Skip to comments.Nuclear power is fine - radiation is good for you
Posted on 08/07/2004 4:12:04 PM PDT by MadIvan
Oil prices are at their highest for almost 20 years amid ever-increasing concerns that the world faces an energy drought. At the same time, as a signatory to the Kyoto Treaty, our Government is giving financial incentives to those who want to cover the country with giant wind turbines.
Yet, why, with the notable exception of James Lovelock, the inventor of the Gaia hypothesis, do the world's environmentalists reject nuclear power, which emits almost no greenhouse gases? Because they are frightened of accidents and of radiation emanating from nuclear power stations and nuclear waste. Their fears of radiation are not only widely shared, but they are nourished by official sources and have even become official policy.
The present policies for radiation safety are based on the "linear no-threshold assumption", which is endorsed by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. This is the assumption that even the smallest amount of radiation is harmful and may cause cancer and genetic disorders, and that the risk of harm increases proportionately with the dose.
On this basis, we should aim to avoid any exposure at all. Accordingly, the standards for radiation protection set by the commission have become more exacting and the maximum exposure dose declared to be safe is continually lowered.
The standard measurement of radiation is set in terms of milliSieverts (mSv) per year. In the 1920s, the maximum dose regarded as safe was 700 mSv. By 1941, it was reduced to 70. By the 1990s, it became 20 for occupationally exposed people and 1 mSv for the general population. Some people believe that the maximum exposure dose should be lower still.
Unfortunately, far from safeguarding our health, current safety standards will almost certainly increase the incidence of cancer. The evidence shows that the effect of radiation on human health is not a linear one, but is a J-shaped curve. Exposure starts by being beneficial at low doses and only becomes harmful at higher doses. This effect is known as hormesis.
A low dose of ionising radiation seems to stimulate DNA repair and the immune system, so providing a measure of protection against cancer. The benefit of low doses of radiation in treating cancer have been known for some time and are confirmed by a mass of evidence, particularly from Japan where it has been studied in detail as a result of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Many other examples of the hormesis effect are well known. A bit of sunshine does you good; too much may cause skin cancer. Small doses of aspirin have many beneficial effects; too much will kill you. It also appears to apply to arsenic, cadmium, dioxins and residues of synthetic pesticides, but that is another story.
Epidemiological evidence confirms the hormesis effect of radiation. The prediction that there would be terrible after-effects from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the survivors and their children was proved wrong. Japanese studies of the life expectancy of survivors who suffered relatively low amounts of radiation show that their life expectancy turned out to be higher than those of the control group and no unusual genetic defects have been found in their children.
Again, a follow-up study of Japanese fishermen who were contaminated with plutonium after the nuclear tests at Bikini found 25 years later that none of them had died from cancer.
After the Chernobyl disaster it was also predicted that the incidence of cancer among those affected by fallout would greatly increase and there would be huge genetic damage to future generations. It was about as bad an accident to a nuclear power station (a badly constructed one) as is likely to happen. Its psychological effect was huge and changed people's perception of the risk of nuclear energy all over the world.
Indeed, it is constantly cited as an example of the unparalleled threat to health from nuclear disasters. Tragically, it led to 31 deaths, mainly among rescue workers who were exposed to very high doses of radiation. Yet in the areas around Chernobyl the extra radiation to which people were exposed in the nine years following the accident was slight - an increase of about 0.8- 1.4 mSv.
In May 2001, in the Ukrainian town of Pripyat, which is now a ghost town after its complete evacuation, the average amount of persistent radiation found was 0.9 mSv a year, five times lower than the level in New York's Grand Central Station. In parts of southwest France the levels of natural radiation are as high as 870 mSv a year.
There is strong evidence that people exposed to low doses of radiation - amounts 100 times more than the recommended range - actually benefit. The incidence of thyroid cancers among children under 15 exposed to fallout from Chernobyl was far lower than the normal incidence of thyroid cancer among Finnish children.
The death rate from leukemia of nuclear industry workers in Canada is 68 per cent lower than average. Workers in nuclear shipyards and other nuclear establishments in the US and many other countries have substantially lower death rates from all cancers and are much less likely to die from leukemia.
This might be explained by the fact that their health is regularly checked and that only healthy workers are employed. But it corresponds with a mass of other evidence that people who live in areas of unusually high natural radiation, in Japan, China, India and the US, are less likely to die from cancer than a control group.
These facts destroy what are perhaps the strongest objections to nuclear power. They show that the regulations seeking to enforce present, let alone proposed, minimum standards of safety not only cost billions of pounds and have undermined the prospects of our development of nuclear power, but do more harm than good.
It is time that we looked more closely at the phenomenon of hormesis and at the successful Japanese experience of using low-dose radiation to treat cancer. When the evidence is so clear, we should not allow it to be brushed aside by conventional wisdom and ignorance.
In actuallity, it is an engineering problem which has already been solved by recycling- a process efficiently & safely used for decades by other countries. Thanks to a muddle-headed Executive Order by Jimmy Carter which still stands, it is blocked here.
We have a nuclear power plant- Plant Hatch- about 60 miles west of here, and for 30 years, all it has produced is clean, cheap electricity. The local paper mill is far more dangerous in terms of pollution, worker injuries, and deaths. Far as I recall, Hatch has never had a fatality, but the pulp mill averages about one a year- falls, burns, crushing. Frankly, I would rather have Hatch nearby, and the paper mill farther away.
I was stationed on a nuclear sub as a reactor operator. When we were underway, I received less radiation than I would have if I was on shore, nowhere near a reactor. The sun and soil generate more radiation than the submarine did. People have been made so irrational about nuclear power, the industry is almost beyond hope. Sad.
Maybe my excelent health (haven't been sick in 58 years and have never had the flu) are due to my spending many hours playing under the flourascope at Buster Brown Shoes and painting our punt at age 7 with flourescent paint (radium) so we could buzz around Balboa Bay at night without being hit. Also wore a radium dial watch for probably 20 years.
Of course, in many countries the opposite would be true ;-)
Thanks for posting, btw. The pro-nuke message must be spread.
Environmental activists don't oppose nuclear power out of fear of radiation, they oppose it because they oppose technology, period, and for two reasons: first, because it is an artifact of man, who they hate, and second, because it is an artifact of capitalism, which they hate. There isn't actually a great deal of science behind the issue from their point of view.
Petroleum powered devices
Coal powered devices
Nuke powered devices
Hydro powered devices (let the river run free to the sea)
Wind powered devices (when the mills are in their backyard)
My prediction is that if solar power ever becomes practical they will oppose that.
That something will be nuclear, and every nation will have to have that internal debate within 30 years. Their decision will determine whether they can continue to develop or whether they will decline.
Bill, I think you have hit on it. Nuclear energy is feared because it could lead to more human growth. Environmentalists who liken mankind to a cancer on the planet cannot abide a source of convenient low cost energy. They use radiation fear as a weapon to further this aim.
The nuclear industry overhyped itself, too. But new reactors can be less expensive and fail-safe. Waste disposal is also over-engineered. Vitrification of waste is sufficient. We can proveably make it less dangerous than a natural deposit of radioactive minerals.
It was a Saudi oil minister who said "The stone age didn't end because they ran out of stones."
Bingo! We have a WINNER!
The key to the next stage of human progress is putting 10X and then 100X the power (energy) in every human's hands as we have today: Everyone travels everywhere at will, housing is completely changed, etc. Environmentalists FEAR this progress.
Radiation is a good friend of cancer.
1. The term "nuclear" drums up images of Nagasaki and nuclear tests in Nevada and elsewhere. So, they equate a nuclear power plant with nuclear explosions (thank you media!)
2. The movie The China Syndrome is still having an impact (thank you again media AND Hanoi Jane).
3. The enviro-whacko leaders telling us for decades how nuclear power is evil and will destroy us all.
Pure insanity. Nuclear power could start to wean us off of crude. Not a great deal, but enough to make a start.
For quite a while my personal belief has been that W would lose the election due to only two reasons:
1. Republicans doing something(s) really stupid, which they seem to have a knack for.
2. Crude prices. $50.00 a barrel is not far off and most of the major producers are maxed out at production. Plus the fact that here in the USA refining capacity is maxed out. Crude prices could have a catastrophic effect on the world economy except for the oil producing nations.
*shrug* No one's complained about the PV array on my roof. Yet.
1. Kerala, India. High background area because the soil is largely monazite sand (which contains significant amounts of uranium and thorium). The Kerala province has a lower incidence of cancer than other areas of India (areas which have lower background levels. The background levels are about 15 millisievert.
2. Guaparaj, Brazil. The beaches are also monazite sand. No excess incidence of cancer has been observed.
3. Ramsar, Iran. High background area, with background levels in some places as high as 100 millisievert. No excess cancer incidence has bee observed.