Understanding Radiation Protection and its Relationship to Solving Serious Issues

Marie Curie, physicist (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) once stated “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less”.

Much of Marie Curie’s career was spent studying radiation. Radiation is not well understood by the general public today. For example, most likely don’t know one “can’t even eat a simple banana without getting exposed to radiation”. This article from University of California compares various radiation exposure situations such as dental x-rays, airplane flights, CT scan, cigarette smoking, etc via the “banana equivelant dose”.

How does one know what levels of radiation exposure are safe and which are not? Currently, the international community relies on a radiation protection risk model known as the Linear-No-Threshold model. From the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the “LNT model conservatively assumes there is a direct relationship between radiation exposure and cancer rates”, “The adoption of the LNT model led to the development of the ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) principle”. In autumn 2017, Dr. Alex Cannara asked of the National Council of Radiation Protection & Measurement (NCRP) “How low a radiation exposure is “achievable” and how low is “reasonable”?”. The NCRP has admitted to having no answer.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) wrote in June 2016 “The LNT model is based on sound science, and it adequately protects people”.

Is it indeed the case that the LNT model is based on sound science? In June 2016, “Epidemiology Without Biology: False Paradigms, Unfounded Assumptions, and Specious Statistics in Radiation Science” was published, in which it states “it (LNT) holds that all ionizing radiation is harmful no matter how low the dose or dose rate. Epidemiological studies that claim to confirm LNT either neglect experimental and/or observational discoveries at the cellular, tissue, and organismal levels, or mention them only to distort or dismiss them”. In January 2017, “Time to Eliminate LNT: The NRC (USA’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission) Needs to Adopt LT and Eliminate ALARA” was published, in which it states “there has never been any “definitive” or undisputable evidence supporting LNT. In contrast, there is “definitive” evidence that its use has resulted in harmful, even deadly, consequences. There are countless scientists whose performance, or at least acknowledgment, of voluminous experimental and observational studies already convinces them that the refutation has been definitive. This is the point that lies at the crux of our argument. The ACMUI (Advisory Committee on Medical Use of Isotopes) misassigns the burden of proof. Rather than those with the preponderance of evidence bearing the burden, it should rightly be borne by those who have none that their data actually support” and “the public needs protection from radiophobia rather than from low-dose/rate radiation exposure. The NRC and other regulatory agencies should no longer base their radiation protection standards on LNT. Instead regulatory policy should be based on a linear (down to a) threshold (LT) model”.

Dr. Wade Allison, in his book “Radiation and Reason” stated “safety levels should be revised in the light of modern radiobiology and supported with programmes of public re-education” and “The new levels should be as high as is relatively safe (AHARS)”.

The Canadian Radiation Protection Association published a preliminary draft position statement regarding radiation risk in which it states “Current radiation protection standards and practices are based on the premise that any radiation dose, no matter how small, can result in detrimental health effects, such as cancer and genetic damage. Further, it is assumed that the frequency of these effects is in direct proportion to the dose received. But since the adoption of the 1990 ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection) Recommendations in November 1990 in ICRP60, it is agreed that, in the context of radiological protection, there is sufficient evidence to justify making an allowance for nonlinearity when interpreting data for low LET (Linear Energy Transfer) radiation at high doses and high dose-rates to estimate the probability of effects at low doses and low dose-rates to take account of biological mechanisms, including cellular repair of radiation injury”

The Health Physics Society in May 2016 revised their position statement for “radiation risk in perspective” and in this statement is written “For radiation protection purposes and for setting radiation exposure limits, current standards and practices are based on the questionable premise that any radiation dose, no matter how small, could result in detrimental health effects such as cancer or heritable genetic damage. Implicit in this linear no-threshold (LNT) hypothesis is the core assumption that detrimental effects occur proportionately with radiation dose received (NAS/NRC 2006). However, because of statistical uncertainties in biological response at or near background levels, the LNT hypothesis cannot provide reliable projections of future cancer incidence from low-level radiation exposures (NCRP 2001)”

Why is it important to have a modern science-backed model for nuclear radiation safety?

Below are some reasons why a better radiation protection standard could be beneficial:

1. Modern medicine and hospitals are reliant on nuclear medicine and technologies for critically important procedures, sterilization, etc and a better understanding of radiation could alleviate uneasiness towards some medical procedures. “Dr. Henriksen’s book is full of interesting and easy to understand information about radiation, radioactivity, artificial radioactive isotopes and nuclear medicine

2. Radon gas is a dangerous gas that seeps from underground and its protection model is based on LNT. So how dangerous is it exactly? It may not be as dangerous as the general public perceives and some may therefore be overspending to protect from it.

3. There are situations in which radiation leaks and therefore, evacuation may be necessary. With a better understanding of radiation and an improved radiation protection model, better informed risk-based decisions could be made in weighing the pros (reduction in exposure, reassurance) and cons (physical risk, economic losses, disruption of daily life, development of stress and anxiety) of evacuations.

4. Carbon emissions and climate change are top of mind for many as serious issues that need addressing. Nuclear power plants emit minimal CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, as seen here. Germany, as part of their “Energiewende” (energy transition) program, has decided to phase out nuclear power and increase intermittent renewable electricity capacity. As a result, high CO2 emitting coal remains their dominant source of electricity generation (and Germany is increasing biomass for electricity generation, also high CO2 emitting). Some are of the opinion that reducing CO2 emissions was not a high priority of the German energy transition, but “Energiewende goals include eliminating nonrenewable energy sources from Germany’s energy portfolio, phasing out nuclear power generation, reducing dependence on energy imports, and lowering carbon emissions

Since many are so concerned about CO2 emissions, perhaps it makes sense to create carbon intensity targets for energy production. For example, electricity generation, averaged out on an annual basis, should emit no greater than 100 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour.

Craig Morris admits not about CO2

5. Air pollution from energy production (including indoor air quality) is deadly and responsible for millions of deaths per year. Toxic pollutants from coal plants (and biomass plants) include nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO2), mercury and particulate matter (PM). I cannot locate anywhere in which the German Energiewende proposed to reduce toxic pollutants. Nuclear power plants do not emit any pollution and are capable of replacing fossil fuels for electricity and other energy production. Here is a report that proposes to meet energy needs of more than electricity via nuclear power for Helsinki, Finland. The USA’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Idaho National Laboratory collaborated on a report addressing more than electricity produced by nuclear power.

German coal pollution

6. Billions throughout the world live in poverty. Providing them with access to 24-7-365, reliable, on-demand electricity generation can go a long way in alleviating poverty. There are some people throughout the world that use much more energy than most everyone else, but most have insufficient access to energy. We should provide energy in as healthy and safe a manner as possible, all the while meeting requirements of modern societies.

Feel free to add to the conversation on Twitter @tder2012

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