By Wade Allison, professor of physics at Oxford University. Written 20 September 2022
Though an ideal energy source, nuclear made an unfortunate entry into world affairs. Accompanied by frightening tales of destruction it failed early on to gain the confidence required of a leading contributor to future human prosperity. Is radioactivity and nuclear radiation particularly dangerous? It has been wielded as a political weapon for 70 years. But does the myth of a possible radiation holocaust have objective substance? The inhibition that surrounds nuclear radiation obstructs the optimum solution to real dangers today – climate change, the supply of water, food and energy, and socio-economic stability.
Primary Energy Sources
By studying the natural world, humans have succeeded where other creatures failed. Satisfying our needs depends on understanding the benefits that nature offers. In particular, the study of energy and the acceptance by society of improved sources have been critical to prospects for the human race several times in the past. The first occasion was pre-historic, perhaps 600,000 years ago, when fire was domesticated. Confidence and good practice spread through the use of speech and education. Then came the harnessing of sunshine and the weather, delivered by windmills, watermills and the growth of food and vegetation. Nevertheless, these energy supplies were weak and notoriously unreliable. Additional energy was routinely provided by slave labour and teams of animals. Generally though, life was short and miserable.
The use of fossil fuels and their reliable engines began in the 18th Century and displaced the use of intermittent sources. Life was transformed for those who had the fuels. Health, sport, holidays, leisure and human rights flourished, all previously unavailable. Political affairs were largely concerned with which people had access to fossil fuels. Though fossil fuels were never safe or environmental, their combustion probably triggered, if not caused, changes to the climate. Consequently, the decision was taken in Paris in 2015 to discontinue their use. What should replace them? And how may we live in a climate that is never likely ever to revert to the way it was?
Fortunately, natural science today has a firm and complete account of energy – that is apart from one or two intriguing cosmological goings-on such as “dark matter”. Secondary sources, such as hydrogen, ammonia, batteries, electricity and biofuels, are beside the point, because they need to be generated from some primary source, and it’s the latter we need to secure. The weak, unreliable and weather-dependent primary sources that failed previously continue to be inadequate. Without fossil fuels, that leaves only one widely available source, sufficient to support the continuation of society as we know it, namely nuclear energy. It ticks every box, except that many know little about it and are wary of it.
One who learnt early was Winston Churchill. In 1931 he wrote prophetically in the Strand Magazine that nuclear energy is a million times that of the fuel that powered the Industrial Revolution.
Both chemical and nuclear energy can be released explosively. Unfortunately, it was as a weapon that many in society first heard about nuclear energy. Released in anger at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the combination of blast and fire produced was fatal to the majority of inhabitants within a mile or two. Those much further away were not affected, nor were those who came to the site weeks afterwards. The result of the nuclear bombs was similar to the destruction by conventional explosives and fire storm in WWII of Tokyo, Hamburg and Dresden – or by explosives in recent years of Chechnya, Aleppo and Mariupol – except that it may come from a single device.
It comes as a surprise to many people that nuclear radiation makes no major contribution to the mortality of a nuclear explosion, even in later years. That is not what they have been told. What is the truth and why has it remained hidden?
Is Radiation a Danger to Life?
A great deal has been learnt about the effect of radiation on life in the past 120 years. When nuclear radiation was discovered by Marie Curie and others in the last years of the 19th Century, they took great care to study its effect on life. Shortly thereafter, high doses were used successfully to cure patients of cancer, as they still are today. Millions of people have reason to be thankful as a result.
As with any new technology, much was learnt from accidents and mistakes in the early days. But by 1934 international agreement had been reached on the scale of a safe radiation dose, 0.2 roentgen per day – in modern units, 2 milli-gray (or milli-Sievert) per day. In 1980 Lauriston Taylor (1902-2004), the doyen of radiation health physicists, affirmed that “nobody has been identifiably injured by a lesser dose”– a statement that remains true today.
At first sight it is strange that ionising radiation, with its energy easily sufficient to break the critical molecules of life, should be harmless in low and moderate doses. And it does indeed break such molecules indiscriminately, but living tissue fights back because it has evolved the ability to do so. In early epochs the natural radiation environment on Earth was more intense than today. Life would have died out long ago, if it had not developed multiple layers of defence. These act within hours or days by repairing and replacing molecules and whole cells, too. Control of these mechanisms was devolved to the cellular level long ago, and it is a mistake for human regulations to try to micromanage the protection already provided by nature. So, although the details of natural protection and its workings are still being discovered today, the effectiveness of the safety it provides were known and agreed already in 1934.
But then in the mid-1950s, in spite of initiatives like “Atoms for Peace” by President Eisenhower, human society lost its nerve about nuclear energy and its radiation. What went wrong?
When fear hid the benefits of nuclear and its radiation
Few today are old enough to remember those days, as I do. The 1950s was an unpleasant time with military threats abroad, spying, secrecy and mistrust at home. In the USA it was the era of Senator Joseph McCarthy when all manner of innocent people were accused of being communist sympathisers or Soviet agents. Suspicion was everywhere. Already following the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, knowledge of nuclear radiation was seen as a “no-go” area, supposedly too difficult to understand and beyond the educational paygrade of normal people. After the War a vast employment structure, the industrial military complex, continued to develop, test and stockpile nuclear weapons to the horror of large sections of the populace, worldwide. They were supported in their concern by many scientists, including Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Andre Sakharov and many Nobel Laureates. Whether they were knowledgeable in radiobiology or not – and few were – they did not trust the judgement of the military and political authorities with this new energy and its million-fold increase. Everybody was frightened that the power might fall into foreign hands or be used irresponsibly by allies. This fear increased after 1949 when the Soviet Union detonated its first nuclear device. As the years went by, ever larger popular marches and political demonstrations attempted to halt the nuclear Arms Race with the USSR, frequently alarming civil authorities with their threats to law and order.
This civil disturbance had more success in stopping the Arms Race when it focused on the biological effects of nuclear radiation. Few in the industrial military complex knew much about this – they were mostly engineers, physical and mathematical scientists. In truth, few other scientists did either and in the absence of data were easily alarmed. The concern was that irreparable radiation damage incurred by the human genome might be transmitted to subsequent generations. Such a prediction was made by Hermann Muller, a Nobel Prize winning geneticist – without any evidence. A ghoulish spectre of deformed descendants was eagerly adopted by the media as real. The popular magazine Life, dated May 1955 page 37, explicitly quoted Muller, saying “atomic war may cause” such hereditary damage (emphasis added). The qualification of the possibility was lost on the media and general public – the horror was seen as just too awful. It was widely taken as likely to be true by academic opinion, too, as there was no evidence to deny it.
Significantly, it is not difficult to detect levels of radiation exposure many thousand times lower than the level accepted as safe in 1934. Anxious to quell popular pressure, regulatory authorities acceded to a regime in which life should be spared any radiation exposure above a level As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA). For the public, the advice was set at 1 milli-Sievert per year, a modest fraction of the typical natural background received from rocks and space. National regulatory authorities, concerned to protect themselves from liability, readily adopted the advice of the International Commission for Radiological Protection (ICRP) under the auspices of the United Nations.
These regulations are based, not on evidence, but on a philosophy of caution, namely that any exposure to radiation is harmful and that all such damage accumulates throughout life – in denial of the natural protection provided by evolution. A discredited ad hoc theory of risk, the Linear No Threshold model (LNT)[9,10], supplanted the Threshold Model of 1934 at the behest of the BEAR Committee of the US Natural Academy of Sciences in 1956.
Such excessive caution incurs huge extra costs. Worse, adherence to ALARA/LNT regulations has caused serious social and environmental damage – for instance, in the response to the accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi. International bodies and committees, unlike individuals, stick rigidly to their terms of reference. So, the ICRP still supports ALARA/LNT today and advocates protection which is not necessary – except in extreme cases.
What about these extreme cases? Muller supposed that an exposure to radiation can alter a person’s genetic code and that this error can then be passed onto off-spring. But the medical records of the survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, their children and grandchildren never supported this. As a result, nobody today maintains that there is any evidence for such inheritable genetic changes. This is confirmed in animal experiments, and was accepted even by the ICRP in 2007 – to be precise they lowered their estimated genetic risk factor by an order of magnitude. So Muller was wrong. Incidentally, he was also wrong about the evidence for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1946.
Dedicated to protect people against radiological damage, the ICRP focused on the induction of cancer by radiation instead of inheritable genetic defects. The medical history of 87,000 survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, along with their children, have been followed since 1950. Data on solid cancers and leukaemia in 50 years and their correlation with individually estimated exposures have been published by DL Preston et al (, Tables 3 and 7). Inevitably, some survivors died from these diseases anyway, but their numbers are allowed for by comparing with distant residents who received no dose, being too far away. Some 68,000 survivors received a dose less than 100 milli-Sievert and these showed no evidence of extra cancers. Altogether, between 1950 and 2000 there were 10,127 deaths from solid cancers and 296 from leukaemia – 480 and 93, respectively, more than expected on the basis of data for those not irradiated. This number of extra deaths, 573, is significant, but less than half a percent of those who died from the blast and fire. Furthermore, it is only a third of the number of deaths reported as caused by the unnecessary and ill-judged evacuation at Fukushima Daiichi, an accident in which nobody died from radiation, or is likely to. Evidently, the fear of radiation can be far more life-threatening than its actual effect, even as recorded in the bombing of two large cities. This conclusion in no way belittles the enormous loss of life from the blast and fire of a nuclear explosion with its localised range and limited duration.
But it is important to check that all available evidence corroborates this conclusion. How are other biological risks checked? A new vaccine is checked with blind tests in which patients are unaware of whether they have been treated or been given a placebo. In similar studies with radiation on groups of animals, one is irradiated every day throughout life and the other not. Those irradiated daily show a threshold of about 2 milli-Sievert per day for additional cancer death or other life shortening disease, similar to the threshold set in 1934. In fact doses below threshold increase life expectancy and the same is found for humans.
At Chernobyl 28 fire fighters died of acute radiation syndrome in a short time, 27 from doses above 4000 milli-Sievert and 1 from a dose between 2000 and 4000 milli-Sievert. There were 15 deaths from thyroid cancer (but opinion is divided on these). Other cases of ill health were related to severe social and mental disturbance. Being told “you have been irradiated and are being evacuated immediately” is disorientating. Like Voodoo or a mediaeval curse, it can be life-threatening. Notably, the wild animals in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone are thriving, as seen on wildlife programmes[19, 20] – but then they have not been shown videos on the horrors of radiation!
An important question is how human society has persisted with such a gross misperception for seventy years. Entertainment, courage and excitement are important emotional exercises that prepare us to face real dangers, although there is a need to distinguish fact from fiction. The Placebo Effect describes the genuine health benefits found by patients who think they have been treated when they have not. The Nocebo Effect is its inverse, that is where people who have not been harmed, suffer real symptoms as if they had. In the aftermath of the Fukushima accident families endured terrible suffering including family break up and alcoholism – as a direct consequence of regulations based on ALARA and LNT. If the regulations had been based on the 1934 threshold, no evacuation longer than a week would have been justified.
The nuclear option for generations to come
Evidently, committees that advocate regulation based on ALARA/LNT are harmful and should be disbanded. Future generations should be free to make informed decisions involving nuclear energy, in peace or war, unencumbered by the erroneous legacy of the 1950s.
In years to come, when reference is made to the “nuclear option” in other contexts, we may hope that it will be shorthand for “the best solution”. In medicine this is nearly true now. During a course of radiotherapy the healthy tissue close to a tumour receives a high dose – about 1000 milli-Gray, every weekday for several weeks. By spreading the treatment over many days, this healthy tissue just recovers, and radiologists ensure that this huge dose seldom causes a secondary cancer. This would be disastrous strategy according to LNT – in six weeks or so the equivalent of about 30,000 years at the precautionary dose limit of 1 milli-Sievert per year!
In future we should not allow ourselves to be blackmailed by fear of the radiation from a nuclear weapon. That may have terrified our parents, but we should ensure that our children understand that radiation is dangerous only in the immediate vicinity of a nuclear detonation where death is caused by the blast and fire. At school all teenagers should study natural science and understand how nuclear energy compares with other sources, for safety, availability, reliability, security and preservation of the environment. Then they should go home and reassure their parents.
Professor Wade Allison, Oxford, United Kingdom, 20 September 2022
National Research Council (1956). Effect of Exposure to the Atomic Bombs on Pregnancy Termination in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/18776 .
Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski, MD PhD, DSc, former Chairman of the United Nationals Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR): “What is really surprising, however, is that data collected by UNSCEAR and the Forum show 15% to 30% fewer cancer deaths among Chernobyl emergency workers and about 5% lower solid cancer incidences among the people on the Bryansk district (the most contaminated in Russia) in comparison with the general population. In most irradiated group of these people (mean dose of 40 mSv) the deficit of cancer incidence was 17%.”
Because of their daily exposure to low levels of radiation, which seems to stimulate the DNA repair system, nuclear power plant workers get one third fewer cancers than other workers. They also lose fewer workdays to accidents than office workers.
Knowing this, it is not surprising that, when steel containing cobalt-60 was used to build Taiwan apartments, which exposed 8,000 people to an additional 400 mSv of radiation during some twenty years, cancer incidence was sharply down, not up 30% as Linear No Threshold Theory would have predicted.Instead, the residents’ adaptive response to low- level radiation seems to have provided health benefits. The following chart reveals lower cancer rates for those who receive extra low-level radiation vs. those who only get background radiation.
In 2015, a study of bacteria grown at a dose rate 1/400 of normal background radiation yielded a reduction in growth, but when the cells were returned to normal background radiation levels, growth rates recovered. The conclusion: Insufficient radiation can yield harmful results.
Therefore, it seems reasonable that radiation limits should be the same regardless of the source of the radiation. Nevertheless, nuclear plants are held to a standard 100 times higher than coal plants, which actually emit moreradiation than nuclear power plants. Per unit of electricity created, the fly ash emitted by a coal power plant exposes the environment to 100 times more radiation than a nuclear plant’s on-site-stored spent fuel – it’s so-called “waste”, 90% of which can be consumed in modern reactors. (Granite buildings irradiate their occupants more than nuclear power plants.)
“Workers employed in fifteen utilities that generate nuclear power in the U. S. have been followed for up to 18 years between 1979 and 1997.
“Their cumulative dose from whole body radiation has been determined from records maintained by the facilities and by the Nuclear Regulatory Comm. and the Energy Department.
“Mortality in the cohort … has been analyzed with respect to individual radiation doses. The cohort displays a very substantial healthy worker effect, i.e. considerably lower cancer and non-cancer mortality than the general population.”
The largest circle (red) represents a radiotherapy tumour dose;
The green circle is a recoverable dose to normal tissue near the tumour;
The dark green circle is a dose with a 100% safety record.
The tiny black dot in the smallest circle represents the limit recommended by current regulations due to LTN.
In Radiation and Health, Hendrickson and Maillie wrote “…during radiation therapy for cancer, we’ve learned that chromosome damage to lymphocytes can be reduced by up to 50% if a small dose is given to the cells a few hours before the larger ‘cancer-killing’ dose is administered.”
In the southwest Indian state of Kerala, children under five have the lowest mortality rate in the country, and life expectancy is 74 despite background radiation rates that can range as high as 30 times the global average.
For thousands of years, Keralites have lived with radiation three times the level that caused the evacuation at Fukushima, where the limit was, on July, 2016, just 20 mSv. In contrast, some sections of Kerala experience 70 mSv, with a few areas measuring 500 – and many Keralites also eat food that is five times as radioactive as food in the United States.
Despite these radiation levels, cancer incidence in Kerala is the same as the rate in greater India, which is about 1/2 that of Japan’s and less than a third of the rate in Australia. As the linked article says, “Cancer experts know a great deal about the drivers of these huge differences, and radiation isn’t on the list.”
In Kerala, scientists have been working with a genuinely low rate of radiation exposure that mirrors what would have been the case in Fukushima if the Japanese officials hadn’t panicked and needlessly evacuated so many thousands of people.
So, why did they? Partly from fear, but primarily because most radiation protection standards have been derived from LNT bias and studies of Japanese atomic bomb victims who received their dose in a very short time, and being bombed is very different from living for years with a slightly higher radiation level.
Kerala also confirms our modern knowledge of DNA repair- namely that radiation damage is not cumulative at background dose rates up to 30 times normal, and that 70 mSv over a lifetime does nothing. In fact, the concepts of an “annual dose” or a “cumulative dose” are misleading. Instead, evidence reveals that an annual exposure to 100 mSv is comparable to a dose of zero because it doesn’t exceed a person’s capacity for repair.
In the past, when experts discussed these issues they couldn’t consider delivery rates or DNA repair because the power and mechanisms of DNA repair were not known until long after Muller’s LNT theory became dogma. As a consequence, the suffering caused by this obsolete “science” has been immense. (UK radiation expert Malcolm Grimston has characterised the Fukushima evacuation as being “stark raving mad”).
When the Japanese government lifted the evacuation orders because the radiation level had dropped to 20 mSv, 80 % of the residents refused to return because of their fear of radiation despite the fact that the most highly irradiated areas near the plant received only 1/5 of the lowest dose linked to a detectable increase in cancer. (At Guarapari beach in Brazil, residents often bury themselves in sand that yields 340 mSv without ill effect.)
We should be concerned about genuinely dangerous isotopes, but we shouldn’t waste energy and money cleaning up minor radioactivity that doesn’t do anything – but that is what we are doing.
Despite our learning that our cells have amazing repair abilities, LNT advocates still create the radiophobia that caused the extreme evacuations at Fukushima and the flood of needless, fear-induced European abortions that followed Chernobyl. In my opinion, people who refuse to examine the evidence that negates this discredited illusion have abandoned their integrity.
October, 2020. New U.S. Department of Energy research indicates that at low doses, biological reactions are often unrelated to those that occur at high levels. The influential Linear-No-Threshold model, which predicted that acute exposure damage can be extrapolated linearly to low dose exposures—was flawed. In fact, small amounts can have an adaptive positive effect. In addition, it appears that cells communicate with each other and a dose to one affects the cells around it.
Near the end of the 20th century, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) discovered that DNA strands can break and repair about 10,000 times per day per cell, (this is not a typo), and that a 100 mSv per year dose increases the number of breaks by only 12 per day.
“… MIT discovered that DNA strands can break and repair about 10,000 times per day per cell, (this is not a typo), and that a 100 mSv per year dose increases the number of breaks by only 12 per day.“
In addition, the majority of DNA breaks are caused by ionised oxygen atoms from the normal metabolism that constantly occurs within our cells. And because DNA is a double helix, the duplicate information in the other strand lets enzymes easily repair single strand breaks. In fact, our cells have been repairing DNA breaks since forever, and they have become extremely good at it.
DNA damage, due to environmental factors and normal metabolic processes inside the cell, occurs at a rate of 1,000 to 1,000,000 molecular lesions per cell per day. A special enzyme, DNA ligase (shown here in color), encircles the double helix to repair a broken strand of DNA. DNA ligase is responsible for repairing the millions of DNA breaks generated during the normal course of a cell’s life.
Adaptive Response – The vaccination effect called Hormesis
“Radiation from unstable isotopes is always decreasing. That’s what the ‘half-life’ for an isotope expresses. Going back in time is going back to much higher radiation environments – 8 times more for U-235 when photosynthesis began to make oxygen common in air, and oxidation made elements like Uranium soluble in water. Living things were, back then, even more intimately in contact with radioactive isotopes.
“So how did life survive higher radiation, and how did it survive the increasing oxygen atmosphere, which corrodes life’s hydrocarbons into CO2 and water?
“The answer is simple: Nature evolved repair mechanisms. Each cell repairs proteins or digests badly malformed cells. Each cell repairs genetic material before it’s copied for reproduction.
“A DNA or protein molecule, or one of the many repair molecules in our cells, doesn’t know if a bond has been broken by an oxidizing radical, an alpha particle, or a microbial secretion. Our cellular-repair systems have evolved to fix defects regardless of cause. Thus, Nature has, for billions of years, been able to deal with chemical and radiation threats. Today, chemical threats have increased because of industry, but radiation threats have decreased.
“Therefore, we should not be surprised by the absence of radiation deaths at Fukushima and the small death rates in and around Chernobyl.”
We have also learned that low dose irradiation of the torso is an effective treatment for malignant lymphomas. Fear of radon has been hyped by the EPA’s devotion to the LNT theory, and their efforts have greatly assisted those who sell and install radon-related equipment, whether needed or not. (Studies of every US county have revealed that those with low levels of radon actually had higher levels of lung cancer than counties with higher levels – where the incidence was lower!
But compare the two maps. The counties with less radon have more lung cancer deaths. EPA’s LNT theory is clearly wrong.
The EPA recommends remediation when radiation measures 4picoCuries per litre of air, but an average adult is naturally radioactive at about 200,000 picoCuries. If the EPA knows this, and they should, why are they concerned about such low, natural radon levels?
The south eastern states had the lowest radon levels, but high cancer rates.
All radioactive elements “decay” by emitting [either] an alpha particle (a helium nucleus), a beta particle (an electron) or a gamma ray (pure energy), eventually becoming stable elements. An element’s “half-life” is the time needed for ½ of the atoms in the “parent” element to decay into a “daughter” isotope. For the Potassium-40 in our bananas and bodies, it is 1.2 billion years. For the Americium-241 in our smoke detectors, it’s 432 years, and for Iodine-131, it’s 8 days.
Contrary to popular belief, elements with long half-lives, which decay slowly, present less risk than those with short half lives.
Radioactivity is measured by the number of decays per second. One decay per second is one Becquerel (Bq). One banana produces about 15 Becquerels from its potassium-40, and smoke detectors emit 30,000 Becquerels, so when nuclear power critics fuss about 64,000 Becquerels entering the ocean at Fukushima, remember that 64,000 Becquerels is equal to 14 seconds of potassium radiation activity that occurs inside our bodies every day. (The radioactivity of normal seawater is 14,000 Becquerels per cubic meter).
However, focusing on Becquerels without considering the energy absorbed by the body is pointless: You can throw a bullet or you can shoot one, but only one will cause harm.
Fortunately, radiation is easy to detect. A single emission (1 Becquerel) will trigger a click in any decent detector, and an average adult emits 7,000 Becquerels, of which 4,400 Becquerels come from our Potassium-40, which “clicks” 4,400 times per second, for life.
“The word ‘radioactivity’ doesn’t account for the energy propelling the emissions, so quoting large Becquerel counts says nothing about risk. However, big numbers can frighten uninformed people, and in building their case against nuclear power, many environmentalists have been doing just that.”Dr. Timothy Maloney
As noted earlier, radiation dose, which we measure in Sieverts, is the biologically effective energy transferred by radiation to tissue. For example, one mammogram equals 1 to 2 milliSieverts (mSv), and one dental X-ray (0.001 mSv) is nowhere near enough to cause concern.
Let’s now consider the normal background radiation that accompanies us throughout our years.
Natural “background” radiation dose rates vary widely, averaging 1 mSv/year in Britain, 3 in the US, 7 in Finland, 10 in Spain, 12 in Denver and up to 300 mSv per year in Kerala, India and even higher on a number of “radioactive” beaches around the world that people flock to for health reasons. Given these statistics, one might expect cancer rates in Finland and Spain to be higher than in Britain, but Britain has higher rates of cancer than both Spain and Finland despite LNT dogma [See Episode 6 where we expose the Linear No Threshold lie].
A single 5,000 mSv dose is usually fatal, but if it is spread over a lifetime it is harmless because at low dose rates, damaged cells are repaired or replaced. (Consume a cup of salt in one sitting, and you will probably die, but do it over six months or more, and it won’t be a problem.)
In 1945, the U. S. exploded two atomic bombs over Japan, killing 200,000 people. Since then, 93,000 survivors have been studied for health effects. In 55 years, 10,423 of those survivors died from cancer, which is just 573 (5%) more than the number of deaths expected by comparison with unexposed residents.
According to Dr. Shizuyo Sutou, expert in mutations, Shujitsu University, Japan, ”Ionizing radiation is not always hazardous, and low dose radiation sometimes stimulates our beneficial defence mechanisms.” Hiroshima/Nagasaki survivor data since 1945 shows that, on average, lifespan was extended and cancer mortality was reduced.
In addition, no excess cancer deaths have been observed in those who received radiation doses below 100 mSv. In fact, Japanese A-bomb survivors who received less than 100 mSv, have been outliving their unexposed peers.
Subsequent studies by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) have proved that below 100mSv, which is well above normal background radiation levels, it is not possible to find any cancer excesses.
[You can see the rubbish perpetuated by the ICRP dose limits here and here. These fictitious, made-up numbers cause the deaths of millions of people each year and hobble the advancement of our civilisation – all for maintaining the oil industry’s profits.]
– TRUTH –
We are surrounded by naturally occurring radiation. Less than 1/1000th of the average American’s dose comes from nuclear power.
This yearly dose is 200 times less than a cross country flight…
…is 13 times less than a glass of beer…
… and about the same as eating one banana(21).
Are we really doing our best when it comes to managing radiation safety?
In 1928, Hermann Muller, the originator of the Linear No Threshold (LNT) theory, exposed fruit flies to 2,750 milliSieverts (mSv) of radiation in just 3 1/2 minutes, which caused gene deletions and deformities. Radiation dose, which we measure in Sieverts, is the biologically effective energy transferred to body tissue by ionizing radiation.)
Although the dose that Muller used was equivalent to receiving 1,000 mammograms in just 3.5 minutes, he called it a low dose, even though it was extremely high. (Even Japanese atomic bomb survivors didn’t receive such a large dose.)
Muller then extrapolated his results down to ZERO mSv without testing low levels of radiation and continued to promote his theory into the fifties, perhaps because he wanted to heighten fear of fallout from testing nuclear bombs. Muller argued that there is no safe level for radiation and claimed that even tiny amounts of radiation are cumulative. (According to LNT dogma, a butcher who cuts his finger fairly often will be dead in ten years from blood loss – despite his continuing to work.)
Muller’s results were disputed by several of his colleagues, one being a researcher named Ernst Caspari, whose work Muller praised. (We learned this after Muller’s correspondence became public late in the 20th century). Muller wrongly asserted that, even at low dose rates over long times, the risk is proportionate to the dose.
In the fifties, no one knew that our cells routinely repair DNA damage, whether caused by radiation or oxidation, a normal body process, so we accepted his theory. (DNA is “short” for deoxyribonucleic acid, a complex, spiral, chain-like molecule that contains our genetic codes.)
Muller’s theory is analogous to the earth-centered solar system that everyone “knew” was true for thousands of years, and it’s regrettable that so many still believe it. From its beginning, the LNT theory was based on a fraud, and it has been perpetuated by anti-nuclear fearmongers.
So why wasn’t Muller truthful? During a radio interview on IEEE SPECTRUM’s “Techwise Conversations,” Dr. Calabrese explained it this way:
“Ernst Caspari and Kurt Stern were colleagues, and Muller was a consultant to Stern. Muller provided the fruit fly strain that Stern and his coworkers used. Stern and Muller thought there was a linear dose-response relationship even at low doses….
“In the chronic study, which was done far better in terms of research methodology than an earlier study, they found that the linear relationship was not supported, and what they observed would be supportive of a [safe] threshold dose- response relationship. This created a conflict—not for the actual researchers like Caspari—but for his boss, Kurt Stern, who tried to convince Caspari that his study didn’t support the linear model because his control group values were artificially high.
“So Caspari… got lots of unpublished findings from Muller and put together a case that his boss was wrong. Ultimately, he got Stern to accept his findings that supported the threshold dose response. [Which actually meant that there was a threshold below which low levels of radiation were safe.]
“They sent Caspari’s paper to Muller on Nov. 6, 1946. On Nov.12 he [Muller] wrote to Stern indicating that he went over the paper, and he saw that the results were contrary to what he thought would have happened, that he couldn’t challenge the paper because Caspari was an excellent researcher, that they needed to replicate this, and that this was a significant challenge to a linear dose response because this study was the best study to date, and it was looking at the lowest dose rate that had ever been used in such a study.
“A month later, Muller went to Stockholm to accept his Nobel Prize, and in his speech, he tells the scientists, dignitaries, press… that one can no longer accept any consideration of a threshold model, that all you can really accept is the linear dose- response model. …Yet Muller had actually seen the results of a study that he was a consultant on, that was the best in showing no support for the linear model – but support for a [safe] threshold model.
“He had the audacity to actually go in front of all these dignitaries and mislead the audience. He could have said, ‘This is a critical area, and we need to do more research to try to figure this out.’ It would have been intellectually honest and the appropriate thing to say, but that’s not what he says. He tries to actually mislead the audience by saying there’s not even a remote possibility that this alternative exists, and yet he has seen it.”
Because Muller had also strongly (and appropriately) opposed the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, and because he wanted to persuade Congress and the American public to oppose the expansion of nuclear energy, he seems to have concluded that the end would justify his lie, even if it compromised his integrity.
In November, 2014, Dr. John Boice, president of the National Council on Radiation Protection, stated, ”…the reason they were concerned about the risk of radiation doses all the way to zero was because they used a theory [LNT] for genetic effects that assumed that even a single hit on a single cell could cause a mutation, and they did not believe there was any such thing as a beneficial mutation.”
When the LNT model was adopted by the National Academy of Sciences in 1956, its summary stated: “Even small amounts of radiation have the power to injure.” The report, which was published in the New York Times, inflated the fear of radiation, even at extremely low levels.
However, newly discovered letters between some of the members of the National Academy of Science committee indicate that the reason for adopting the LNT model was not that small amounts of radiation might be dangerous, but that Muller’s deception (and possibly self-interest), had trumped science – with one individual writing, “I have a hard time keeping a straight face when there is talk about genetic deaths and the dangers of irradiation. Let us be honest—we are both interested in genetics research, and for the sake of it, we are willing to stretch a point when necessary… the business of genetic effects of atomic energy has produced a public scare and a consequent interest in and recognition of the importance of genetics. This is good, since it may lead to the government giving more money for genetic research.”
In 2015, while reading Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee’sThe Emperor of All Maladies, a Pulitzer Prize winner about our long battle with cancer, I came upon the following passage:
“In 1928, Dr. Hermann Muller, one of Thomas Morgan’s students, discovered that X-rays could increase the rate of mutations in fruit flies…” [Morgan, by studying an enormous number of fruit flies, had discovered that the altered genes and mutations could be carried from one generation to the next.]
“Had Morgan and Muller cooperated, they might have uncovered the link between mutations and malignancy. But they became bitter rivals Morgan refused to give Muller recognition for his theory of mutagenesis…
“Muller was sensitive and paranoid; he felt that Morgan had stolen his ideas and taken too much credit. In 1933, having moved his lab to Texas, Muller walked into a nearby woods and swallowed a roll of sleeping pills in an attempt at suicide. He survived, but was haunted by anxiety and depression.”
Knowing this, I wonder if Muller’s need for recognition and his resentment of Morgan, who received the Nobel Prize for his work on fruit fly genetics in 1933, might have caused him to hide the work of Ernst Caspari and others because it would have jeopardised his “fifteen minutes of fame.”
Muller received his Nobel Prize in 1946, but his deception has promoted the fear of all forms of radiation, however feeble. In addition, it has caused the deaths of millions and accelerated Climate Change by stunting the growth of CO2-free nuclear power, which has required us to burn huge amounts of polluting,health-damaging coal, oil and natural gas.
(Muller’s claim that tiny amounts of radiation are cumulative is like arguing that 50 jumps off of a one-foot step will be as damaging as one jump from a 50-foot cliff.)
For the great enemy of the truth is often not the lie – deliberate, contrived, and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
US President John F Kennedy 1960-1963
“To overturn orthodoxy is no easier in science than in philosophy or religion.” Ruth Hubbard
Due largely to LNT, only a few new nuclear power plants have been designed and built since the NRC was created. There are at least 1,000 papers that prove LNT wrong—all of them ignored by NRC and EPA. On average the NRC creates one new regulation per day, and it can cost a billion dollars just to get approval for a test reactor of a new design.