Useful online book – Radiation and Health
The health effects of low level radiation are a continuing topic of conversation here and in many other places around the web. The Establishment view is known as the Linear No Threshold (LNT) assumption.
Using that model, which was first applied to radiation standards development in 1956, every dose is assumed to impart risk to human health, all the way down to the origin of zero dose before you get to zero risk. Since there is no place on the surface of the earth that has a background dose of zero, the model indicates that every human has a greater than zero probability of contracting cancer caused by radiation. It also implies that people who live in areas where the background dose from the local rocks or from cosmic radiation is higher than average have a higher than average probability of a radiation induced cancer.
In the opinion of many health and radiation professionals, that model does not make any physiological sense and it flies in the face of the results of numerous studies. However, the Establishment bodies that have been selected and approved by government bureaucrats continue to assert that their “meta” reviews of literature give results that are “consistent with” an assumption of a linear, no threshold dose response model.
Sometimes I feel like the debate is roughly analogous to trying to decide how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. Since angels cannot be measured, once can propose an infinitely high number and no one can prove that number to be wrong. For practical purposes, it really should not matter whether the model is linear or not since a low dose implies a low risk and there is no such thing as zero risk for a living being.
However, many people who refuse to accept much of what the Establishment says on any topic have — for some odd reason — decided that they would believe them this time. Of course, they see the assumption and raise it to the level of a mantra and chant “there is no safe dose of radiation.” They even use that mantra to try to force enormous expenditures to eliminate dispersed or diluted radioactive material that exposes humans to doses that are well within the normal variations in background exposure.
A recent story titled EPA Abandons Major Radiation Cleanup in Florida, Despite Cancer Concerns, originally produced by Global Security Newswire, has been picked up by a number of outlets and by quite a few members of the various groups with whom I correspond about nuclear energy and radiation matters.
It tells how people within the state of Florida — which was my home of record for my first 52 years — have pressured the EPA to abandon plans to attempt to clean up the soil in a 10 square mile area in Lakeland, which is about half way between Orlando and Tampa. The area is either near or on land that was mined to extract phosphate for fertilizer. In some areas, the background radiation exposure is slightly elevated because phosphate contains a modest amount of uranium and all of its daughter products, including radium.
That is no surprise to me; there was a time when the phosphate mines earned a little extra money on the side by processing their wastes to extract uranium. When the price of uranium fell through the floor during the 1980s, once we stopped building new nuclear power plants in the US, the phosphate miners closed down the processing lines and just left the uranium in the tailings.
The EPA bureaucrats wanted to force a clean up down to a level less than 1 mSv/yr (100 mrem/year) for the most exposed person; the state of Florida said that was a silly waste of money for anything lower than 5 mSv/yr (500 mrem/yr). Fortunately, logic and political clout prevailed and the higher standard was accepted.
I guess this is a long way of getting to the title point of this post. If you are hopelessly confused by the controversy and would like a good, readable source of information about radiation health effects, please download a copy of Radiation and Health by Thormod Henriksen and the Biophysics group at UiO (University in Oslo).
These health professionals have done the world a service by gathering credible information into an accessible format that can help people understand how radiation affects their bodies, what levels deserve concern, how they can protect themselves from those levels and when the levels are low enough that they can stop worrying and go on living their normal lives.
Please share the link widely and do whatever you can think of to thank the Thormod and his colleagues.
PS – I guess it might be worth explaining why I used the damning word “bureaucrat” to describe the EPA representatives who have established such low doses as the clean-up standard.
I lived on the west coast of Florida for about 10 years — between 1993-2003. Within ten miles of our house, there was a Superfund clean-up site that had once been the site of a phosphorous processing plant owned by a company called Stauffer Chemical. It was a beautiful piece of property right along the Anclote River. The clean-up had been in progress at least ten years when we moved to Tarpon Springs, but the government was not satisfied with the results. The site was declared to be a Superfund site in 1994; the cleanup was planned to last at least another ten years.
I attended the same church as the EPA representative in charge of the clean up. We chatted a few times after services; he eventually invited me for a tour of the site. During that tour I asked what was taking so long and what the risks were to the public. He told me that he liked Tarpon Springs and had no intention of allowing the site cleanup to be completed before he was ready to retire. He said there was no risk, but the standard was tight enough that it could never be met anyway.
Believe it or not, we never spoke again.
Apparently he must have earned his retirement, the Stauffer Chemical cleanup was declared complete in 2011.
Whenever someone talks about “EPA bureaucrats,” I think of the EPA guy in the movie Ghostbusters. (YouTube)
I watched that back in December and thought the exact same thing.
Bill Murray never fails.
Thanks for the link to this book. I just downloaded and skimmed through it, and it looks interesting and very readable.
Rod is mentioned in this anti Dr J article …
From Daniel’s NJ link:
Does anyone know if said leak was ever confirmed? At the time there was a HuffPo article in which “Officials Say ‘Tiny Amount’ Could Have Escaped”, which isn’t entirely the same thing, and also illustrates a potential educational problem the Southern Cal. Edison officials might have better addressed. (Assuming they didn’t.) It should be a minor thing, but it appears science writer Alicia Chang was trying to be objective:
Is this actually the case? My understanding is the water in the secondary coolant loops that feed the steam generators is not radioactive. Its why they are separate loops. Yet there clearly was concern that trace amounts of an unidentified radioactive gas dissolved in the secondary water might have escaped from a broken steam tube and into an auxiliary building. And not have been detected. How could this happen?
Xe-135 is a beta emitter, making it harder to detect directly. But Kr-85 has a secondary (0.43%) beta-gamma decay which should in principle be detectable. Neither are terrifically water soluble, and their presence in secondary coolant might be indicative of leakage from the primary system. But in that case there would be tritium as well (another beta emitter). If there were risk of actual danger, one would think there would be some kind of reliable detection system? Was a SONGS radiation leak ever confirmed?? Perhaps Rod knows???
There have been several articles on Atomic Insights about the San Onfre saga. Taken as a group, they can answer your question and provide links to more technically detailed sources. You can find them with a search here using “San Onofre” as your search term.
The initial discussion of the 75 gallon per day tube leak is in this one – https://atomicinsights.com/media-coverage-chevrons-richmond-ca-refinery-versus-scegs-san-onofre-nuclear-generating-station/
Thanks, Rod. From your linked article
So lemme get this straight, ‘cuz them’s a lot of zeros RoDP, and I think we got to tack on a few more to convert to mSv. I’ll refer to WNA’s Nuclear Radiation and Health Effects table for conversion factors. Here goes:
1. 1 rem = 10 mSv
2. 5.2E-5 millirem = 5.2E-7 mSv
3. 1 BED = 15 Bq (~ 1E-4 mSv)
4. 5.2E-7 mSv = 0.0052 BED
5. Average U.S. background is 2.4 mSv/yr = 0.27 uSv/hr = 6.6 uSv/day
If delivered over 1 hr, that 5.2E-7 mSv maximum individual dose would be 0.2% background. If over the course of a day it would be 7.9E-5 background. This might be hard to directly detect, which might explain why SCE couldn’t answer your “How much?” question directly.
In more common units and using the very rough equivalent of 1 BED being 1E-4 mSv, that 5.2E-7 mSv maximum dose reduces to 5.2E-3 BED or one half of one percent of the banana I had for lunch.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but are you telling me we just shut down 2.15 GW worth of carbon-free electric over a fraction of a banana barely big enough to see?
Manatees are having a hard time in the cold. In 2013 16 percent of the population died.
I cant help but think the Crystal River closure in 2009 doesn’t have something to do with it. The Manatees were known in the past to congregate in its warm canals during cold weather.
The people of Citrus County are sure having a difficult time with it. Before crystal river closed it had a $2.2 billion taxable value that was nearly twice the value of the rest of the county’s commercial sector. It was 39 times larger than second biggest taxpayer, Withlacoochee River Electric. It paid a $35 million tax bill.
Meanwhile as the Manatees are back up in the springs for the current cold weather and the state has closed three of them to tourists hoping to give the endangered animals a break.
They also congregate in thermal power station cooling effluent – Big Bend Power Station – ( http://www.tampaelectric.com/company/mvc/ )
The smoking gun you will not find on “Green” sites :
Florida Manatee Cold-related Unusual Mortality Event,
January – April 2010 Final Report ( http://myfwc.com/media/1536184/2010_Manatee_Cold_related_UME_Final.pdf )
PE Crystal River Power Plant —The PE Crystal River power plant has both coal-fired and nuclear-fueled units. During the winter of 2009-2010, the nuclear plant was offline. The coal- fueled units operated as demand and maintenance allowed. These units were operated so that at least one unit was discharging water greater than 20°C and manatees were provided at least a small warm-water refuge throughout winter.
Sorry to veer so off topic here, but as Florida and nuclear was mentioned I wanted to reiterate how Crystal River’s closure was made on unsound reasoning without the facts of the effects of the closure being made available both for the community and the environment.
With the cold impulse events of recent winters and the new intermittentcy of thermal coal stations (NG replacement/renewables), the closure of crystal river NPP and the depletion of the Florida aquifer (progressively less sprig flow on and offshore) [ http://stateofwater.org/ecosystems/springs/ ] and of course evidence in the above report that Manatees completely avoid areas once warm water addition stops – I think there are some reasonable assumptions available as to why this has been occurring and is accelerating. I think its also is a excellent argument to replace coal and gas generation with nuclear, even for keeping older nuclear technology operational along Florida’s gulf coast, especially in the winter months.
Thanks for the pointer to this on-line book; I look forward to reading it.
If you don’t mind I’d like to recommend an older, but very readable book about radiation and hormesis called “Underexposed” by Ed Hiserodt. You get a “shout out” on page 211 about a report you did on a McMurdo Sound reactor cleanup. It also ends with one of the best motivations that I can think of for keeping this issue front and center:
“How many more lives must be forfeited to a thoroughly discredited LNT before reason prevails?”
I can’t help but wonder:
If the radiation threshold of zero is too low, what other thresholds are out there that the bureaucrats are draining resources for? Every once in a while you hear about products being pulled from the market due to the use of some chemical.
Is all lead paint bad no matter where it’s used?
I’ve bought a lot of products with the sticker that says they contain chemicals known to cause cancer in California. It must be easier to get cancer in California.
Just a bit of clarification:
The EPA isn’t abandoning the issue, they are simply leaving it to the States to decide how to best deal with it. While they are suggesting the site does not qualify for costly federally funded Superfund remediation at a level of 5 mSv/year, this does not mean protective actions are not going to be taken.
Florida intends to mitigate risk via site-specific information and education (here).
“100 – 500 mrem/yr – Assessment will be provided to the homeowner along with possible suggestions to reduce exposures if they choose” (here).
Costs for clean-up are estimated at $11 billion, “or nine times EPA’s Superfund annual budget” (here). Florida politicians are opposing a plan to increase taxes on all Florida industries to help deal with the very high costs of clean-up (for a region involving some 100,000 residents). While health issues are still a documented concern here, this appears to be a protracted political battle in the State, and primarily one over new taxes on Florida businesses (opposed by Florida State Representatives). This isn’t science prevailing here, it is politics. “… ATSDR’s recommended limit for continuous exposure is 100 mrem/year such as one living with these levels might experience …”
The MRL threshold recommended by ATSDR (“based on peer-reviewed studies and an external peer-review process,” here) at the State level where no action is required is 100 mrem/year (not 500 mrem/year as suggested in the lead post).
Acceptance of risk is a political decision that can only be illuminated by science. If people are given accurate information about the incredibly low level of risk and the incredibly high cost of clean-up, they will make the prudent choice of learning to accept the risk so they can use the money for more productive purposes.
Our major disagreement is that you apparently believe that money magically appears in the accounts of businesses or governments and that it is available to use without consequences for any politically powerful group like those who pressure cleanup of low level radiation sources.
Money and resources are finite. If they are spent moving dirt, they cannot be spend educating children, improving the economy, generating employment, or building a better world.
The phosphate mines aren’t difficult to miss on a satellite image of Lakeland, Florida. Development appears to stop at their boundary. Tampa appears to be expanding to North and South and not so extensively to East (a region filled with what looks to me to be numerous tailings or leeching ponds).
Maybe your perspective on this is just a little antedated. From Wiki (just to pull up a quick reference):
If people have elsewhere to move and develop (perhaps you are correct). But for this region (minus remediation), it’s economic prospects look rather dim and limited to me. And I can only hazard to guess that the homeowners in the nearby villages and burbs (looking to have to disclose contamination concerns to any future buyers) are not likely too happy with the decision (and it’s impact on their local property values).
Yes, the broken windows fallacy may be an issue here (particularly for a $11 billion remediation bill charged to the State). Federal funds are a different matter (and would likely be a significant boon to the State). I don’t see why it has to be local residents who have to have all their windows broken (while the mining companies, local industry, and Republicans politicians keep all of their windows pristine and squeaky clean).
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