1. If it only takes on the order of eV to break DNA’s bonds to cause a mutation…how does ionizing radiation on the order of keV or more, not cause DNA damage? (DNA repair mechanisms are much less than 100% accurate).

    I think I’ll play Stevie Wonder’s song, while I await a response.

    1. Hey Bob,

      Have you heard the news? UNSCEAR has joined the Health Physics Society in dropping the LNT idea of collective dose for estimating the health effects of exposure to low dose radiation:

      In general, increases in the incidence of health effects in populations cannot be attributed reliably to chronic exposure to radiation at levels that are typical of the global average background levels of radiation. This is because of the uncertainties associated with the assessment of risks at low doses, the current absence of radiation-specific biomarkers for health effects and the insufficient statistical power of epidemiological studies. Therefore, the Scientific Committee does not recommend multiplying very low doses by large numbers of individuals to estimate numbers of radiation-induced health effects within a population exposed to incremental doses at levels equivalent to or lower than natural background levels;

      (source – PDF)

      Surely, you’re not going to tell me that UNSCEAR is a bunch of “deniers” (or maybe you will — you seem to be suffering from denial yourself). 😉

      Science marches on and away from LNT.

      1. Nope, UNSCEAR is not a bunch of “deniers”.

        They understand the difference between LNT and collective dose.

        You, however, do not.

        1. Another smug response from the guy who is just bad at math.

          The LNT-model implies that collective dose should effectively estimate health effects from exposure. Otherwise, what good are risk estimates made by this model? Only a fool would use a model to estimate a risk and then expect the results to turn out differently. The math is not that difficult (just linear functions). If you can’t backcast, how can you forecast?

          Could you please enlighten us, oh smug one?

          1. I would enlighten anyone with a sincere, objective desire to learn health physics.

            I won’t waste my time with someone committed to health physics agnosis.

            Enlighten yourself on the Dunning Krueger effect.

            You too, Hargraves.

          2. I am also more than happy to enlighten anyone on science who has an objective, sincere desire to learn.

            I won’t waste my time with someone commited to health physics agnosis.

            Enlighten yourself to the Dunning Kruger effect.

            You too, Hargraves.

          3. I have a sincere desire to learn. My question would be what the meaning is of the UNSCEAR recommendation against estimating health effects based on collective dose. This seems like a very serious development. It seems that massive amounts of analysis and regulation based on calculating health effects from collective dose become largely meaningless now. It will need to be completely re-written and practically all conclusions and recommendation will need to be altered or reversed. A huge undertaking I imagine, although this subject is not my speciality.

            More importantly, a huge number of people in Europe (from Chernobyl) and Japan (from Fukushima) have now suddenly become normal people again with normal life expectancy, rather than ‘living dead’ who are liable to get smacked down at any moment with terrible radiation-caused cancer since having absorbed minute amounts of man-made radiation.

        2. I candidly admit that I do not understand the difference. Would you, or another knowledgeable person perhaps, don your teacher’s hat, and explain this difference, and any differences in expected mortality, with reference to the following cases:

          – One person receiving a single dose of 1 Sv

          – 10 people receiving a dose of 0.1Sv each,

          – 100 persons receiving a dose of 10mSv each.

          – 1000 persons receiving a dose of 1mSv each.

          – One person receiving ten doses of 100mSv, spaced, say, one month apart.

          – 10 persons receiving ten doses of 10mSv, ditto.

          – 100 persons receiving ten doses of 1mSv, ditto.

          In each of the above cases, the linear sum of the doses is 1 Sv.

          What is the expected difference, if any, in expected mortality of the irradiated populations:
          – after one year?
          – after 10 years?
          – after 25 years?
          – after 50 years?
          – after 100 years? (joke)

          according to the LNT theory? And according to real-world measurements?

          Some proper answers to these sorts of questions would bring some more light, rather than the heat, noise, dust and smoke that LNT discussions too often degenerate into.

          1. The BEIR VII report estimates a 1% cancer risk for a 100mSv dose. That is, about 1 person out of 100 people exposed to a 100 mSv will develop a cancer, perhaps 20-30 years later. The collective dose (the sum) for the 100 people is 10,000 mSv.

            LNT proposes that the risk is linear; that is a 10 mSv does creates a 0.1% risk of cancer. So for 1,000 people exposed to 10 mSv, LNT projects 1 cancer. The collective dose for these 1,000 people is 10,000 mSv. That is, LNT projects 1 cancer for every 10,000 mSv of collective dose, no matter how dispersed in the population.

            By LNT logic the 815 billion airline-passenger miles traveled annually in the US increases passenger cosmic ray exposures resulting in a collective dose of 10,000,000 mSv, causing 1000 cancers per year.

        3. If LNT is universally true, then the collective dose is true also.

          If the collective dose if false, then there’s a domain where LNT ceases to be true, and we would need to understand where it lies.

          I think the newer position of UNSCEAR is that LNT has not been verified to be true when the level of artificial radiation is within the level of natural variations, and estimate based on it at this level should *not* be trusted as correct.

          I think the new position of UNSCEAR can be rightfully interpreted as meaning : “do not apply LNT for dose lower than 1 mSv”.

          It even can be interpreted this way for a higher threshold, but this is less unambiguous.

          1. Not to pop the collective (HA!) bubble, but all UNSCEAR is doing is clarifying within the framework of their past reports.

            There is nothing new (in so far as the science goes, other than the Fukushima comments) here.

            Certain people, employ motivated reasoning and selection bias and go and search for support for a conclusion they just “know” is true. That’s what global warming deniers do, that’s what evolutionary biology deniers do, etc. As long as they already “know” the conclusion, they’re in a non-receptive mental state, and will just try to find weaknesses in explanations rather than accepting their shortcomings.

            What UNSCEAR describes (and much more on the subject) can be found in a 1995 NCRP report:


            It wasn’t new then either, it was just the first report they did on it.

            Do you deny evolutionary biology? If so, too bad. If not, recall it’s mutations that drive evolution of species. That would be at natural background radiation levels. DNA mutates.

            Get out of the bubble.

          2. Hi Bob,

            Could you please answer the question above? It seems to me that you have the technical ability to answer the question posited by turnages. I would gain a great deal if you can explain the difference between LNT and collective dose.

            I don’t hear anyone saying that radiation does no damage. I do hear some people saying that the repair mechanisms become more effective with exposure to radiation.

            Would you be opposed to a standard of “As High As Reasonably Safe” ?? If you are opposed what is your reasoning?

            thank you!

          3. According to LNT, a gallon of booze will kill you for sure. In a day, if you drank it at once. In one of the next 100 days, if you take a single shot in the morning. Folks, great news, we all already died long, long time ago.

    2. It does cause DNA damage, but it also stimulates DNA repair.  The greater level of DNA repair activity fixes the radiation damage and also damage caused by free radicals that would otherwise be missed.

      1. Prove it.

        “When you believe in things that you don’t understand, then you suffer…superstition ain’t the way”

        Stevie Wonder

          1. LNT is a theory. A scientific theory is an explanation for observed phenomena.

            It isn’t itself an observed phenomenon that can be proved, only disproved.

            Lookup “philosophy of science” or “scientific method”.

            You don’t understand how science works.

          1. Niether of those links supports this:

            “The greater level of DNA repair activity fixes the radiation damage and also damage caused by free radicals that would otherwise be missed.”

            The first is an epidemiological study like the Japanese a-bomb study. If the a-bomb study can’t find excess risk (it’s a $1 billion, 60+ year study!) at those low levels we don’t expect that study to find one. That’s doesn’t mean what you claimed is true, it has to do with finding a weak signal in a high noise background, and being sure you’re detecting the signal.

            The second is an example of adaptive response which only occurs in very unique situations (in that case 50 rem is given followed by other doses). It’s not representative of background, occupational, or even accident exposures. Under those scenarios, there is no adaptive response observed.

          2. Bob, I see the crux of the issue as this:

            Since at low doses, increased risks are so small as to be indiscernible, why should we THE ENTIRE WORLD’s overall economic growth prospects and continue to allow fossil fuel dominance by allowing fear of a miniscule (aside: are microscule, nanoscule, picoscule, or femtoscule actual words yet; in this case microscule or nanoscule might be appropriate /end aside) risk from low-dose radiation to outweigh FAR, FAR greater risks associated with fuel supply certainty and health effects of un-mitigated combustion?

            Should fear of a microscule or nanoscule risk be allowed to cause a kiloscule/Megascule/Gigascule risks from business as usual to be perpetuated?

            What do you say, Bob?

            Joel Riddle (Planning to be a resident of Planet Earth until very close to 2080)

          3. allowing fear of a miniscule (aside: are microscule, nanoscule, picoscule, or femtoscule actual words yet; in this case microscule or nanoscule might be appropriate /end aside)

            They’re not, because the word is actually spelled “minuscule”.

          4. Ah, crap.

            At least I am not totally wrong (even though this link mentions that many people regard my spelling as an error): http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/miniscule

            I propose that the spelling miniscule be adopted, and that metric prefixes be utilized such that the words Gigascule, Megascule, microscule, nanoscule, picoscule, etc. can be utilized. It would be a simple addition to the English language. Rod, you have a degree in English, what do you think?

        1. Hi Bob,

          So, when we observe that people living in apartments in Taiwan built with radioactive cobalt get cancer at lower rates than people living in similar apartments but without the radioactive cobalt – what are we to conclude? That the effect of radiation is linear as the strength goes down?

          Am I a “creationist” global warming denying blind person for reading the following article and thinking that maybe LNT is not a good theory?


          A portion of the article follows.

          “They did not suffer a higher incidence of cancer mortality, as the LNT theory would predict. On the contrary, the incidence of cancer deaths in this population was greatly reduced—to about 3 per cent of the incidence of spontaneous cancer death in the general Taiwan public. In addition, the incidence of congenital malformations was also reduced—to about 7 per cent of the incidence in the general public. These observations appear to be compatible with the radiation hormesis model.”

          Can you help me understand this?

          1. In the Taiwan apartment house accidental exposures, LNT would project higher than normal cancer rates, but lower rates were observed. This casts doubt on the LNT model. LNT proponents generally say such environmental observations are too uncontrolled to be able to draw conclusions from. But there are many other, similar examples, such as cited in Wade Allison’s Radiation and Reason book.

        2. http://youtu.be/7aYr34WJ_ko?t=11m40s

          Dr. Ron Mitchell has proven it many times over and showed us all at my ANS dose response event. Then Dr. Sylvain Costes showed radiation-induced DNA repair at the cellular level in video form (not shown in youtube link above).

    3. Bob,

      Given that base pairs are part of the structure of both DNA and RNA, which is more sensitive to ionizing radiation, DNA with mismatched base pairs, or DNA with matched base pairs? Does not mutated DNA have more mismatched base pairs?

      Even if broken, which is more likely to reassemble into the prior configuration: DNA with mismatched base pairs or DNA with properly matched base pairs?

    4. @ Bob, Yes a 1 keV gamma might cause 1,000 ionizations, but very, very few might actually happen in a DNA protein, which is a tiny fraction of the mass a cell. Also, DNA has built-in redundancy (the “double” helix) allowing enzyme repair of single strand breaks. Some double strand breaks might not be repaired, but it appears that low-level radiation stimulation of cellular repair mechanisms outweighs the risk of radiation damage. See Rod’s linked article by Feinendegen et al.

    5. We are multicellular organisms. We repair and/or lose individual cells all the time from various kinds of envirnomental effects, in a complex biochemical ballet of signals and controls. In particular oxidative damage routinely damages DNA and is repaired or eliminated by cell aptosis.

      Only when those mechanisms are overwhelmed by a flood of damage do we start to see gross health effects.

      Single-cell effects do not translate to the same effects in a multicellular organism.

    6. So you’re dead.
      DNA damages are 1,000 to 1,000,000 PER CELL PER DAY by normal metabolism (free radicals and so on) and natural radioactivity.

    7. Easy.

      Metabolic byproducts of that nasty, poisonous atmospheric oxygen cause some ~50 000 DNA damages per CELL per DAY.

      Any phenomenon that would up-regulate DNA repair mechanisms even slightly could more than offset the damage it itself causes.

  2. Would the author mind if I translated this article to Portuguese and published it on my blog?

    1. @ Helio, yes you are welcome to translate this into Portuguese. My book will soon be available in Portuguese.

      1. It took way longer than I thought, but here it is at last:


        I took the liberty of adding footnotes contributing references and expanded explanations where I thought necessary. Also I didn’t try to do a word-for-word translation, but rather attempted to preserve meaning while adapting the structure to the specifics of the Portuguese language. I do think it’s my best post so far, I hope others enjoy it.

  3. A nice example Dr Applebaum of straining out the gnat while swallowing the camel. The trouble with us geeky specialist types is that it’s very easy to lose a sense of proportion.

    As I understand it, no proper research has shown any discernible increases in mortality from doses less than 100 mSv. The context of this editorial is naturally occurring doses in the range of 3 – 20 mSv per year. Mortality effects right down in the statistical weeds.

    In this, it differs vastly from the solidly proved mortality risk of everyday things like crossing the road, driving a car, eating red meat, breathing urban air, excess sugar intake, or being a couch potato.

    There is a place for debating the mechanisms of low-level radiation on living cells, but this article isn’t it. Perhaps over at ScienceWonk.

    1. Back in the 1960’s we could only discern increased mortality at about 100 rem.

      People made the same claims then you are making now. They were wrong then, just like you are wrong now.

      It’s a fallacy called “shifting the goal posts”.

      (I’m not a Dr.).

      1. Sorry, Mr Applebaum.

        My claim was that the mortality risk of 3 – 20 mSv doses was down in in the statistical weeds compared to the risk of crossing the road, driving a car, eating red meat, breathing urban air, excess sugar intake, or being a couch potato.

        Are you saying this claim is wrong?

          1. Hi Bob,

            Just wondering what are your thoughts on Dr Peter Karamoskos and his views on radiation and Nuclear Power?


  4. Why am I not surprised? Positive editorials relative to nuclear energy don’t meet the “agenda” of those in charge of the media. It’s been that way for my 40+ years in this issue, and I don’t see it stopping until there’s a public outcry. That doesn’t mean we should just throw up our hands and walk away. Au contraire! We have come a long way over the past few years in getting the “other side” posted on the web. We have had an impact, and (from my site statistics) interest grows by the month. Damn the torpedos…

  5. Can I translate this writing into Indonesian language and share it? Thank you very much in advance.
    Twitter: @katakatakunta

  6. As I understand, collective dose is an application of LNT. LNT is referred to as an hypothesis in the NAS and ICRP documents I have read. It has long been the policy of the Health Physics Society that collective dose is mis-applied when individual doses are too low and UNSCEAR has recently agreed.It sounds like, while LNT may be the best available model it needs to be placed in better context.

    Finally (and maybe I soapbox this too often) many other environmental agents are modeled as LNT. Perhaps the stronger argument is that we do fine with lead batteries in our cars and arsenic in our electronics (even solar cells…), so we can reasonably regulate radiation without the constant follicular immolation [ i.e., hairfires]. 😉

    1. @ Brian and Robert, I wouldn’t exactly say UNSCEAR has totally backed away from LNT, saying

      “This is because of the uncertainties associated with the assessment of risks at low doses, the current absence of radiation-specific biomarkers for health effects and the insufficient statistical power of epidemiological studies.”

      Perhaps it’s a face-saving way of saying “maybe”. However the public is fearful of such words as “uncertainties”, “absence of radiation-specific biomarkers”, “insufficient statistical power”, which can be interpreted to mean “needs more study, better be conservative until we really know”.

  7. Great article Robert. I deeply wish it could have been accepted into a high-profile media outlet.

    I don’t regard the Taiawn cobalt-tainted steel case as reliable. The results are too far out of line with other records. Perhaps though it is useful as a debating counterpoint to the odd extreme cases used by the fear-driven side of the aisle.

    1. Isn’t the Taiwan case similar to Dr. Bernard Cohen”s findings when he investigated the link between radon gas and lung cancer?

      1. No. The initial paper on the Taiwan building claimed a huge variation in improved health, significantly beyond any other documented effect. Dr Cohen’s assessment of the statistics of health vs. radon were identifying a subtle effect across millions of people.

        Incidentally, radon doesn’t cause lung cancer – smoking causes lung cancer. It is possible that smoking in a high-radon environment causes slightly more cancer than otherwise.

  8. I know it will be hard to be heard above the ‘Applebaum Noise’, but I thought Robert made a good point that what is really important is the rate of exposure. It seems logical that if repair mechanisms are operating, then damage occurs when the rate overwhelms the rate at which repair can occur. So radiation rate would logically be a far more important factor than dose, as Robert points out. For the most part reporting still seems to focus largely on dose.

    No one has mentioned it, but there are at least 2 recent papers out of UC Berkeley and MIT that describe real progress on defining the mechanisms of radiation repair (I can find the links but googling should get you there). There is finally some real Science being done here on low-radiation effects, not assumptions and extrapolations, but physical mechanisms.

    1. The analogy I like to use is a pin prick. If I prick my finger tip once with a pin it will bleed a tiny bit and withing hours if not minutes the damage will be undetectable, and even if I do this once a day every day for a year the damage will remain basically undetectable. But if I prick my finger tip 365 times all at once it will bleed for a longer period of time and the resulting damage will be detectable for days.

  9. Oops Robert did mention MIT and Berkeley. In fact, he pretty much said it all, in as compact a form as can be imagined.

    I am sending this article to a number of friends. Thanks again, Robert.

  10. Some of these comments have devolved into a discussion of LNT and collective doses, but this misses the point about “superstition”. EVEN if the LNT were valid and low level radiation has some negative health effects, nuclear power is by far the safest form of energy generation. The nuclear power fuel cycle is responsible for 0.0002 mSv per person per year of excess radiation exposure. If LNT were valid, this would project 0.25 deaths per year per each 1 GW nuclear power plant, compared to 25 US deaths per year from particulates emitted by each 1 GW coal plant. The risks of coal are accepted; the first question I am asked when visiting my health clinic is “Are you receiving black lung benefits?” Radiation superstition trumps facts.

    1. Hello Mr Hargraves,

      Thanks for the excellent article. very concise and thought provoking.

      My question is in regards to your comment above. you site 25 deaths per gw/y for coal fired power plants. where does that number come from? Do you have a link to *the* report that estimates health effects caused by coal?

      Also, is this number purely from elect production? If not, to what extent do negative health effects of coal mining exceed those of uranium mining? I assume that they do as coals energy density is exponentially greater than coal.

  11. I got a good laugh seeing someone addressed as ‘Dr.’ The fact is that Applebaum is a nothing with a vested financial interest in the continued acceptance of LNT. Every one of his utterances on these pages must keep this fact in mind.

    Without the LNT boogieman, much of the justification for the existence of the radiation safety industry and the people that work in it would disappear, as most of the routine functions that they do could be handled by general hazmat workers and industrial hygienists. It is only by maintaining the myth that ionizing radiation is something vastly more dangerous than any other potential hazard can they keep their special status.

    With all the other problems nuclear energy faces, it disgusts me to see that some of the people that work in the field perpetuating this FUD for shortsighted, and selfish reasons.

  12. Rod

    The article Radiation Superstition presents excellent ideas and information. However, I would like to comment on the following statement:

    “Indeed massive doses of radiation did kill 38 emergency workers at Chernobyl, and the fallout of short-lived iodine resulted in 4000 cases of thyroid cancer and 15 deaths. However there is no evidence of the thousands of hypothetical deaths predicted by extrapolation of deadly exposures to lower radiation doses. Opponents of nuclear power have now hyped this death number up to one million, without observable evidence.”

    The massive radiation doses killed 28 of the 134 emergency workers who were treated for acute radiation syndrome; the remaining 106 workers recovered. During the subsequent 19 years, 20 of these 106 workers died of natural causes, including liver cirrhosis and emphysema. The normal mortality of these workers was about 1% per year, which corresponds roughly to the number who actually died. However, the Chernobyl Forum Report counted these as radiation deaths, giving a total of about 50. This report also attributed ~ 4000 thyroid cancers to the radioiodine released, but it did not consider the natural incidence of occult thyroid cancer.

    Your readers should review the comments on the Chernobyl Forum Report submitted by the Polish delegation to UNSCEAR. These comments, which were not incorporated, are available at: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/71478013/Jaworowski-2006_comments-Chernobyl-Forum-Report-copyright.pdf

  13. Here is a little history of radiation protection standards from the man who codified many of these standards.

    Bob, apparently the man was not too keen on LNT as a scientific theory, but as a regualtory framework. This is an excellent speech.

    I’ve complained enough about LNT as a regulatory basis. It’s time to add an alternative regulatory basis. After my time in the Navy, if you don’t offer an alternative you have no right to complain.

    I make an analogy here for the purposes of adapting regulations. I treat radiation exposure as a signal and reference it to some background level and then take its logarithm. This gives you radiation measurement as a dB, with the 0dB level natural background radiation. I take the best parts of 10CFRR20 and plug them into OSHA’s 1910.95. The exercise provides a framework consistent with existing policy for radiation workers and eliminates all of the silliness of ALARA.


  14. Hi Robert. Very good. Did you submit to Wired. Not sure if you could offer to be ghost writer. Pretty demeaning. Can Rick Martin help?

  15. Perhaps the issue involves a broader myth that we can power our world, process and distribute goods, and provide for the planet’s billions using materials that react with nothing, require no mining, and are harmonically converged 😉

    The superstition we should fight is the one claiming radiation is uniquely hazardous and dreadful. LNT agents are rather ubiquitous in our biosphere. We need to respect them but not panic over them and needlessly trade lives saved for greater dangers that are camouflaged by their familiarity.

  16. The fear and superstition of nuclear radiation started long before the atom was even discovered. There is an excellent book written back in 1988 by Spencer R. Weart, ‘Nuclear Fear, A History of Images’ that explains the psychology of fear at the very beginning of the Nuclear Industry. That fear was exploited through images of massive atomic explosions by Dr. Hermann Muller, who convinced just about everyone that there is no safe level of radiation apparently through alleged deceptive interpretation of study data. Anti-anything is always based on fear and video images are becoming the new venue.

    1. @Kral

      The fear and superstition of nuclear radiation started long before the atom was even discovered.

      Your statement does not make any sense. The atom was discovered sometime around the 5th century BC. Hermann Muller was able to convince people that there was no threshold for genetic damage, but he made his Nobel Prize speech in 1946, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

      He was motivated to spread fear of radiation as a way to halt the spread of nuclear weapons, which was a somewhat admirable goal.

      I’ve read Weart’s book – which he recently updated – and do not completely agree with his interpretation of WHY people developed their fears. He seems to agree that the fears developed as a result of imagery; we part because I think that the imagery was purposely chosen by skilled communicators to impart fear.

      I also wonder a little about the idea that comic books were a source of fear; when I was a child comic book reader, I kind of liked the notion of getting accidentally exposed and developing superhuman talents myself. I wanted to be a mutant.

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