On December 3, 2014, Dr. Wade Allison was invited to give a speech to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. The title of that talk was The Fukushima nuclear accident and the unwarranted fear of low-dose radiation.
After Dr. Allison gave his talk explaining why he believed that our current treatment of radiation is governed by an unjustified level of fear, a German correspondent said something along the lines of “Well, even if you are correct about the lack of risk, nuclear power plants are simply too expensive to build and too expensive to decommission to be able to compete against renewable energy.”
My own response to that question while watching the video was a “facepalm,” but Dr. Allison’s response was more constructive, reminding the questioner that the reason nuclear is so expensive is that we have handicapped worker productivity and added layers upon layers of unnecessary redundancy in design and review in order to somehow kill fewer people in the next 60 years of nuclear plant operation than we have in the first 60 years.
Another questioner said something about the fact that Fukushima — “a triple meltdown” — happened even under the current strict regulations, doesn’t that mean we should tighten them even further. Dr. Allison correctly asked “So what?” The point of that question is not to deny that there was core damage in three reactors, but to ask the questioner to consider what the effect of that damage was. There were no casualties and no significant exposures to any member of the public. As Allison states, it was an accident, but certainly not a disaster or a human tragedy.
There were other questioners who accepted Allison’s message and were more interested in understanding the best ways to spread the word and overcome many decades worth of fear. When I get questions like that, I like to remind the questioner that the fear is not “natural,” it was carefully taught. Our current mode of radiation education — which needs a rapid overhaul — reminds me of the song from South Pacific You have to be carefully taught.
Allison’s talk was scheduled soon after a far different talk given by Dr. Keith Baverstock titled 2013 UNSCEAR Report on Fukushima: A Critical Appraisal.
There is definitely a struggle going on for the hearts and minds of the public. Unlike some who are content with the status quo and caution against fighting this battle in front of a public that might lose confidence in government and the scientific community, I think it is way past time to air the vast differences in opinion — and financially driven biases — in public.
It is great to have people like Wade Allison, who understand how science really works and understand the importance of a questioning attitude, who are willing to tell the emperors that they have been deceiving the public for years. More knowledgable, professional people need to realize that it is time to stop going along to get along when it comes to assumptions about the risk of low doses of radiation.
The “no safe dose” myth is not conservative, it is actively harmful to both individuals and society. A straight line model might have been the easy way out in 1956, but in an era where many people carry powerful computers in their pockets, the linear no threshold model is as obsolete as an automobile with tail fins.