Alarmists don't reveal the whole story on radiation exposure

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Back in the 1940s an experiment to determine the effect of radiation on fruit flies earned a scientist a Nobel Prize and established the basis for what is now called the “linear no-threshold” hypothesis, or simply LNT.

He observed that at high doses of radiation, the mutagenic effect on the creatures increased in proportion to increases in dosage. He reasoned that the mutagenic effect also would decrease in proportion to decreases in dosage, and concluded that there was no lower limit to harm caused by radiation – just a lower proportionate effect all the way to zero dose.

HE DID NOT report data to support his contention, but recently, a different researcher claims that the Nobel laureate did run experiments at low doses, but since the results did not support his earlier contention relating to proportionate harm, he chose not to reveal the data. As a matter of fact, there are no studies that show harmful health effects attributable to low doses of radiation.

It is very difficult to perform such experiments because of the ubiquitous nature of natural radiation. Every living thing and every thing that ever lived is radioactive, so it is very difficult to find sites for experiments with very low background levels of radiation. One location that is ideally suited to such studies is just outside Carlsbad, N.M., at the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

I VISITED WIPP recently and experienced being lowered nearly a half-mile below the desert floor into a 250-million-year-old salt formation. I was there to look at the emplacement of transuranic waste, but during a briefing, one of the WIPP personnel was introduced as being in charge of experimental projects. I asked him about low-level radiation studies conducted at WIPP. He acknowledged the studies, and almost casually remarked that the biological specimens that were deprived of radiation all died while those that received normal levels of radiation thrived.

Just think – if we had these results before we zapped those fruit flies, we would all be concerned about whether or not we were getting our minimum daily requirement of radiation instead of whether our granite countertops and the banana we had for lunch were exposing us to dangerous levels of radioactivity.

A MULTITUDE OF studies have debunked the LNT hypothesis, but it is still used by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to predict health consequences because of nuclear reactor accidents, and
the National Academy of Sciences has never backed off from its endorsement of the concept dating back to the 1940s. Health physicists have used the concept to good advantage to minimize radiation exposure to radiation workers, and the Environmental Protection Agency uses the concept to regulate exposure to environmental toxins.

But using this discredited hypothesis to predict health effects has caused enormous societal harm. It has contributed to the very high capital cost of nuclear power plants, thus depriving many of the opportunity to have safe, clean electricity. It has made dealing with nuclear materials and nuclear waste more expensive than real safety concerns would dictate. Whole populations were forced to evacuate areas around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power stations that had radiation levels lower than background levels in other parts of the world.

MIND YOU, THE nuclear industry still would practice its rigorous radiation control regimen known as “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” even if the LNT hypothesis were discarded. The difference would be that more emphasis would be placed on the word ”reasonably.” Demonstrable health effects would be the basis for tightening regulations instead of the incredibly naïve notion that one beta particle can cause cancer.

The LNT hypothesis also assumes that radiation dose exposure is additive over time and over populations. This is how large numbers of cancer deaths are predicted by alarmists from events such as Fukushima. They argue that the low doses integrated over very large populations and times lead to large numbers of cancer deaths. It is like saying that if an ingestion of 100 aspirin tablets at once is fatal, then one tablet a day for 100 days also would be fatal, or that if 100 people each take one tablet, one of them will die. This, of course, is nonsense.

THERE ARE PLACES on Earth such as Ramsar, Iran, that have background radiation levels much higher than that reported in the evacuation zones at Fukushima with no detectable health effects. If LNT were correct, all the people in Ramsar would be dead by the time they were 20 years of age. Instead, despite poor diets and little medical care, they are known for producing a high percentage of centenarians.

So, have you had your minimum daily requirement of radiation today?

(The writer is executive director for Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness in Aiken, S.C.)

Comments (11) Add comment
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deestafford
31679
Points
deestafford 08/25/13 - 08:14 am
3
1
In their quest for control over the lives and progress of the

people the powers-that-be fail to listen to the expert scientific opinions of people like the column writer. Ignorance also plays a part in a wide spread fear of anything that has the words "nuclear" or "radiation" in it.

soapy_725
44049
Points
soapy_725 08/25/13 - 08:25 am
0
0
Overlay maps of nuclear plants and cancer patients.
Unpublished

Overlay maps of nuclear plants and cancer patients.

TheHealthPhysicist
11
Points
TheHealthPhysicist 08/25/13 - 01:41 pm
0
0
Unethical Conduct

Science is decided by scientific consensus bodies. The scientific consensus is that the theory of LNT best describes low dose radiation effects. As everyone, and especially someone claiming a PhD, should know anyone is free to shift the consensus with evidence by publishing in a peer-reviewed journal. This author is shortcutting the scientific process for his own agenda.

If he can't convince the experts, why should you pay attention to him?

Gage Creed
19348
Points
Gage Creed 08/25/13 - 05:33 pm
0
1
And if you can't provide

And if you can't provide evidence to the contrary why should we pay attention to you?

TheHealthPhysicist
11
Points
TheHealthPhysicist 08/25/13 - 05:43 pm
1
0
Lack Of Science Education

As I've said, science is debated in peer reviewed journals, not comment areas of news papers. You should pay attention to me, if you care about scientific integrity and the scientific process.

If you don't care about those things, don't pay attention to me and society will suffer.

corgimom
38162
Points
corgimom 08/25/13 - 06:06 pm
2
2
I've lived quite awhile, and

I've lived quite awhile, and I've heard enough "expert scientific opinions" on enough matters to know that all of those opinions are subject to change, and usually do.

TheHealthPhysicist
11
Points
TheHealthPhysicist 08/25/13 - 06:12 pm
1
0
Silly Statement

Our best understanding is based on the scientific consensus. Compare your quality of life to the Dark Ages. That improvement, like typically living to age 70 instead of 35 is thanks to the scientific method.

The scientific consensus changes with new information, but it's the best opinion based on the current information.

Gage Creed
19348
Points
Gage Creed 08/25/13 - 06:44 pm
0
1
HP, given we are subjected to

HP, given we are subjected to ever increasing amounts of background radiation and exposure to toxins that were not seen 100 years ago. What accounts for doubling life expectancy? It would appear that exposure of the general populace is not a factor...

TheHealthPhysicist
11
Points
TheHealthPhysicist 08/25/13 - 07:00 pm
1
0
Say What?

Background radiation and exposure to toxins are small risk factors compared to the older common diseases of pneumonic plague, bubonic plague, influenza, typhoid, etc. You don't hear much about those diseases because modern science has conquered them. We also have less violence today.

Cancer was not even on the top 10 causes of death long ago, but because we've conquered so many other causes, it has now crept up to number 2 behind heart disease. If people exercised and had better diets, cancer would easily move to the number one spot.

There is an anti-vaccine movement that promotes that vaccines are bad, which is utterly false. They are endangering society.

There is an anti-global warming movement that promotes that CO2 doesn't cause global warming, which is utterly false. They are endangering society.

There is an anti-health physics movement that states low levels of radiation don't cause cancer, which is utterly false. They are endangering society.

Stick with the scientific consensus, and if someone tells you otherwise, tell that person to publish in the peer-reviewed literature and you'll await the scientific consensus position on the issue.

The scientific consensus exists so we don't have to be experts on everything. Use it.

Gage Creed
19348
Points
Gage Creed 08/25/13 - 09:31 pm
0
1
Heard of TB in the school

Heard of TB in the school system lately?

CO2 causes global warming.. so is that man made CO2? Do we kill off half the population to save the other half?

What is a safe level of exposure to radiation or other toxins? Cost/benefit analysis?

HP, be careful up there on that high perch.... it's a long way down

KSL
143150
Points
KSL 08/29/13 - 11:43 pm
0
1
Corgi

Do you ever change your opinion?

Interested Observer
2
Points
Interested Observer 09/01/13 - 09:09 am
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Consensus and Priorities

The debate among conflicting interpretations of research studies is usually healthy and will undoubtedly continue. What bothers me as a citizen is that the "consensus" reports have been distorted within some misleading public comments such as "there is no safe exposure to radiation" without comparing the much greater impact of other risk factors, including those of alternative energy sources and those of naturally occurring radiation. Indeed as Dr. Wolfe cites, there are multiple research studies that provide conflicting data. This is because any estimated impacts on a population from low levels of radiation are "small" and are difficult to estimate without controlled experiments that span multiple decades.

The primary Consensus that is quoted most frequently is the 422 page report: "Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation - BEIR VIII Phase 2," National Research Council of the National Academies of Science, The National Academies Press, 2006. The committee’s primary task was to: “To develop the best possible risk estimate for exposure to low-dose, low-LET [linear energy transfer] radiation in human subjects.”

The NAS report stated: "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."

However, the committee also recommended additional research because the body of data at low levels of radiation is inconclusive within the boundaries of uncertainty in the measurements. "The preponderance of information indicates that there will be some risk, even at low doses. As the simple risk calculations in this Public Summary show, the risk at low doses will be small."

At lower doses, data cited by the committee "suggest that the dose-response relationship over a range of 20–200 mGy is generally linear ..." [The mGy, or milliGray, is a measure of cumulative radiation exposure.] "Below 20 mGy, however, the data could not distinguish between a linear and a threshold model." "The question of the shape of the dose-response relationship up to about 20 mGy remains, although several of the dose-response relationships described above appear to be consistent with extrapolation linearly down to about 5 mGy."

"The committee concludes that the current scientific evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that there is a linear, no-threshold dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of cancer in humans."

Note the wording, because consensus bodies must choose the words carefully. The no-threshold approach "is consistent" with the limited data but the "question remains" for whether there are any significant impacts to human health. When we set public policy, we should be conservative, and there's no reason to reject the use of a no-threshold model even if there are indications that it might overstate impacts at low doses. It can't hurt, and it might help marginally.

But it's misleading to focus the policy debate on whether there might be impacts on human health from very low doses of radiation from nuclear activities, if the impacts manifest only in a small number of people over thousands or millions of years - instead of focusing on the demonstrated impacts of the alternatives, including the growing use of carbon-based fuels worldwide. If public policy obsesses over low levels of radiation, then practically every home in the CSRA should be condemned for the presence of radon that naturally occurs in the ground upon which they're built. It's totally legitimate to question whether industry and society are devoting precious resources to fighting smaller risks while accepting much greater risks elsewhere.

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