Visualizing the Danger of Fukushima Related Radiation Levels Measured in Seattle
A couple of days ago, I wrote about the difference between detectable radiation or contamination and dangerous levels of the same two widely discussed phenomena.
Aside: Many people remain confused about the difference between radiation and contamination. If you will forgive an old sailor for some blunt language, here is how one of my early mentors explained it to me. His exact quote remains burned in my memory banks – “Ensign, radiation is the stink, contamination is the shit.” I hope that helps you to keep the difference between the two terms clear.
A couple of years ago, I ran into that mentor who, at the time of our interaction, was a first class petty officer and the leading engineering laboratory technician at the D1G prototype where I first qualified to operate a reactor. He is now an executive in the nuclear industry.End Aside.
In my last article about radiation and contamination I spoke about the many orders of magnitude (powers of 10) that can be measured and how the units can be quite confusing. I also recognize that, since the invention of the pocket calculator, there are fewer and fewer people like my grandmother, who loved doing math in her head and amazing us with that ability.
I thought the below graphic did a great job of illustrating the difference between the dose that one might receive from breathing air containing the radioactive material measurements reported in the Pacific Northwest and a dose that can be received from a common medical procedure. Credit Sandi Doughton of the Seattle Times for working hard to get the story right and provide valuable context along with the reported readings.
I hope Sandi and her employer do not mind me using the graphic provided by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to illustrate a post congratulating them on good reporting.
There is an incredible amount of ignorance out there on the subject of radiation, what it is, what it can do, and what it can’t do. It is a bloody shame that the popular media has not taken the time to live up to its collective responsibly to keep its readership/viewership informed properly.
I like the quote, “Ensign, radiation is the stink, contamination is the shit.” Unfortunately, neither the news media nor the general pubic seems capable of understanding the distinction. While I expect that of the public given the sad state of what currently passes for a public school system, I find it especially fascinating on the part of the news media, given the way its journalists and other staff worship scientism and rationalism as gods.
I first qualified at the D1G prototype also.
Rod is recommending the paper: ” Nuclear Energy and Health: And the Benefits of Low-Dose Radiation Hormesis” by Cuttler and Pollycove. I examined it, some of its sources, and some other sources.
Cutler and Pollycove claim LNT is “clearly disproved” by Cohen’s 1995 paper on radon, claiming there are no defensible objections to Cohen’s arguments. It discounts “authorities” who raised “generic objections (an ecological study)” and condemns them, without naming them, because they continue to accept “unscientific” ideas.
BEIR VI, which was specifically tasked to assess what was known about radon, discussed Cohen’s work extensively. They concluded: Cohen’s finding “was considered to have resulted from inherent limitations of the ecologic method”, and “the finding was considered to be an inappropriate basis for concluding that indoor radon is not a potential cause of lung cancer”. “We also note that case-control studies reported to date, although limited in statistical power, have not yielded evidence” to support Cohen.
Cutler and Pollycove cites papers written by Luckey, and papers by Pollycove and Feinendegen, to support a statement “Epidemiologic studies… demonstrate a positive hormetic response…”
BEIR VII acknowledges the work of Luckey, Pollycove and Feindendegen by citing papers by them in their list of references. They also cite other authors mentioned by Cutler and Pollycove, i.e. Calabrese and his 2003 “Toxicology Rethinks its central belief: hormesis demands a reappraisal of the way risks are assessed” paper, etc. BEIR VII, for that matter cites 35 pages of refences. I counted up the number of references on a few pages. It seems they must have reviewed over 1000 papers in the scientific literature.
The conclusion of BEIR VII on hormesis: “Evidence for hormetic effects was reviewed, with emphasis on material published since the 1990 BEIR V study on the health effects of exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation. Although examples of apparent stimulatory or protective effects can be found in cellular and animal biology, the preponderance of available experimental information does not support the contention that low levels of ionizing radiation have a beneficial effect. The mechanism of any such possible effect remains obscure. At this time, the assumption that any stimulatory hormetic effects from low doses of ionizing radiation will have a significant health benefit to humans that exceeds potential detrimental effects from radiation exposure at the same dose is unwarranted.”
I.e. the preponderance of available “experimental” information does not support hormesis, the panel sees a theoretical problem in that a mechanism for hormesis “remains obscure”, and they find that the harm they find that other studies support outweighs “any stimulatory hormetic effects”.
The Cutler and Pollycove paper answers this by citing papers published after BEIR VII reported. Eg: a 2008 paper by Pollycove and Feinendegen “Low-dose radioimmuno-theapy of cancer”. The abstract of this paper provides this answer: BEIR VII objections are “dispelled by current radiobiology that now includes DNA damage both from ionizing radiation and from endogenous metabolic free radicals, and coupled with the biological response to low-dose radiation.”.
This seems to address the caveat expressed by BEIR VII in 2006, that even if hormesis exists, the harm caused by radation outweighed any benefit. A lot is at stake. Cutler and Pollycove note: “Acceptance of current radiobiology would invalidate long established recommendations and regulations of worldwide radiation safety organizations and so destroy the basis of the very expensive existing system of regulation and remediation.”
This argument has been going for a very long time. Because the paper by Cuttler and Pollycove was written years after BEIR VII reported, i.e. the BEIR panel was not able to evaluate the “current radiobiology” that it claims conclusively addresses all objections to hormesis a mere non expert on this subject would seem to require a response from senior panel members of BEIR VII or people of that stature who are familiar with “current radiology” and any other new relevant data before rejecting what, after all, is an independent expert panel assessment done under the auspices of the National Academies.
Gwyneth Cravens had the luxury of putting questions directly to senior radiation specialists, such as Dr. Evan Douple, who was the study director for BEIR VI and the director of the BRER board that oversaw BEIR VII, about hormesis. She published in 2008. Douple: “The hormesis group searches the literature and pulls out only the experimental results that support their point of view. But when you look at the experiments they’re using to support their case, or when you see what experimental results they’ve discounted and elected not to use, you start to have doubts…” “You can end up building a theory and supporting your evidence in a way that is truly not sound science”.
A more neutral view was put forward by another expert interviewed by Cravens, i.e. Dr. Leo Gomez. Gomez has an idea that by building a lab in a place where background radiation is very much lower than anywhere humans have ever lived he might find out enough new data to put an end to the LNT debate. Cravens, after noting that “even people in the LNT camp I met are dismayed at the way the LNT hypothesis can be misapplied by special interest groups and the media, exaggerating risks about what is in reality a weak carcinogen”, quotes Gomez, who suggests he may one day prove there is a threshold “below which radiation damage is either zero, or is repaired, or is handled some other way”, as opposed to proving “hormesis”. He is quoted by Cravens as saying although “there are tons of data suggesting that there is a practical threshold dose”, “old perspectives die hard”. He says, “There is no evidence of human cancers from exposures below 10,000 millirem”.
And a view more supportive of LNT was voiced by Dr. Fred Mettler, who Cravens quotes: “Things are pretty linear down to five rads. We know that from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and from breast cancer data. The argument really becomes what happens below that level. It looks like things happen in linear effect at low doses. As the dose increases, you get more mutations and breaks in DNA, but not necessarily cancer. The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) recently reported on this and said that you can’t exclude the linear hypothesis. WE assume it for protective purposes. I don’t see that changing. There’s a function of science, and then there’s protection”.
The idea that with this kind of dispute among scientists we should now accept statements that anyone who supports LNT now is a hopeless moron, is just motivated by financial gain, or is an anti radiation or anti nuclear zealot appears inappropriate in the extreme.
Anti nuclear types must be laughing as they see pro nukes attack scientists and each other over this, rather than finding a way to succeed in showing the public that the anti nukes have duped them by exploiting LNT to get politicians to require extraordinary measures to reduce radiation exposure that results from the nuclear industry as opposed to its competitors and other manmade and natural sources people think nothing of.
It appears that many want to frame this into a debate between LNT and hormesis when the real question is LNT vs. threshold. I agree that the evidence for hormesis is just as poor as it is for low dose detrimental effects and is as subject to the same confounding variables and background noise.
However the stand that the BEIR panels have taken by asserting: “the presence of a true dose threshold demands totally error-free DNA damage response and repair,” is idiotic, since such a result is impossible to isolate from background noise.
Somehow this is considered acceptable. But consider if in the case of non-ionizing radiation some body was to announce that they cannot declare the use of cell-phones safe unless it was determined that no cellphone user was ever found with brain cancer. Furthermore in the absence of this absolute proof, and without reference to the relevant biophysics or population statistics, asserted that there was no safe limits ether in time or intensity for exposure to electromagnetic fields.
No one could possibly accept this as good science, even though the conventions of setting a null hypothesis and looking at the data were followed. This is what is happening with LNT for ionizing radiation, and I believe it is to avoid the need of setting a lower limit because it is politically uncomfortable to do so.
The position of BEIR VII on LNT is
“The committee judged that the linear no-threshold model (LNT) provided the most reasonable description of the relation between low-dose exposure to ionizing radiation and the incidence of solid cancers that are induced by ionizing radiation.”
They didn’t take this position as a result of the one sentence fragment you say is idiotic. They say they evaluated all the relevant literature and provide references to what looks like more than 1000 papers.
But consider if in the case of non-ionizing radiation some body was to announce that they cannot declare the use of cell-phones safe unless it was determined that no cellphone user was ever found with brain cancer.
Sadly, according to a reports in the Sunday Telegraph of 15th May in UK, one of the EU ‘watchdogs’ has reported and said essentially that mobile phones (and WiFi) are guilty until proven innocent!
That’s your straw man.
Why would anyone want to “attack scientists” who state that “there are tons of data suggesting that there is a practical threshold dose”, “there is no evidence of human cancers from exposures below 10,000 millirem,” and who point out that the LNT model is not “a function of science,” but rather is a purely regulatory tool? (The last, by the way, is pretty much the position of the Health Physics Society.) This is what the critics of the LNT model have been saying all along.
The quotes that you provide pretty much reveal that the LNT model is not based on sound science. It is yet one more overly conservative assumption imposed on an industry that is full of overly conservative assumptions.
I left out the name of my “straw man”. I had been publicly denounced by DV8XL in the same way you had publicly denounced me in the past. You thought name calling was a great way to debate when I pointed out that the President of the NAS was taking an opposing view to yours as to to validity of the work done by the IPCC. You compared me to a religious zealot.
DV8XL argues the way you do. He called me an anti nuclear zealot as his idea of a great way to counter my argument that it is better to use the work of an a NAS expert scientific panel as a reference rather than to take a side in what is a very old high level dispute among scientists that is clearly not resolved.
DV8XL says “no one could accept this as good science” when the fact is that the BEIR VII panel has accepted LNT as good science. Where do you go from there? Being elected to the NAS NRC under whose auspices the BEIR VII panel was created, “is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a scientist or engineer” in the United States, according to them. This view is shared by very many scientists in many disciplines all over the world. You’ll find yourself disputing that. The next thing you may find yourself doing is denouncing people who favor nuclear power, who disagree you on this point, by saying they are anti nuclear zealots. Which is precisly where DV8XL has arrived.
I realize you have no problem setting yourself up as an authority with such deep understanding that you can reject as unsound an entire scientific discipline, i.e. climate science, and the assessment of the work of the best scientists in that discipline, i.e. that it is sound, done by the senior leadership of the NAS and its equivalents in every developed country in the world. But not everyone is as educated and in touch with the latest on which entire scientific discipline has basically become a worldwide criminal conspiracy and which hasn’t as you are.
My point about LNT and these NAS independent expert panels is if you reject their work, you are then left in public debate with your assertion that your chosen few scientists are the ones who are right. Your opponents then dig up their chosen few scientists, and what results is that everyone finds out that for every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD. Its a far weaker position than one needs to take.
Now with climate science that hardly matters as pro nuclear people don’t seem to care that much about it. You can just shovel out your opinion and venom denouncing anyone supporting the conclusions of climate scientists as religous zealots in the pro nuclear forums you frequent and as your attitudes seem to be shared in those forums, you’ll find talk about climate science will go somewhere else. I would have thought pro nuclear types might take more of an interest, because it seems obvious that if the conclusions of climate scientists are ever generally accepted nuclear power will gain tremendously.
But with radiation, it does matter how strong the debating position of pro nuclear types is, at least it matters to pro nuclear types. My concern is about how to strengthen the debating position of the pro nuclear movement.
The NAS was set up to provide ordinary people with a way to assess these scientific disputes without having to spend their lives in libraries trying to sort out how to properly weigh what is in the literature. In public debate it is a powerful point to make when confronted with someone like Sternglas for instance, who says the harm at low dose is dramatically higher than LNT suggests, especially around nuke plants, to be able to point to the NAS and say this panel was asked by Congress to provide an independent assessment of what is generally believed by scientists in that field, and your view is simply not accepted by them.
I provided the quotes from radiation experts that you say add up to support your view, to illustrate the wide range of expert opinion only some of which supports your view. I don’t know what the scientists studying radiation will eventually finally agree to, but I would say it is obvious that the issue is not as clear cut or simple as you say.
The BEIR VII report summary http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=030909156X at about 18 pages, is a short read for anyone wanting to see that in fact the panel thought the best model that fits their study of all available data was LNT.
The section describing who the panel members are is a very convincing read supporting the idea that the panel are distinguished scientists recognized as such by many others in their discipline.
There is plenty of ammunition in BEIR VII for anyone wishing to advocate to Congress that restrictions on radiation exposure applied to the nuclear industry should be modified.
Lewis it’s about time you got over yourself. Constantly whining that everyone disagreeing with you is prosecuting some sort of personal attack is getting tiresome, as is your constant attempt to use Ad Verecundiam to establish the quality of BEIR VII. These antics do not lend any weight to your position, or enhance your creditability.
Never let it be said that David Lewis doesn’t hold a grudge. The bitterness that he reserves for anyone who has ever disagreed with him is quite disturbing. He really does take it all too personally.
You’re right; this is becoming monotonous. It’s time we stop feeding this whiny troll.
do chest xrays leave Plutonium in the subject?
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