-caused DNA damage get completely swamped already by the ‘natural’ DNA damage rate? I’d like to understand what key difference there is between radiation DNA damage and other (‘natural’) forms of DNA damage. (I’m no physician though)

  7. Induction of enzymes by ionizing radiation is one mechanism that helps to explain radiation hormesis. It is reported that people in Ramzar Iran have a higher than normal levels of DNA repair enzymes. There are several example of electromagnetic radiation serving as an inducer of enzymes in nature. The vitamin D story for example. Long wavelength ultraviolet induces an enzyme, a dimerase, that breaks unwanted bonds installed in bacterial DNA by short wavelength ultraviolet. Steve K9 has cited a significant recent paper that demonstrates by direct evidence an exciting mechanism of DNA repair centers.

    Studies of animals grown in lab environment on a diet free of Potassium 40 do not thrive and appear to have deficient immune systems. This suggests that ionizing radiation is more than just hormetic; it is a required nutriment for health. It can be considered essential vitamin. Given that our evolutionary history was in an environment with more radiation, we should expect a beneficial effect from some additional radiation. Compared to our evolutionary history the current world ifrom a biological point of view is radiation deprived.

  8. Coming back to my story with the radio oncologists and their lack of knowledge of hormesis, they later nailed me when I talked about Cesium and the gama rays that are used in their field of work.

    They really had ‘fun’ at my expense when they mentioned that Cesium 137 was no longer used. It was replaced 20 years ago, or so, by Iridium 192‏ (IR 192) mainly because of a much shorter half life.

  9. As I think I tweeted, I have sympathetic views on this and have a problem with the LNT concept. That is with my ‘I am interested’ hat. With my Radiation Protection Adviser ‘hat’ I have a duty to ensure clients / users of ionising radiation keep within international dose limits (and of course local dose limits) and follow the principle of ALARA (ALARP in the UK). I need to ensure they keep within the law, follow best practice and so on. In this regard I am not hiding anything from anyone I deal with, I am keeping them in business and ensuring their workforce is happy (etc etc).

    It is also worth noting that there is a tendency to discuss radiation doses / dose rates on this (and other) websites resulting from the recent nuclear incident in Japan with descriptors such as ‘very low’, ‘too low to worry about’, ’negligible risk’ and so on. That may be so, but I would also point out that I deal with systems that deliver 10kGy / h to objects, machines that will provide a direct beam of 6Gy/ minute at 1m (where people regularly have access), radioactive sources that are ‘too hot to touch’ and give you a nice blue glow when placed in water. I also note that some of the most significant radiation injury events (which are not reported in the main media) are those involving high activity sealed sources (HASS) as used in industrial radiography. These sources, when used incorrectly can kill, and certainly can injure leading to loss of limbs (typically the hand). There have been cases around the world in 2012.

    Just wanted to remind us that there is some serious stuff around.

    1. @Mark Ramsay

      You’ve brought up an important reminder. Radiation professionals KNOW that ionizing radiation – like thermal radiation – can be extremely dangerous and result in terrible injury or death. There is a very good reason to protect humans from the doses provided by carelessly used sources, improperly shielded nuclear reactors, or unshielded used nuclear fuel.

      Aside: One of the things that frustrates me to no end is the people who cannot understand the difference between our legitimate concerns about high doses and our advocacy of acceptance of very low doses as harmless or even beneficial. It also bothers me when people do not understand the difference between concerns over the direct radiation doses that can be given by a spent fuel pool with insufficient water shielding and a lack of concern that the material in the pool will suddenly start burning. Details matter – even 5 year old fuel is a potent source of radiation if not properly shielded, but about 180 days after removal from an operating core, the same material does not generate enough thermal power to get hot enough to burn. Details matter! End Aside.

      Radiation protection professionals like yourself are doing an important job when helping people to learn to use radioactive material wisely and safely. You are providing an important service to your client when you help them stay on the right side of the law.

      The action that concerns me, however, is the advocacy by some of the insecure or greedy people in your profession of the notion that all radiation is so dangerous that all of the rest of us have to keep paying them to protect us from doses that are within the normal variation of natural background. In a corporate context, it frosts me to notice people who are seeking contracts lurking around spreading the idea that the clean up or long term exposure standard should be as close to zero as possible. Those people KNOW that the amount of work involved in meeting that standard is only limited by the amount of money that can be appropriated or extracted out of otherwise profitable enterprises by government mandate.

      1. Rod, your last sentence is there is the key difference between 2 types of capitalism.

        “Those people KNOW that the amount of work involved in meeting that standard is only limited by the amount of money that can be appropriated or extracted out of otherwise profitable enterprises by government mandate.”

        The people you refer to are practicing a value-extracting capitalism. I am no fan of this type of capitalism. I am a huge fan, however, of truly value-creating capitalism.

        As I am becoming older, and more confident in my worldview, I think one of my biggest issues with political rhetoric is going to be when people try to say that all capitalism is equal and that it is purely greed-driven. Significant aspects of capitalism create true value and can generate economically-sustainable jobs that help make people’s lives better in various ways. I think this is why President Obama’s fairly recent quotation that has been repeatedly repeated, “You didn’t build that”, immediately struck me.

        1. I think the quote was taken out of context. The meaning, which any honest entrepreneur would admit, was that no one builds any business by themselves. They certainly do not do it in a vacuum or without depending on public infrastructure like roads, schools, and utilities.

          1. It has definitely been taken out of context and will continue to be utilized continually by his opponents. The use is very strategic, though, as the quote can resonate pretty loudly even to someone who tries to avoid identifying solely with a single party.

      2. Rod, what you say about the thermal power of rods after 180 days is *important* !

        Can you give reference material that demonstrate that ?

        It’s no use to try to put some sense in the head of most of those who are talking nonsense about the risk of spent fuel in Fukushima, but there was here in France recently a journalist who debunked most of it in a serious article. But he conceded that if the pool actually were to crumble, the melting fuel would indeed be a big problem.
        I would love to be able to *prove* that if it somehow were to happen, even though the pool has been reinforced enough that there is extremely little chance of that, the result would be by far less disastrous than described.

  10. I’m puzzled by Muller’s remark, “That idea (hormesis) is not yet widely proven.”

    To “prove” a theory is difficult; however, to “disprove” a theory is much easier.

    Enormous amounts of evidence and data do conform to the hormesis dose-response characteristic (J-curve), so we have “confidence” that the hormesis model is much more common than the threshold or linear models (which are special cases/variations of the hormesis model).

    Radiobiologists have already measured the crossover radiation dose or level at which the (health) benefit transitions into the harmful range. Exposure above this crossover dose or level starts to become harmful.

    Nuclear professionals should not hide this information. We should inform everyone.


    1. Jerry,

      What kind of resistance have you encountered in publishing your findings in the major scientific journals (e.g. Nature, JAMA, PNAS, etc)? I saw your 2012 ANS collection of studies by such authors as yourself, Ed Calabrese,Ted Rockwell, T.D. Luckey & Sadao Hattori yet none of this material makes it into “mainstream” journalism, scientific or popular. Was anything in the publication reported on in a single newspaper? Trib or Sun-Times? Was there any follow up to the ANS press-release? This is strange since most journalists and the media outfits they work for profess to love the “government cover-up” angle, or the “outspoken contrarian expert” angle and they seem always to have room for the latest health study (positive, negative, ambiguous or trivial) on cancer incidence — except for the nuclear shipyard worker study or the cobalt-60 Taiwan apartments study (Ann Coulter was the only columnist I could find to mention it).

      I happened upon Luckey’s masterful compendium of studies for the first time nearly 20 years ago on the shelves of a small college library. I know of no published refutation of his findings. If this is indeed consensus opinion within the ANS how can the science journals refuse to publish your material? Has there ever been Congressional hearings on this subject? I would think Sen. Alexander (now in minority) would be receptive.

  11. Aaron

    I’ve not tried to publish my review articles in “major” scientific journals. After all, I’m a professional engineer and a nuclear scientist, not a radiobiologist. However, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) contacted me in 2008 and asked me to write an article with Myron Pollycove MD on Nuclear Energy and Health. When the draft article was completed, the ACSH sent it to ten highly qualified reviewers, and I spent several months addressing all of their comments. When this was completed, the ACSH asked me to submit it to a journal for publication. The only journal that I thought might accept it was the Dose-Response Journal. When the editor saw the list of reviewers, he published the article without further review. Since then, I wrote several reviews and commentaries on specific request from the Dose-Response Journal, and they were published. I also wrote several articles in response to requests from the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons. In addition, I spent about six months helping the authors of cobalt-60 Taiwan apartments study prepare their article for the J Am Phys & Surg and for a paper at PBNC 2004, which later became an article in the Dose-Response Journal.

    I’ve written many papers on this subject and presented them at CNS, ANS and INS conferences. I’ve written articles for the CNS Bulletin. These papers and articles were all accepted. No one challenged them. And I’ve given presentations to hospitals and many medical, scientific, professional and social organizations. I have not encountered any “resistance.” The only negative comment that I overheard (from a nuclear regulator)is, “he comes on too strong!”

    A columnist in the (Canadian) National Post, Larry Solomon, mentioned me obliquely in two of his articles, but that was it. I believe the newspapers “don’t want to go there.” I asked Matt (what’s his name) of the New York Times (at an ANS conference) to do an expose on the “cover-up” of radiation hormesis. He replied that did not want “to go against the strong current of the National Academy of Science.” Scare stories sell more advertising than stories that challenge scares.

    The main problem is that everyone (including the medical folks) have been taught, for the past 60 years, that any exposure to nuclear radiation brings a risk of cancer and congenital malformations. This has become a widespread belief that very few people can shake. Many radiobiologists choose not to make definitive statements about hormesis because they want to receiving on-going funding to study health effects of low dose radiation.

    Jerry Cuttler

    1. Jerry,

      So then in your opinion the National Academy of Science National Research Council is the principle institutional obstacle insisting on maintaining the LNT theory? The DOE, NIH, CDC, & NAS should all, at the vary least, be sponsoring multi-billions of dollars of additional research into this potentially revolutionary field at multiple research universities and national labs.

      There are two distinct paradigm shifts that would need to be made, and once adopted, as you’ve written, would change not only the field of power production and regulation but also routine preventive medicine.

      Instead of leaping all the way from LNT to radio-hormesis first more likely there will be governmental moves to simply drop L-N-T in favor of a simple L-T model starting at 50-100mSv/yr. This alone would be hugely controversial and would stimulate a mad dash on all sides for further research and would foster a much desired return to science as an inherently inductive & empirical enterprise. A simple LT model would accomplish everything the power industry would need since it puts a halt to Fukushima and Chernobyl style forcible resettlement policies and massively re-adjusts all PRA along with the NRC’s heavy handed bureaucratic posture.

      The full 360 degree u-turn from poison to bio-positive is simply too counterintuitive to be accomplished all at once. As all the additional research findings flood in and are debated and a new “scientific consensus” forms FDA recommendations for healthy radio-dietary supplements could be issued that, if the data of Luckey and Cohen are correct, would come close to reducing the incidence of cancer by half.

      What is your assessmnt of international bodies such as the ICRP & UNSCEAR, which may be more insulated from any feared domestic political backlash? Might they be more receptive to dropping LNT or even embracing radio-hormesis? If ICRP goes first then the burden is on NAS & its BEIR committee to conform to int’l standards.

      Another possibility for the ANS would be a documentary (“60-Minutes expose style”) detailing all this closely held research material that is not getting before to public. As someone suggested above it could run on Public Television; the documentary series Frontline is often used as a platform for controversial independent film makers to broadcast their material. IF a NSF grant were to be obtained in the process of production that serves as a seal of approval, likewise if institutional researchers from the national labs and distinguished academics were brought aboard as advisors.

  12. Aaron

    The NAS NRC already agrees that LNT model is not valid. They continue to adopt it “just to be conservative.” The problem is that the LNT assumption is not conservative. The needless evacuation of more than 90,000 people around the F-D NPP and the has clearly demonstrated this. The radiation scare and the evacuation are causing much suffering.

    There is no need to spend multi-billions of dollars in additional research. We have more than 115 years of data that is being ignored. UNSCEAR 1994, Addendum B is an assessment of 192 scientific articles.

    The ICRP should revoke the change it made to its recommendations in 1955 and re-adopt the recommendations it published in 1931, which was a tolerance x-ray dose of 0.2 roentgen/day. This is equivalent 680 mSv/year. Most of the folks in the ICRP have the same attitude as their buddies in the NCRP and the NAS and the IAEA. They are all determined to protect us from any radiation risks.

    I agree the regulators should not be advocating increased radiation exposure for a health benefit; however, they must recognize hormesis as the default dose-response model. Just accepting the threshold model leads us right back to the notion of “uncertainties” in the cancer risk below the threshold level and a requirement “to be conservative (safe),” i.e., adopting ALARA and the LNT assumption.

    As Rahm Emanuel declared in 2009, “We should not waste a serious crisis.” It’s an opportunity to make changes that otherwise would not be possible. If the evacuation of >90,000 residents and the shutdown of 50 reactors in Japan are not serious enough for the ICRP to backtrack to its 1930s recommendation, then we will have to wait until human suffering becomes much much worse. See my slide presentation at the ANS President’s Special Session in Chicago, available at: http://db.tt/w8VgFFex


  13. Jerry,

    Your Chicago ANS presentation map of Fukushima fallout indicates areas with high “groundshine” as high as 90 microSv/hr but I understood this level of radioactivity dissipated rapidly (mostly short half-life iodine) and it wouldn’t annualize to
    anything close to >700mSv/yr, more like 20mSv/yr for most of that patch depicted in the red zone between 19-90micoSv/hr.

    Fallout is vary uneven invisible puddles of cesium; people returning to the area should be given dosimeters conservatively set to chirp if they cross a patch of radioactivity greater than say 10 microSv/hr, which should be vary, vary, rare if not entirely non-existent at this point outside the immediate reactor complex. Those hot spots in high traffic areas could then be systematically staked off and remediated to the individual community’s content.

    Already there is vary good “crowdsourced” radio-maps on Safecast.org (a rather buggy website, these people freak out over anything above 0.3 microSv/hr).

    I noticed from your curriculum vitae that you worked for AECL, what is your opinion on the practicality of using the new CANDU-6 along with DUPIC fuel from US reactors?

  14. Aaron

    The radiation level 91 microsieverts/h x 8766 h/y = 798 mSv/y, which is a bit higher than the 1931 ICRP’s safe tolerance dose level of 680 mSv/y for radiologists (who had lower cancer mortality).

    There are high natural background areas in UNSCEAR 2000 that amount to about 800 mSv/y.

    The radiation levels around the F-D NPP have been decreasing much faster than the 30-year half-life of Cs-137 would suggest. Cesium is in the same chemical group as sodium; it dissolves in rainwater.

    One of the important advantages of the CANDU is its ability to fission a variety of fuels, such as thorium, “recovered uranium” (~1% U-235 is “high-octane” CANDU fuel) byproduct from reprocessing used LWR fuel, MOX from surplus weapons, DUPIC, etc. “Practicality” really comes down to the fuel cost—the cost and availability of LWR fuel. It may be feasible to build a low-cost plant in China to recycle used LWR fuel in a CANDU, as DUPIC. It would also reduce the accumulation of used LWR fuel. It’s a strategy that may make sense there.


    1. Jerry,

      The US is now building a PUREX-style reprocessing facility at the Savannah River Site with the cooperation of Areva (based on a French design). The SOLE purpose of this facility when completed at the cost of many billions of dollars will be to blend down US stocks of weapons plutonium into MOX fuel to utilize in a half-dozen or so US reactors.

      I figure instead of going through all the predictable and even MORE expensive epic liquid waste clean-up troubles (Hanford, Sellafield, Cogema, La Hague) for a vary limited production run it would be more sensible to construct a pyroprocess and/or AIROX dry-process fuel cycle facility capable of refabricating US UNF (now with no place to go) into DUPIC CANFLEX bundles to be used in US based midsized CANDU-6 reactors which are scaled about right, as twin ~700MW(e) units for the New England or maybe upper midwestern grids. S Korea has been researching the potential for decades and like the PRC it operates LWRs & CANDU reactors. I was just wondering if there are any technical show stoppers. I figure there’s going to be at least enough US UNF for 3000 GW/yrs of CANDU generation (35 dual unit plants) assuming a CANDU can squeeze an average 14,000 MWD/MTU out of DUPIC fuel.

  15. Aaron

    Technical show stoppers? none that I am aware of.

    Leadership is needed to cope with competition from coal-fired plants, windmills, LWR suppliers, etc. … and with strong opposition from the anti-nuclear “environmentalists”.

  16. Great article … I am enjoying low level radiation. Never suffer from colds anymore and my arthritis is better. The Europeans and Asians were right in embracing radon spas for arthritis. It has worked wonders for me too.

    The fear is just craziness from the Cold War … my theory.


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