More on Radiation
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 27 years since the Chernobyl accident, 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.
Here’s data on radiation that permits the making of comparisons1. As mentioned in the previous article, conversion tables are available2.
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).
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.
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, or 240 mrem/year to be consistent with the previous article.)
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 a negative 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 wrong3.
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.
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 expose’ on residual radiation from WWII and the Cold War, was inappropriate … if not bad journalism.
- Annex J; Exposures and Effects of the Chernobyl Accident, by UNSCEAR
- Conversion tables can be found at http://www.civildefensemuseum.com/southrad/conversion.html and http://www.easysurf.cc/cnver24.htm
- Radiation and Reason: The Impact of Science on a Culture of Fear
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