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Radiation is Safe Within Limits

Radiation is Safe Within Limits thumbnail

Opening eyes to the facts.

Nuclear power is a green environmental solution. It generates no CO2. The fuel is cheap and inexhaustible. Green nuclear power can solve the global crises of air pollution deaths and climate change. Cheap energy can help developing nations escape poverty and let industrialized nations improve economic growth.

Is nuclear power safe? Yes, the primary obstacle to nuclear power is misunderstanding of radiation health effects.

Erroneous, common misunderstandings:

  • There is no safe level of radiation.
  • Radiation effects are cumulative.
  • Chernobyl killed nearly a million people.
  • Nuclear waste is deadly for a million years.

These mistruths create public fear, so regulators adopted unnecessary rules to isolate the public from radiation. The excess costs and delays make nuclear power more expensive and impede its benefits to people.

RADIATION 101

Radioactive materials have atoms that decay at random. Half decay within their half-life.

Atom Half-life
potassium-40    1.2 billion years
americium-241  432 years
cobalt-60            5 years
iodine-131          8 days

Radiation results from each atom’s decay.

  Alpha particles (two protons + two neutrons) can not penetrate skin.

 

Beta particles (electrons ejected from nuclei) do not penetrate metal foil.

Gamma radiation (energetic photons) is partly absorbed by bone to make X-ray images

Radioactivity is a count of atom decays. One count per second is one Becquerel (Bq). A banana has beta radioactivity of about 15 Bq from its potassium-40. Smoke detectors have americium-241 made in nuclear reactors, with alpha radioactivity of about 30,000 Bq.

Radiation dose is the energy transferred from radiation to body tissue. A one-millisievert (mSv) dose is 0.001 watt-second of energy per kilogram of tissue (x20 for alpha particles). One mammogram exposure may be 2 mSv.

Natural background radiation comes from cosmic rays, breathing radon, ingestion of food and water, and proximity to rocks such as granite.

Natural radiation dose rates vary, averaging 3 mSv/year in the US, 4 mSv/y in Denver, and 7 mSv/y in Finland.

DOSE RATES AND HEALTH

A massive, single, whole-body radiation dose severely injures blood cell production and the digestive and nervous systems. A dose over 5,000 mSv is usually fatal. Spread over a lifetime it is harmless. Why? At low dose rates cells have time to recover. Cancer is not observed at dose rates below 100 mSv/y.

Linear response

Radiation can break a chemical bond in a DNA molecule and create a slight chance it might recombine improperly to propagate cancerous cells. Linear no threshold theory (LNT) says the chance is proportionate just to radiation dose, even at low dose rates over long times. It’s wrong.

Hermann Muller used his 1946 Nobel prize to advocate LNT theory. He used fruit flies exposed to 2,750 mSv and up. But to heighten public fear of atomic bomb fallout during the Cold War, he extrapolated his results down to below 100 mSv, despite contrary evidence. The flaw in LNT theory is that it considered only radiation dose, not dose rate. LNT theory ignored life’s adaptive response.

Adaptive response

Radiation can be safe. We now know that DNA strands break and repair frequently, about 10,000 times per day per cell. MIT researchers observed that 100 mSv/y radiation dose rates increased this number by only 12 per day. The overwhelming majority of breaks are caused by ionized oxygen molecules from metabolism within the cell. Because DNA is a double helix, the duplicate information in one strand lets enzymes readily repair any single-strand break.

Double strand breaks also occur naturally, about once per week per cell. Most such breaks are also due to intracellular oxygen, with natural background radiation increasing the break rate by about 0.1%. Specialized repair centers within cells fix these breaks, as observed by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley Labs

Adaptive response continues at the cellular, tissue, and organism levels. This protection peaks near 100 mSv exposure and persists for a year or so. The process is similar to immune response to vaccinations against smallpox, polio, or influenza.

RADIATION SAFETY EVIDENCE

These examples show that radiation is safe below 100 mSv/y and LNT is wrong.

Atomic bomb survivors

The US exploded atomic bombs over Japan in 1945, killing 200,000 people. 93,000 survivors have since been closely monitored for health effects. In 55 years 10,423 survivors died from cancer, 573 more than the 9,850 deaths normally expected by comparison with residents away when the bombs exploded. But there were no cancer deaths observed from radiation doses less than 100 mSv.

Taiwan apartment buildings

Recycled steel contaminated with cobalt-60 was used to build apartments, exposing 8,000 people to 400 mSv of radiation over 20 years. Cancer incidence was sharply down, not up 30% as LNT predicted. Instead the adaptive response to low-level radiation seemed to confer health benefits.

Chernobyl

Doses up to 8,000 mSv killed 28 emergency workers in 1986. The Chernobyl Forum estimated up to 8,000 children contracted thyroid cancer from milk contaminated with iodine-131, and 15 died. Relying on LNT theory, the report projected up to 4,000 future fatal cancers might occur, but these have not been observed among the 100,000 fatal cancers normally expected.

US nuclear shipyard workers 

The US studied workers maintaining nuclear submarines who were exposed to low levels of gamma radiation from cobalt-60. The study compared 28,000 nuclear workers and 33,500 non-nuclear workers. People exposed to more radiation (averaging 8 mSv/y) had a death rate from all causes 24% less than the others. This contradicts LNT theory.

Medical radiation

Radiation medicine exposes a US person to 3 mSv/y on average. Diagnostic radiation doses are low, ranging from 0.001 mSv for a dental X-ray to 20 mSv for a CT procedure.

Therapeutic doses are high. A rotating X-ray beam focused on cancer tissue delivers up to 80,000 mSv. To minimize the risk of causing cancer in nearby tissue, radiologists divide the radiation dose into fractions, administered daily rather than all at once, giving healthy tissue time to recover. If LNT were true this fractionated radiation therapy wouldn’t work.

Fukushima

The tsunami-flooded reactors overheated and released radioactive materials. Residents were evacuated from areas with > 20 mSv/y exposure. (IAEA recommends > 220 mSv/y.) A UN panel of expert scientists concluded that radiation caused no attributable health effects and likely none in the future. Radiation killed no one, but the evacuation stress did kill over a thousand. Most refugees could have safely returned home.

RADIATION POLITICS

Exposure limits that were set by LNT theory ignore observed low-level radiation effects. Public radiation safety limits have become more restrictive, from 150 mSv/y (1948) to 5 mSv/y (1957) to 1 mSv/y (1991).

These rules are political and inconsistent. Nuclear workers are allowed 50 mSv/y, and astronauts 500 mSv/y. EPA’s limit for indoor radon is 8 mSv/y, but 0.04 mSv/y for tritium in drinking water. EPA limits Yucca Mountain exposure to < 0.1 mSv/y for 10,000 years.

The LNT fallacy that any radiation can kill you led to the ALARA principle (as low as reasonably achievable). But achievability is based on ever-changing technology capability, not health effects. LNT and ALARA ratchet limits lower and increase costs and fear.

Radiation is safe within limits.

An evidence-based radiation safety limit would be 100 mSv/y. Ending LNT and ALARA rules will enable the full environmental and economic benefits of green nuclear power.

Ask regulators to adopt new, scientific, evidence-based radiation safety limits. Support the petitions of Dr Carol Marcus et al to the US NRC. Learn more at Radiation-Safety-Limits.info, radiationeffects.org, and x-lnt.org.

Energy Collective



21 Comments on "Radiation is Safe Within Limits"

  1. penury on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 5:09 pm 

    An exercise in telling the truth and lying at the same time.

  2. Sissyfuss on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 6:09 pm 

    So radioactive apartments in Taiwan improve the occupants health. Just think how beneficial the glow in the dark sushi is for the Japanese. This article is so biased it belongs on Faux News.

  3. makati1 on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 6:10 pm 

    penury, you got it! More false ‘facts’ to confuse the serfs and to make an opening for the coming radiation leaks and exposure from our nuclear waste and antique nuclear plants. As the ‘regulators’ keep raising the “safe” levels, we will see more and more cancers. But, it takes time, just like the frog in the pot.

  4. eugene on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 6:44 pm 

    Who in the hell can consider a source of energy safe when the waste will kill for thousands+ yrs? It’s called I don’t care what happens to anyone else as long as I get what I want.

  5. Bob on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 7:01 pm 

    Toshiba, a pillar of the modern Japanese economy whose roots stretch back to the country’s industrial stirrings in the 19th century, warned on Tuesday that a disastrous foray into nuclear power may have crippled its business beyond repair.

    In a stock-market filing in Japan, Toshiba said losses associated with Westinghouse Electric, its troubled American nuclear power subsidiary, had created “substantial uncertainty” over its ability to continue as a going concern.

    So, one of the greatest companies in the world is laid low by nuclear power. Don’t see that happening in wind or solar, do we?

  6. Boat on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 7:21 pm 

    Bob,

    Solar and wind will run coal and nuke outta business. It will just take a few decades.

  7. GregT on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 7:36 pm 

    Solar and wind would not exist without coal, oil, and ‘nuke’. Once fossil fuels are gone, within a few decades, there won’t be an electric power grid, and there will be a vast reduction in human population numbers, especially in the countries that are the most reliant on fossil fuels.

  8. Boat on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 8:28 pm 

    Greggiet.

    You keep repeating that. Who is it that disagrees. The point is 1st the world will become less dependent on fossil fuels and no fear of running low for decades. Electrictricy from renewables will become dominant thus extending FF depletion.
    Humans will have to move inland in many places but massive death around the planet is not guaranteed. Go look at Israel greenhouses or commercial vegetable farms. Just more tech solving food problems. Greenhouses being distributed will cut down on FF use. It’s the future.
    Did you know that 1/3 of Houston residents that own homes have a garden. According to a Housron newspaper. Yes greggiet, even I have a garden. Btw, using new tech. Lol

  9. Anonymouse on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 8:43 pm 

    Whats a little fallout….

  10. GregT on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 8:45 pm 

    “Btw, using new tech.”

    The only ‘tech’ required is seeds, soil, sunlight, water, and physical labor. All of the other ‘tech’ is reliant on fossil fuels.

  11. Newfie on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 9:43 pm 

    “The fuel is cheap and inexhaustible.” Fissile material such as uranium is just as finite as oil and it too will eventually peak.

  12. Boat on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 10:15 pm 

    greggiet,

    Thats true, I make good use of FF. 30 plastic buckets, a 4 inch French drain in the bottom with a cut down plastic lid on the pipe. 1 1/2 inch plastic pipe to fill my 4 inch resivior. No weeding and infrequent watering. The buckets held pool chemicals. So a recycle project. Better ideas make better gardeners.

  13. makati1 on Tue, 11th Apr 2017 10:19 pm 

    GregT, we all know Boat is the village idiot, but it is fun to poke him with a stick of education now and then. He is so deep in denial the sun never shines there. The same place his head is located.

  14. GregT on Wed, 12th Apr 2017 12:48 am 

    Boat,

    “The buckets held pool chemicals.”

    OMFG. You do realize that plastics both absorb and leach chemicals? Right? Unbelievable. That could explain your lack of brain function.

  15. deadlykillerbeaz on Wed, 12th Apr 2017 5:20 am 

    Didn’t women who worked at watch factories paint the numbers on the watch faces with radium paint?

    They used the tips of their tongues to keep paint brushes in good working order, became sick, weakened from the radioactive paint, died, buried in graveyards, now, a Geiger counter can be used to locate the victims.

    Radiation kills.

  16. Mark Ziegler on Wed, 12th Apr 2017 9:02 am 

    Where did they say they were going to store the depleted products?

  17. Kenz300 on Wed, 12th Apr 2017 10:37 am 

    Nuclear energy is poisoning the planet…………
    5 Years After Fukushima, ‘No End in Sight’ to Ecological Fallout
    http://ecowatch.com/2016/03/05/5-years-after-fukushima/

    Nuclear energy is toxic to people and the planet…..
    7 Top NRC Experts Break Ranks to Warn of Critical Danger at Aging Nuke Plants
    http://ecowatch.com/2016/03/09/nrc-experts-warn-dangers-nuclear/

  18. Apneaman on Wed, 12th Apr 2017 11:42 am 

    Florida Emergency Declared as More Than 100 Wildfires Burn Across the State

    The effects of global warming on temperature, precipitation levels, and soil moisture are turning many of our forests into kindling during wildfire season. — The Union of Concerned Scientists

    “So far during 2017, about 2.5 times the area of land that burns during a typical wildfire season by mid April has already been consumed. Fires are now burning from one end of Florida to the other”

    https://robertscribbler.com/2017/04/12/florida-emergency-declared-as-more-than-100-wildfires-burn-across-the-state/

  19. Antius on Wed, 12th Apr 2017 3:38 pm 

    I am a proponent of nuclear power, but this article overstates the matter. Low level radiation is not harmless and for all the examples of radiation hormesis that these people state, there are also studies that show that risk rises in direct proportion to dose. The same is true of air pollution and many other toxins.

    They are correct to point out that the radiation risks from nuclear are much lower than air pollution risks from coal. It is probably also true that the Fukushima evacuations were not strictly necessary.

  20. Antius on Wed, 12th Apr 2017 3:48 pm 

    ‘Nuclear energy is poisoning the planet…………
    5 Years After Fukushima, ‘No End in Sight’ to Ecological Fallout
    http://ecowatch.com/2016/03/05/5-years-after-fukushima/

    This is rubbish. Fossil fuel pollution kills millions of people every year, including 200,000 per year in the US alone. To get that many deaths from nuclear power, there would need to be several Chernobyl scale meltdowns every day somewhere in the world.

    The consequences of nuclear accidents are not zero. But people seriously need to get real about it. Right now the Germans are building coal power plants to replace their nuclear plants. It is hard to imagine a more stupid decision than that. How many lung cancers will occur over the next 40 years because the Germans did that.

  21. David B. on Wed, 12th Apr 2017 7:56 pm 

    The artel mentions that damage to DNA is caused by oxides, but what it fails to point out is that the higher the low level radiation, the higher the oxidative stress, because radiation breaks water bonds and creates oxides. Nuclear proponents shouldn’t downplay the health effects of low level radiation. Research needs to be put into developing energy sources, including nuclear, that do no have the potential to contaminate large area of lands. Putting tons of nuclear material in a large pressure vessel full of water that might be vented to the atmosphere during an emergency can never be concerned completely safe. If plants can be developed that don’t require protective action guidelines, that would be a good thing.

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