Unreasonable Fear of Radiation

Massive misinformation promulgated by radical environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Aspen Institute and the Natural Resource Defense Council have poisoned the debate on nuclear power by consistently creating fear about radiation.

The evidence strongly demonstrates there is very little to fear about radiation, especially as it relates to nuclear power.

Once again, another recent study shows that mammals in the area surrounding the Chernobyl reactor accident are doing well.

“A study, published in the journal Current Biology, found that elk, deer, wild boar and wolves are abundant in the 835-square-mile reserve in Belarus, surrounding the Chernobyl reactor.”

Similarly, a report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effect of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) said that radiation from the Fukushima disaster had little effect on people. Its press release said:

“Radiation exposure following the nuclear accident at Fukushima-Daiichi did not cause any immediate health effects. It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers.”

It’s important to understand each of the events that are being exploited by the opponents of nuclear power.

Obviously the horrendous destruction caused by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic blasts are always lurking in the background when discussing nuclear accidents, but even these tragedies showed little long-term radiation effects considering the magnitude of the radiation doses.

Chernobyl was not an accident, as the reactor was of a design prone to being unstable at low power, yet an unauthorized test was conducted under low load conditions that led to the meltdown and subsequent graphite fire.

No U.S. reactor, and no modern reactor in the world, has conditions similar to those that created the Chernobyl disaster, where there was no containment vessel, which precludes this type of accident ever happening again with modern reactors.

Three Mile Island, the only reactor accident in the United States, had virtually zero radiation released beyond the reactor.

The China Syndrome, supposedly based on Three Mile Island type reactor, epitomized the inaccurate picture of the dangers of nuclear power, and Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas brought star power to the anti-nuclear campaign.

The organizations opposing nuclear power now had a rallying cry: Radiation kills, and a meltdown would result in radiation exposure to millions.

The premiss of the movie, The China Syndrome, was that a reactor meltdown would result in tons of molten radioactive material burrowing through the bottom of the reactor building, and exploding into a radioactive cloud, which, as Fonda’s character says, “could render an area the size of Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable.”

All of which was pure nonsense. The China Syndrome cannot happen since there is a very thick concrete base under the reactor that would catch any such meltdown.

The Fukushima accident was caused by a tsunami which flooded the generators supplying the backup power used to run the pumps that flood the reactor to prevent meltdowns. Without the damage caused by the tsunami, the reactors would have shut down without incident, and were in the process of doing so before the tsunami struck.

The only rational conclusion from these three nuclear accidents is that existing nuclear reactors are safe under virtually all conceivable disaster scenarios.

It’s important to recognize that the new reactors being built in Georgia and South Carolina, and any other reactors to be built in the future, are of a new generation of reactors that uses gravity to supply the needed cooling water, so that a cutoff of electricity to the plant, such as happened at Fukushima, wouldn’t prevent the reactors from shutting down safely.

But what if there were an accident? What about all the stored fuel rods? Isn’t radiation dangerous?

We are surrounded by radiation that doesn’t hurt us. If we live in the mountains, we get more radiation than if we live in the corn belt of the Midwest.

It’s worth looking at the non-accident accident, Chernobyl, to establish facts about radiation.

Forget the unit of measurement; it becomes complicated and obscures the obvious.

Between 1986 and 2005, average whole body radiation doses were estimated at 2.4 mSv in Belarus, 1.1 mSv in Russia, and 1.2 mSv in the Ukraine. (UNSCEAR 2008)

Compare these measurements with Ramsar, Iran, where natural radiation doses reach 400 mSv/year, and in Brazil and Southern France where they reach 700 mSv/year.

Average worldwide level is 2.4 mSv/year.

Clearly, the low doses caused by the hydrogen explosion and fire at Chernobyl are tiny compared with natural radiation doses in many, if not most, parts of the world, e.g., northern Norway 11mSv/year and 4.7 mSv/year at New York City’s Grand Central Station.

It should be noted that radiation today, two and one-half miles from the Chernobyl reactor, have been measured at 2.5 mSv/year, which is near the average worldwide level.

Chernobyl was the worst accident at a nuclear power plant and it killed 31 of the early responders in a short time. Subsequently, there have been reports of 6,000 thyroid cancers, but very few additional deaths.

The UNSCEAR report said:

“There is no scientific evidence of increases in overall cancer incidence or mortality rates or in rates of non-malignant disorders that could be related to radiation exposure.”

Those who cry wolf at every mention of radiation have done our country a terrible disservice. They have played on people’s lack of knowledge about radiation so that every mention of radiation elicits a negative response.

People purchasing potassium iodine in California after the Fukushima accident is a testimony to the power of ignorance, coupled with hysterical reporting by the media and reckless assertions made by those who oppose nuclear power.

A rational understanding of radiation would help alleviate people’s fear of radiation that’s being exploited by the organizations opposed to nuclear power.

To this end, the book Radiation and Reason, by Wade Allison, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Oxford University, delves into why radiation should be respected, but not feared.

Book Cover
Book Cover

Professor Allison asks, with birds nesting unaffected in the Chernobyl sarcophagus and animals running around unscathed in the area around Chernobyl, “Is there something wrong with the accepted orthodox view of the dangers of radiation to life?”

Radiation and Reason describes in considerable clarity some of the basic principles surrounding radiation, including an overview of the entire radiation spectrum from AM radio to gamma rays. He explains why nuclear power is inherently safe.

The Linear No Threshold (LNT) hypothesis asserts that radiation is dangerous at any level, and this has been the guiding principle behind the public’s understanding of radiation for the past seventy years.

Radiation and Reason examines the LNT approach to radiation and demonstrates why low doses are not inherently dangerous.

Let there be no illusions about what extremists say in order to scare people:

The leader of Greenpeace U.S.A., said:

“Greenpeace is working to end the expansion of nuclear power. … If a meltdown was to occur, the accident could kill and injure tens of thousands of people and leave large regions uninhabitable.”

Such rhetoric is unsupportable, yet extremists are willing to say or do anything to create fear among the public.
Professor Allison’s book, Radiation and Reason can be downloaded free at http://www.radiationandreason.com

 

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0 Replies to “Unreasonable Fear of Radiation”

  1. Excellent post, as usual!

    There are three petitions before the NRC about eliminating ALARA and not using LNT.

    Health Physics Society (HPS) position papers support these petitions. Here is the HPS response to the petitions. http://hps.org/documents/hps_nrc_lnt_comments_2015-11-05.pdf

    The three petitions themselves are NRC docket 2015-0057, listed on this page. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/rulemaking-ruleforum/petitions-by-year/2015/

  2. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #205 | Watts Up With That?

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