Last year I wrote a post expressing regret that ill-informed journalists and others often wrote nonsense articles about radiation risks.
Sadly, it’s happened again.
Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue, has recently stated that the Linear No Threshold theory of radiation’s effects should be retired because it “.. is based on no knowledge whatever.” In fact, much powerful evidence backs the LNT. Some of this is discussed here.
Brand also states ” Below 100 millisieverts per year, however, no increased cancer incidence has been detected…” Well again he’s plain wrong. At least ten studies show effects below 100 mSv: they are listed here.
Mr Brand is an American so he should be aware of the US government’s premier body on radiation risks – the US National Academy of Sciences’s BEIR committee. Its 2005 report, BEIR VII, strongly supported LNT with a great deal of scientific evidence. (BEIR stands for Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation). It gave a very clear account of why LNT should be used down to very low doses: Mr Brand would be able to understand it.
The problem for Mr Brand and others like him is that radiation’s cancer and genetic risks are anonymous and remote in time so can be difficult to grasp. Here’s a good way to understand them. If 100,000 US adults were each exposed to one mSv of radiation, 10 to 15 would die of radiation-induced cancer several years even decades later. Such exposures act like a reverse lottery: each exposed person would get a reverse ticket and some unlucky people would later die. For example, after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, tens of millions of Europeans were exposed to low levels of radioactive fallout. They received reverse lottery tickets and many will ultimately die from cancers from the fallout’s radiation. The same occurred to Japanese people after Fukushima.
By the way, credit for the reverse lottery analogy goes to Jan Beyea in the US.