Radiation and Reason: The Impact of Science on a Culture of Fear

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Hinkley B started producing electricity in , is still operative but due to close in One of the new nuclear power stations that are to be built in UK with both Conservative and Labour support in parliament, is Hinkley C. It will be rated at MW. So the wind farm will produce less than one fifth of the energy produced by Hinkley C. There are three sorts of power stations: base load that provide the main energy used but are inflexible; fossil fuels and nuclear are the main examples. Secondly there are peak load stations that can be brought on line very quickly. Examples are hydro and gas turbines.

Thirdly there are stations that produce energy at times beyond human control; examples are wind and solar. In the absence of large and efficient storage systems, energy that is produced at the whim of nature is far less useful than either base or peaking power. In terms of usefulness Hinkley C beats Atlantic Array hands down.

The general question is: 'how dangerous is ionising radiation? The most commonly held view of radiation risks is the long accepted Linear No Threshold LNT theory which states that risk increases proportionately to total dose received, that risk is never zero and hence that all extra radiation, no matter how small, is dangerous. Those effects are shown graphically as shown below. In the left hand graph the congestion of data points at low doses is noticeable. The right hand graph for 'low dose range' shows more detail. I would assert that it is not possible to put any reasonable line of any shape at all through the points at doses below about 0.

The inevitable error bars in all of the measurements compounds that assertion.


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The smooth graph LQ linear quadratic Sv shows a determination to make the data fit a model, a model that was adduced from a much wider Dose range. The DSO2 graph highlights the futility of looking for a simple or complex mathematical model. However the data points shown do not support the No Threshold theory. It seems highly unlikely that any level below 0. Since the war safety limits for radiation have been drastically lowered. They are interconnected because if there is a 'threshold' level of radiation below which there are no adverse effects, there is no need for radiation levels to be kept below that level: ALARA becomes an expensive futility.

Examples are in the use of radiation for diagnostic purposes and in its use for cancer treatments. These have provided high quality data and risk analyses. Taking Chernobyl first. See volume 2 Annex D, Health effects. So far, neither the most informative study of the survivors of the atomic bombings nor any other studies of adults have provided conclusive evidence for increased incidence of carcinogenic effects at much smaller doses.

The Committee has decided not to use models to project absolute numbers of effects in populations exposed to low radiation doses from the Chernobyl accident, because of unacceptable uncertainty in the predictions. It should be stressed that the approach outlined in no way contradicts the application of the LNT model for the purposes of radiation protection, where a cautious approach is conventionally and consciously applied.

In the context of what had gone before, the last sentence is rather peculiar.

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We will go along with LNT because it is a 'convention'? Since when did science have anything to do with conventionality? Another remark in the document draws attention to the question as to whether cancers ' …are due to the accident or background radiation'. Variability in background natural radiation levels is another fact that may be seen as pointing to a serious questioning of the LNT model. Muller exposed groups of fruit flies to high doses of X-rays at high rates, reporting what looked to be definitive evidence of mutagenesis, or the production of genetic mutations.

It remains unclear whether Muller merely dismissed these new findings as incorrect, or purposely ignored them. Edward J.


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  4. Calabrese, a toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is the most vocal proponent of the latter view. But others have responded that Muller was an extraordinarily conscientious researcher and his unequivocal support of the LNT was based on his honest, if imperfect, appraisal of the scientific evidence of the time. Subsequent NAS committees combined the work of Muller and others on radiation mutagenesis with preliminary analyses of data for Hiroshima and Nagasaki to extend the application of the LNT to carcinogenesis. Awakened by the detonation of a hydrogen bomb, the irradiated monster belched atomic fire-breath and left vast radioactive footprints in its wake.

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    As far back as the 16th century, it was recognized that while a substance might be harmless or even beneficial in small amounts, there is a threshold above which it becomes harmful. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy. Yet sometimes damaged cells can elude repair and reproduce imperfectly, perhaps becoming cancerous over time. So at what point does that happen? With most toxic substances, the key question is the dosage or amount of exposure.

    Primordial fear: why radiation is so scary

    Some may behave differently at lower doses than at higher ones, but a DDT molecule, for example, remains a DDT molecule, whether in isolation or in the company of a million others. Radiation comes in several varieties: alpha and beta consist of subatomic particles and can be stopped in their tracks by a sheet of paper or a layer of skin, while gamma radiation and X-rays consist of highly energetic and penetrating photons.

    All have the ability to ionize atoms, sometimes generating further radiation in the process, making things even more complicated. Each has its own definition, based on various factors. Currently, the sievert Sv is the unit most often used when considering the health effects of radiation dosages. The inescapable natural background radiation we receive from the environment is about 3 to 10 mSv millisieverts, or a thousandth of a sievert a year; a chest X-ray gives about 0.

    Most experts place the threshold for cell mutation or cancer at roughly mSv, for a dose from all sources above natural background radiation. Below this, estimation of adverse health effect remains speculative. This set of posters was produced by Oak Ridge National Laboratory in to instruct employees on proper safety practices to avoid nuclear radiation.

    Radiation And Reason: The Impact Of Science On A Culture Of Fear

    Visual: Oak Ridge National Laboratory. But it lives on in groups like the Health Physics Society, an organization of radiation safety experts. The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements NCRP , an organization of scientists and other nuclear experts that disseminates information and research data about radiation exposure and protection guidelines, agrees.

    Therefore, in order for the dose threshold model, which discounts low-dose risk, to possibly be prudent, virtually all the epidemiologic and animal data would have to show no excess risk at reasonably low doses. The Health Physics Society, along with a large number of other experts, suggests that establishing the precise threshold below which we ought not worry is a slippery business. The side effects of radiophobia manifest themselves not only with large-scale events such as Fukushima, but also with routine doctor-patient interactions.

    For physicians and other health professionals, it can be a considerable challenge.

    I've studied nuclear war for 35 years -- you should be worried. - Brian Toon - TEDxMileHigh

    You buy a ticket and you have a chance of winning. And then the next week, if you want to try again, you can buy a ticket and you have a chance of winning. People think that the more they play the lottery, the better their chances are of winning. Medical professionals assess a patient for radioactivity using a Geiger counter on March 31, The patient, a crew member on a Japanese tuna fishing boat, was exposed to nuclear fallout from a U. He uses a CT scan as an example. So people think that, well, if I have two CT scans, my risk is now one in If I have 10, my risk is now one in The first CT scan had a risk of one in a thousand.

    He notes that in the days before CT scans, exploratory surgery was the only means to get a detailed view of many internal injuries and disease conditions. You could die of anesthesia. You could die of infection. You had a scar forever. Now you stick yourself into this donut for 15 minutes and we have a relatively definitive answer. Some scientists or health workers of questionable legitimacy stoke those fears by exaggerating the effects of low-level radiation in public forums and writings. On the other hand, they add, many radiation scientists recognize that any excess risk of cancer at very low doses would be so small as to be undetectable.

    Effects such as depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms have already been reported. Such psychological scars can impact lives as surely as physical effects.