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Radiation Fears

June 17, 2011

Radiation is no more sinister than water.

One major difference is that we can see water, while radiation has to be measured with instruments.

Radiation comes from the rocks in the ground and from space.

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.

If we are not harmed by these low doses of radiation, why do we assume that low doses from a nuclear power plant would harm us? The assumption has been that there is no safe lower limit to radiation hazard, and the Linear No Threshold (LNT) hypothesis has been adopted. But is the LNT correct?

Past experience from Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl suggest that it is wrong.

It’s worth taking a look at Chernobyl.

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.

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 5.5 mSv/year at New York City’s Grand Central Station. (Average worldwide level is 2.4 mSv/year.)

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 4,000 thyroid cancers, but very few additional deaths. And Chernobyl was a poorly designed nuclear reactor without a containment structure, where the so-called accident was caused by inappropriate testing of the reactor.

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

The effects of the Fukushima disaster will have to be evaluated over time.

It’s very likely that the LNT is inappropriate. It has created fear because the inference is that there is no safe level of radiation, yet we are constantly being exposed to radiation without harm — as we walk to work, fly in an airplane or hike in the mountains.

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.

This has affected nuclear energy and may now affect fracking, as the specter of radiation in flow-back fluids has been raised by the usual groups who play on people’s fear.

We don’t recoil in fear when we see water; instead we learn how to swim so that water doesn’t scare us. Similarly we shouldn’t recoil in fear when someone says “radiation”, but rather we should learn about the radiation we live with every day so we aren’t fearful of it.


For those who want more information, the following sources will be of interest:

  • Annex J; Exposures and Effects of the Chernobyl Accident, by UNSCEAR
  • Observations on Chernobyl after 25 Years of Radiofobia, by Zbigniew Jaworoski
  • Who’s Afraid of Radiation?, by Wade Allison


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 Additional TSAugust web sites:

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2011 10:18 am

    I don’t pretend to be an expert on the effects of radiation on humans. On low doses the effect is most likely positive. I am of the opinion evolution is promoted by background radiation.

    From what I have read, Chernobyl data is now coming in because enough time has elapsed after the accident to have information about health effects on people downwind from the accident. We are covering people as far away as Norway. Cancer rates are lower for those exposed to low doses of radition from Chernobyl. Similar information was found for survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This beneficial effect is called hormesis.

    It really is about time we change our attitude about radiation effects on people when we analyze siting nuclear power plants. If the Linear No Threshold Theory is junked, power plant costs could be reduced.

    Jim Rust

    • June 18, 2011 10:19 am

      I agree. That is one reason why China can build a nuclear plant for half of what it costs us.


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