More on Radiation

…More on Radiation…

(The following article was published in November 2013 and is still relevant today. It is repeated now, with updates by an associate, while I do not have access to the Internet.)

Before Fukushima, Chernobyl had been the worst accident at a nuclear power plant, and the accident killed 31 of the early responders very quickly.

What’s being reported from Fukushima is all about what’s happening now, and can’t predict what the long-term effects might be. 

However, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and the World Health Organization (WHO) both conclude that, 

“Few people will develop cancer as a consequence of being exposed [to the radiation at Fukushima].”

Chernobyl’s long-term effects can say a great deal about radiation. 

During the 32 years since the Chernobyl accident, there have been reports of 4,000 thyroid cancers, but very few additional deaths.

Chernobyl was a poorly designed nuclear reactor without a containment structure, where the so-called accident was caused by inappropriate testing of the reactor.

The following radiation data provides perspective on whether radiation poses a threat from these accidents.

The unit of measurement used, i.e., millisievert, is one of several measurements that could be used. The dosage it represents is what is important.

Radiation levels today, two and one-half miles from the Chernobyl reactor, have been measured at 2.5 mSv/year, which is virtually the same as the average worldwide level.

The average worldwide level is 2.4 mSv/year. 

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.

The low doses being measured today around Chernobyl, which are from the remnants of the hydrogen explosion and fire at Chernobyl, are tiny compared with natural radiation doses in many, if not most, parts of the world. For example: 

  • Northern Norway, 11 mSv/year, 
  • New York City’s Grand Central Station, 5.5 mSv/year. 

In essence, beyond the initial 31 first responders who died, very few people have died because of the Chernobyl accident, and radiation levels near the reactor, after 27 years, are the same as the worldwide average.

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

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.

LNT may not be correct, and low doses of radiation may not have an adverse effect on people.

Professor Wade Allison is a Fellow of Keble College and Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford, and his book examines why, based on today’s knowledge, LNT is wrong.

He 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?”

He goes on to examine the LNT approach to radiation.

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

The book also 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 and made even safer with the latest designs that can shut down without fear of overheating the core.

By providing this overview, Professor Wade establishes a scientific basis for his comments that the reader can follow.

A key message from this book, and from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is that people need to be told the truth about radiation. 

The IAEA said: “The Chernobyl accident resulted in many people being traumatized by the rapid relocation, the breakdown in social contacts, fear and anxiety [about the unknown].”

The lack of communications and the lack of knowledge among the people about radiation created fear –- nameless and unreasonable fear. 

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

This is why the Wall Street Journal’s two page exposé on residual radiation from WWII and the Cold War was inappropriate … if not bad journalism.

. . .

2 Replies to “More on Radiation”

  1. It is not exposure to radiation in the environment that is the greater concern, but exposure to radiation concentrated in the human body. In the nuclear weapons testing of the late 50s-60s, the concern over radioactive iodine and strontium was that it would concentrate in the human body (thyroid and bones, respectively) and remain there for very long times. Radiation in the environment is usually low, as you say, and environmental radiation falls quickly after release. Thus, not all forms of radiation is equally dangerous, and the more dangerous kind is easier to control than broad-spectrum background radiation.
    {I am not anti-nuclear, but advocate fission reactors for power.}

    • Certain elements can become radioactive, such as iodine, strontium, and, as I recall, caesium, during a nuclear reaction, such as the above-ground tests during the 1950s, and then enter the food chain. Certain particles are also released during a nuclear reaction, such as neutrons, but they don’t travel very far. Beta particles, which are electrons are another example. For the most part, these particles are easily blocked and don’t cause much harm as long as they aren’t ingested. It’s gamma electromagnetic radiation that is emitted for long periods of time, depending on an elements half-life, which is most concerning, and where the LNT shouldn’t hold sway.
      The radiation produced in a nuclear reactor is contained in the reactor unless there is an accident where the fission material melts, but even then, all this material is captured in the base of the reactor and contained within the containment vessel. The Chernobyl reactor had no containment structure so radioactive material entered the atmosphere. Fukushima was unusual in that radioactive material, mostly water, from the holding pools escaped due to the flooding. All the melted cores were contained in the containment structure and none of it was released. One unit at Three Mile Island also melted but the melted core was contained within the containment structure and virtually no radiation left the island.
      All of the reactors built thus far in the U.S. are fission reactors, with containment structures and are extremely safe, even if there is a meltdown.
      Thanks for yur comment.

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