Nuclear Cheerleaders Use Voodoo Science to Pretend Low Levels of Radiation Are Safe … Or Even Good For You

Department of Energy Pretends that Low Levels of Radiation Are Safe

Dr. Peter Karamoskos – a nuclear radiologist and a public representative on the radiation health committee of the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency – wrote in the Sydey Herald last year:

You have to hand it to the nuclear industry and its acolytes. In the middle of the second-worst nuclear power disaster in history at Fukushima, and with still no end in sight, you would think they would respond with contrition, humility and profuse mea culpas. Not on your life. The industry representatives and its acolytes came out swinging in full denial attire.


But more insidious and objectionable is the creeping misinformation that the nuclear industry has fed into the public sphere over the years. There seems to be a never-ending cabal of paid industry scientific ”consultants” who are more than willing to state the fringe view that low doses of ionising radiation do not cause cancer and, indeed, that low doses are actually good for you and lessen the incidence of cancer.

It is not only the nuclear companies who are pushing this junk science.

The Department of Energy is responsible for the design, testing and production of all U.S. nuclear weapons.  DOE also promotes nuclear energy as one of its core functions.  As such, it might not be surprising that DOE has been covering up nuclear accidents for decades.

DOE is also trying to replace the widely-accepted model of the dangers of low dose radiation based on voodoo science. Specifically, DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley Labs recently used a mutant line of human cells in a petri dish which was able to repair damage from low doses of radiation, and extrapolated to the unsupported conclusion that everyone is immune to low doses of radiation:

Another DOE-funded study published yesterday – which is being widely publicized in both the mainstream and alternative media – found that mice exposed to low-level radiation suffered no “apparent” genetic damage.  Sounds impressive, until you realize 3 basic facts.

First, the mice were only studied for 5 weeks.  The whole danger of low-level radiation is from repeated exposure over a long period.   A 5-week study is therefore scientifically meaningless.

Second, the study didn’t distinguish between radiation coming from outside the body and particles of radiation ingested into the body: what are known as “internal emitters”.   Internal emitters – say airborne radioactive dust which we breathe in or radioactive fish which we eat – are much more dangerous than general exposures to radiation. See this and this.

For example, the head of a Tokyo-area medical clinic – Dr. Junro Fuse, Internist and head of Kosugi Medical Clinic- said this month:

Risk from internal exposure is 200-600 times greater than risk from external exposure.

This is not some abstract, theoretical issue. For example, radioactive dust from Fukushima hit the West Coast of North America days after the accident.

Third, the DOE-funded researchers only:

Tested for several types of DNA damage, using the most sensitive techniques available.

However, DNA damage is only one of the two primary ways in which low level radiation causes damage.  The second – and perhaps more important – way that low level radiation causes damage is through lipid peroxidation.  Specifically, several studies have shown that the main culprit for the damaging effect of low-level radiation is its ability to cause radiolysis of water and formation of reactive oxygen species, resulting in lipid peroxidation in the body.   The DOE-funded study didn’t test for this mechanism at all.

As such, the new study is garbage and junk science.

Real Scientists: Low Levels of Radiation Can Cause Cancer, Genetic Damage and Other Serious Illness

The overwhelming consensus among radiation scientists is that repeated exposure to low doses of radiation can cause cancer, genetic mutations and other severe health problems.

A major new study of atomic bomb data by the official joint U.S.-Japanese government study of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors found that low dose radiation causes cancer and genetic damage, and debunks the radiation “hormesis” claim (the ridiculous claim that a little radiation is good for you) once and for all:

As Dr. Karamoskos notes:

Ionising radiation is a known carcinogen. This is based on almost 100 years of cumulative research including 60 years of follow-up of the Japanese atom bomb survivors. The International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC, linked to the World Health Organisation) classifies it as a Class 1 carcinogen, the highest classification indicative of certainty of its carcinogenic effects.In 2006, the US National Academy of Sciences released its Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation (VII) report, which focused on the health effects of radiation doses at below 100 millisieverts. This was a consensus review that assessed the world’s scientific literature on the subject at that time. It concluded: “. . . there is a linear dose-response relationship between exposure to ionising radiation and the development of solid cancers in humans. It is unlikely that there is a threshold below which cancers are not induced.”

The most comprehensive study of nuclear workers by the IARC, involving 600,000 workers exposed to an average cumulative dose of 19mSv, showed a cancer risk consistent with that of the A-bomb survivors.


IARC states that ”by 2065, predictions based on these models indicate that about 16,000 cases of thyroid cancer and 25,000 cases of other cancers may be expected due to radiation from the accident and that about 16,000 deaths from these cancers may occur”. Whether we will be able to detect them when there will also be more than 1 million other cases of cancer over this period is debatable. But every one of these excess cancers is a tragedy for each victim and their family, and is no less so simply because cancer is a common disease.

Many studies have shown that repeated exposures to low levels of ionizing radiation from CT scans and x-rays can cause cancer. See this, this, this. this, this, this, this, this, this and this.  (Remember, the radiation from CT scans and x-rays are external emitters – the radiation emanates from outside the body.)

Research from the University of Iowa cconcluded:

 Cumulative radon exposure is a significant risk factor for lung cancer in women.

And see these studies on the health effects cumulative doses of radioactive cesium.

As the European Committee on Radiation Risk notes:

Cumulative impacts of chronic irradiation in low doses are … important for the comprehension, assessment and prognosis of the late effects of irradiation on human beings …

And see this.

A military briefing written by the U.S. Army for commanders in Iraq states:

Hazards from low level radiation are long-term, not acute effects… Every exposure increases risk of cancer.

(Military briefings for commanders often contain less propaganda than literature aimed at civilians, as the commanders have to know the basic facts to be able to assess risk to their soldiers.)

The briefing states that doses are cumulative, citing the following military studies and reports:

  • ACE Directive 80-63, ACE Policy for Defensive Measures against Low Level Radiological Hazards during Military Operations, 2 AUG 96
  • AR 11-9, The Army Radiation Program, 28 MAY 99
  • FM 4-02.283, Treatment of Nuclear and Radiological Casualties, 20 DEC 01
  • JP 3-11, Joint Doctrine for Operations in NBC Environments, 11 JUL 00
  • NATO STANAG 2473, Command Guidance on Low Level Radiation Exposure in Military Operations, 3 MAY 00
  • USACHPPM TG 244, The NBC Battle Book, AUG 02

Why was the military advising commanders on radiation in Iraq? Presumably because the American military used depleted uranium in Iraq (see this, this, this, this, this and this).

Indeed, the top government radiation experts – like Karl Morgan, John Goffman and Arthur Tamplin – and scientific luminaries such as Ernest Sternglass and Alice Stewart, concluded that low level radiation can cause serious health effects.

Low levels of radiation cause not only cancer, but heart disease, stroke and other serious illness.

And it’s not just humans:  scientists have found that animals receiving low doses of radiation from Chernobyl are sick as well.

Nuclear Cheerleaders Just Trying to “Keep People Calm While They’re Being Poisoned”?

This is actually part of the trend of governments worldwide raising acceptable radiation levels based upon politics.

No wonder one medical doctor asks whether acceptable radiation levels are being raised “to keep people calm while they’re being poisoned”.

Indeed, while counter-intuitive, many preeminent scientists believe that repeated doses to low level radiation can cause more illness than short, high-dose exposures.  And see this.


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  • “There is nothing comparable in our history to the deceit and the lying that took place as a matter of official Government policy in order to protect this [the nuclear arms] industry. Nothing was going to stop them and they were willing to kill our own people.” — Stewart Udall

    June 09, 1993 NYTimes

  • Rezwan Razani

    “Whether we will be able to detect them when there will also be more than 1 million other cases of cancer over this period is debatable.” What does that mean? It means that the additional cancers are lost in the pile of general background cancer.

    Was that dismissive? “But every one of these excess cancers is a tragedy for each victim and
    their family, and is no less so simply because cancer is a common disease.”

    True. Any additional death is tragic.

    Which makes the 4000 time greater death rate from coal per unit of energy 4000 times more tragic than nuclear. FOUR THOUSAND TIMES THE TRAGEDY.

    I would rather the undetectable slight elevation in cancer risk over the 4000 time greater and more palpable death toll of coal any day. 4000 times the lives. 4000 times. 4000 times. 4000 times. Let me write that 4000 times. Are you more outraged by the one person killed by nuclear energy or the 4000 people killed by coal? Coal, the fastest growing energy source in the world.

    Lives are at stake. 4000 times the lives. Tragic. Tragic. Tragic. 4000 times tragic.

    • steve

      Your argument is invalid. There have been very few incidents involving nuclear energy in the few decades it has been available. Coal has been around for centuries. A nuclear incident like fukishima happening is extremely devistating and will lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands. People today still suffer from birth defects from the atom bomb dropped in japan and that was 70 years ago! Nuclear energy, although cleaner, is much more dangerous than coal. Not to mention most countries use coal over nuclear energy.

      • Kyle

        I think you missed the part where she said “per unit of energy”, meaning your rebuttal is invalid.

      • Rezwan Razani

        Hi Steve, yes, Kyle is right. The “Per Unit of Energy” thing is the key to getting the risk. Say you need 100MW to power a city. If you supply that energy with coal in the US, you’ll cause the death of 2500 more people than if you supply that same amount of energy with nuclear power. That’s the measuring stick you need to use to assess the risk. More on the body counts here:

      • Rezwan Razani

        Steve, you say, “There have been very few incidents involving nuclear energy in the few decades it has been available.” This also reinforces the safety of nuclear. It supplies ~19% of US electricity – and no death. In contrast, solar supplies ~0.2% (less than 1%!) of US energy, and there have been at least three deaths of rooftop solar installers just in California since 2009. Imagine if they start to scale up. And we’re not even looking at the manufacturing side – lots of fancy chemicals in those panels. Plus, what an awful way to die. Lots of young people in their prime, falling off roofs, rather than a handful of people who’ve lived a long life, getting a cancer diagnosis later on, with time to prepare for the end. Ideally, no one dies. But if you’re going to die, put it off as long as possible.

      • greenthinker2012

        So Steve is basically saying that nuclear power is too safe to measure how dangerous it is.

    • Chris Murray

      Retrofit scrubbers as per your own Nextbigfuture source and it’s down to 40 times the tragedy. Allow for realistic cancer estimates from Chernobyl and it’s maybe 4 times the tragedy. The idea that we absolutely gotta have nuclear or it’s 4,000 times the tragedy forever is a bit of an exaggeration. A thousandfold exaggeration.

  • BrightMusic

    This is a very helpful post – thank you so much. I have long found it quite difficult to find authoritative and accurate accounts of radiation risk, so this is really helpful. I still cannot make sense of the very widely divergent accounts of the effects of the Chernobyl disaster…

    • Rezwan Razani

      Here is some information on the body counts:

      And here is some information on the after effects of Chernobyl on wildlife – “Radioactive Wolves”

      • Chris Murray

        It’s a false choice, saying that it’s either nuclear or coal. Also, the deaths per terrawatt hour calculation for nuclear uses a figure of only 4,000 deaths from Chernobyl, and none from Fukushima. Even the Chernobyl Forum in 2006 estimated up to 9,000 deaths in the most affected areas alone, and the WHO last year stopped using the DDREF (Dose and Dose Rate Effectiveness Factor – a divisor which was used to allow for lower doses and dose rates) of 2, so you’re talking 18,000 deaths. If you allow for irradiation across wider Europe, you’re probably talking over 30,000 deaths, from cancer alone. Fukushima may kill hundreds, if not thousands.

        Plug in these numbers and nuclear, although still much safer than coal, oil and gas (assuming those figures are right), is broadly comparable at the moment, assuming no further disasters for a long time, to rooftop solar, and much more dangerous than wind and hydro. It’s probably also much more dangerous again than energy conservation, and still yet more dangerous again than energy reduction.

        • Rezwan Razani

          Numbers are numbers. The “irradiation across wider Europe” is not significant – it isn’t even a rounding error in wider Europe’s natural background radiation levels. Even with your doubling of the Chernobyl estimate, and assuming Fukushima in the thousands, nuclear is safer than most renewables. And keep in mind, those radiation deaths would not show up until decades from now, in the form of another rounding error that gets lost in the high cancer rates that people with no exposure to nuclear power already die of. In contrast, people installing solar panels on roofs would be young, falling off the roof and dying. Or exposed to chemicals in the panel production and dying in a similar “down the line – cancer” way – so that’s about the same type of death.

          • Chris Murray

            Yes, numbers are numbers! But some of yours were badly wrong. See above re “the irradiation across wider Europe”.

            My beef with the nuclear people is that they relentlessly minimise the
            figures, or deny them altogether. How would it sound, if instead of saying “Hey!
            Chernobyl’s death toll is only 43” (or 4,000), honesty prevailed and people
            like James Hansen, Michael Shellenberger, Mark Lynas etc. said “Hey! Chernobyl’s death toll is only 30,000!”

            And just as numbers are numbers, people are people. I am a lot older
            than you and have a problem with your idea that it is somehow more acceptable for me than it is for you to get a fatal cancer which I would not otherwise have got.

            The original nuclear deal, which I remember and believed from decades
            ago, was that nuclear would be too cheap to meter, that nuclear plants
            would be inherently safe, that fast breeder reactors and nuclear fusion were just around the corner, and that low level radiation was completely safe. It was only when these promises were exposed by the real world as pollyannish delusion that the goalposts were shifted en masse, and the nuclear industry fell back on spurious cost/benefit analyses and comparisons with something else than was very dangerous (enter risk of choice here – public transport, cigarette smoking, driving a car, using coal, oil, gas, etc. etc.).

            “Years of life lost”, “deaths per terrawatt hour”, “insignificant change in the cancer RATE” – these are all just the latest statistical swindles by the nuclear industry to make tens of thousands of fatal cancers look small. It is sad that, in spite of perfectly safe, impeccably designed and built nuclear poison plants exploding in our faces every decade or so, history repeats itself and the nuclear priesthood and its magical thinking has found a new generation of young, enthusiastic people to deceive.

        • Rezwan Razani

          I wonder how one would calculate death & danger from energy conservation. Someone might not turn on the AC, and then a sandwich spoils, and they eat the sandwich and get food poisoning? Turning off the AC during a heat wave and dying of heat exhaustion? That wouldn’t count as energy conservation death. Substitution risks. Interesting problem.

          • Chris Murray

            Another interesting problem is how to factor in say, a terrorist flying
            a plane into Indian Point, or even a non-terrorist-related accident, and New York having to be evacuated (prevailing wind is northerly) to keep the casualties down to an “acceptable” level , say tens of thousands.

            Or how to factor in thousands of new nuclear poison plants all over the world, many in corrupt, inefficient, corner-cutting dictatorships with an eye on nuclear weapons, and the resultant spreading of nuclear know-how leading to nuclear bomb proliferation and regional or even global nuclear war.

            Can we get our devastated planet, our lives and money back then, so we can redo the cost/benefit analyses and deaths per terrawatt hour calculations, and build real renewable – solar, wind, tidal, biomass etc. – instead?

        • Rezwan Razani

          “It’s a false choice, saying it’s either nuclear or coal” – I think that’s a true choice. We really need to get rid of the coal. What I’m hearing though is your competitive spirit against nuclear – so the false choice here is renewables or nuclear. Use them both – you’ll get there much faster, and stop overstating the danger, because lives are at stake. The evidence is in favor of nuclear.

          One other consideration for Fukushima. The radiation danger is overstated, but this overstatement is terrifying the residents. This fear, and not the radiation, is what is causing harm. Material harm. I’m a “take back the night” kind of person – I despise the use of fear to manipulate people. Shake off the fear, look to see what the actual risk is. I don’t trust people when I see them inflating the fear factor. So that’s my beef with the folks on the zero sum renewables vs. nuclear side. Meanwhile, on the nuclear side, even though you know the fear is inflated – you need a zero tolerance safety policy. So I’m incensed with TEPCO since I found out that this wasn’t a case of engineering being overwhelmed by natural forces. It turns out that a nuclear power plant can withstand a 9.0 quake and tsunami, because the Onagawa plant, which was closer to the epicenter of the quake and got hit with a higher wave – did just fine. They had a better safety culture, spent a bit more on tsunami-proofing the power plant. A report here:

          But of course, nuclear folks don’t want to look bad, so they play up the overwhelming natural disaster part, and renewables folks don’t want to point out that nuclear can be tsunami proof, so we don’t talk about Onagawa.

          What’s in the best interest of the environment, the impoverished, the average person? A lot of clean energy, now. And it’s all within reach, at triple the speed when you start managing nuclear and integrating it into your plan, rather than dismissing it, and pumping up baseless fears.

          Together, we win.

          • Chris Murray

            We’ll have to agree to disagree about what is or what is not a false
            choice before we get caught up in endless semantics! But how am I
            “overstating the danger” or “pumping up baseless fears”? I have pointed
            out the error in the figure (4,000 Chernobyl deaths) used by your source, and given the correct figures from the WHO/Chernobyl Forum report and also used a DDREF of 1 (If the WHO and UNSCEAR no longer use DDREF of 2, why should I?) If I have made an error here, please point it out clearly.

            And If “the irradiation across wider Europe is not significant”, you might explain why the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland estimated a possible 25 fatal Chernobyl cancers resulting here in Ireland (population 4.5 million approx.), about as far away as you can get in Europe from Chernobyl. Extrapolating across “wider Europe” (population hundreds of millions, more heavily irradiated than the Irish) gives thousands more fatal cancers. Insignificant? Rounding error? How can you say that?

            If anything, I may be understating the risks, since supralinearity, is
            also a possibility. Study after study finds excess cancers near nuclear
            installations. These are routinely dismissed on the basis that the excess
            cancer incidence is one or more orders of magnitude greater than would be
            predicted by current radiation protection models (eg LNT), rather than even
            consider that the radiation protection models may be incorrect, at least across
            part of the relevant dose range, and particularly that LNT may seriously
            underestimate the risks for children and foetuses/babies in the womb.

            However, I prefer to be cautious and use accepted radiation
            establishment figures, and these, despite all the unscientific propaganda about thresholds and hormesis, inexorably point to Chernobyl deaths, from cancer alone, of 30,000 plus, and almost 5,000 from Fukushima.

          • greenthinker2012

            The real problem with coal is the CO2 which you admit is too expensive to deal with. As Reswan says, let’s use ALL technologies to reduce CO2 emissions and stop climate change and ocean acidification.
            Once the crisis is dealt with and we have time, we can adjust the mix of power sources to whatever we choose.

          • Chris Murray

            The real problem in the nuclear discussion is that the nuclear movement keeps moving the goalposts. The nuclear movement made, and continues to make, a very big deal about how coal has killed so many from particulate pollution, and implies that it’s either millions more coal particulate deaths or nuclear power. When a workable, relatively inexpensive 98%-effective solution to the coal particulate problem is pointed out, one that does not involve the nuclear fantasy, suddenly THE REAL PROBLEM becomes the CO2. So who made the big deal about coal particulate deaths in the first place and why?

          • greenthinker2012

            I agree that many arguments on both “sides” of this very polarized discussion suffer from “moving goalposts”, as well as all the other logical fallacies like “ad-hominum” attacks etc.

            My view is that we MUST reduce CO2 emissions. We are already going to exceed the 2 degree C temp increase that governments previously agreed to avoid.

            It now looks like we are guaranteed to exceed 3.5 degrees C and quite honestly I expect we will exceed 5 degrees C. At this temperature level (and even at 3 degrees) positive climate feedback mechanisms will force the temperature even higher. We are looking at 50% of the planet being uninhabitable and more than 50% of known species going extinct.

            Instead of using ALL available tools to avert a crisis, we spend our time arguing about whose preferred technology should be used.

            We need to mobilize like we did as a species during World War 2.

            I see no evidence that we have even acknowledged that the crisis exists.

  • Angie Cross Mattz

    So we are slowly going to die? Why don’t you just come out

    and say that?

    • greenthinker2012

      We are going to die after the average number of years, just the same as before Fukushima.
      The amount of radiation released is very small compared to natural background levels of radiation.
      WHO and UNSCEAR have each published reports that conclude there will be no detectable increase in cancers as a result of the radiological release.
      UNSCEAR Link:
      “there have been no health effects attributed to radiation exposure observed among workers, the people with the highest radiation exposures. To date, no health effects attributable to radiation exposure have been observed among children or any other member of the population;”
      WHO Link:
      “The present results suggest that the increases in the incidence of human disease attributable to the additional radiation exposure from the Fukushima Daiichi NPP accident are likely to remain below detectable levels.”

    • Rezwan Razani
  • greenthinker2012

    The risk at these low exposures “may” exist but it is so low that it is almost impossible to see the effect above the statistical noise.
    Compare this to eating red meat, BBQing and drinking beer….the cancer effects from these sources is easily measured because the effects are well above the statistical noise.
    Basically this means that people are freaking out over a danger that is less than that posed by everyday things like eating and drinking.
    It is important to keep things in perspective.
    This article definitely does not keep things in perspective because dull reality sells less papers than exciting exaggeration.

  • Chris Murray

    I’m glad to have found this page a while back. Here’s some info I put together re the mantra that Chernobyl “only killed 50 people”. This was in reply to James Hansen’s article last year……

    I have admired James Hansen for decades and support his work on climate change, and his calls to urgent action. However, his work re the health impacts of low level radiation is substandard. In “Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power” Kharecha and Hansen calculate 4,900 deaths from nuclear power, a mere 43 of them from Chernobyl, and speak of “the generally accepted 100 mSv threshold for fatal disease development”. Annex D of UNSCEAR 2008 is quoted selectively in support. Overall, on the issue of low-level radiation and its health effects, their paper is demonstrably misleading and bad science. I ask your journal to issue a correction.


    In April 2006, the World Health Organisation, having 4 years earlier setup the Chernobyl Forum, published “Health effects of the Chernobyl accident: an overview”
    ( ). While acknowledging uncertainties (are there no uncertainties in Kharecha and Hansen’s fields?) re the MAGNITUDE – not the existence – of the health risks, they stated

    “The Expert Group concluded that there may be up to 4 000 additional cancer deaths among the three highest exposed groups over their lifetime (240 000 liquidators; 116 000 evacuees and the 270 000 residents of the SCZs)”. Re the five million residents of the more highly contaminated areas of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, the WHO stated that “Predictions, generally based on the LNT model, suggest that up to 5 000 additional cancer deaths may occur in this population from radiation exposure” .

    A neutral scientist might be expected to at least refer to this.

    UNSCEAR 2008

    Although the 2008 UNSCEAR document to which Kharecha and Hansen refer does emphasise uncertainties at low doses, it does NOT, as Kharecha and Hansen do, thereby dismiss the risks altogether. UNSCEAR 2008, in contrast to earlier WHO documents, takes a somewhat Pontius Pilate position, refusing to give any estimates for cancer induction, and warning repeatedly of uncertainties, and of “potentially serious misinterpretation in communication with the public”.

    Whatever about the wisdom of this decision by UNSCEAR – and it looks much more a political decision than a scientific one – the result has been a deluge of blanket statements, many from positions of apparent scientific authority and influence, citing UNSCEAR to the effect that Chernobyl’s death toll is a mere 50, with the implication this is a more or less final figure. This is a “serious misinterpretation” of UNSCEAR 2008, about which UNSCEAR has, to my knowledge, done absolutely nothing.

    However, even this controversial and somewhat peculiar UNSCEAR 2008 document, quoted approvingly by Kharecha and Hansen, clearly and specifically warns that “Although the numbers of cancers projected to be induced by radiation exposure after the accident are very small relative to the baseline cancer risk, THEY COULD BE SUBSTANTIAL IN ABSOLUTE TERMS” (My emphasis – even a “very small” increase of say, 0.5%, in baseline risk would cause 5,000 extra cancers in a 5 million population, assuming normal cancer mortality of 20% of all deaths. Again, one would expect neutral observers to mention this.

    Furthermore, Kharecha and Hansen’s source (UNSCEAR 2008) shows in Table B19 that the 530,000 recovery operators received an average dose of 117 mSv, in excess of Kharecha and Hansen’s supposed “generally accepted 100 mSv threshold for fatal disease development”. Using LNT, this would point to over 3,000 excess cancers eventually developing among the recovery workers alone.

    ICRP – 10mSv CT scan – risk one in 2,000 of fatal cancer

    Again using Table B19, the 6.4 million inhabitants of the most contaminated areas of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine got an average dose of 9mSv. Even the standard-setting body for the nuclear and radiological industries, The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), in its “Radiation and your Patient: A guide for Medical |Practitioners” states that “The higher dose diagnostic medical procedures (such a CT scan of the abdomen or pelvis) yield an effective dose of about 10 mSv. If there were a large population in which every person had 1 such scan, the theoretical lifetime risk of radiation induced fatal cancer would be about 1 in 2,000 (0.05%).”

    The question arises then, of why a dose of 10 mSv is sufficient to warn doctors, and presumably patients, of a risk, but not sufficient for Kharecha and Hansen (or UNSCEAR 2008) to include in their calculations. One assumes that doctors’ patients are no more important and no more vulnerable to radiation than other citizens. Using those ICRP risk estimates would indicate a further 3,000 induced fatal cancers.

    (Note 1. If the data demonstrate – see Martin et al below – linear effects from 2,500 mSV down through 2,000mSv down through 1,000, 500, 250, 100, 50, 40, 20, and 10 mSV, I hope I can be forgiven for assuming that the graph will continue down to 9mSv.

    Note 2. UNSCEAR’s 2008, and apparently current, position that LNT (firmly based on decades of research, not least by the Radiation Effects Research Foundation Life Span Study of survivors from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings) IS suitable as a precautionary measure for radiological protection, in spite of uncertainties, but that the same LNT, based on the same studies, is NOT suitable for ANY estimation of cancer fatalities, because of uncertainties, is, to say the least, somewhat tortured, and likely in itself to give rise to serious confusion, if not outright derision and even outrage, among the public.

    Note 3. Even UNSCEAR now (2010) admits “Risk estimates vary with age, with younger people generally being more sensitive; studies of in utero radiation exposures show that the foetus is particularly sensitive, with elevated risk being detected at doses of 10 mSv and above.” NB 10 (ie TEN) mSv, NOT 100 mSv.

    And UNSCEAR 2013 states “For a given radiation dose, children are generally at more risk of tumour induction than are adults. Cancers potentially induced by exposure to ionizing radiation at young ages may occur within a few years, but also decades later. In its report on its fifty-fourth session, the Committee stated that estimates of lifetime cancer risk for those exposed as children were uncertain and might be a factor of 2 to 3 times as high as estimates for a population exposed at all ages.”
    Volume II
    Effects of radiation exposure of children

    100 mSv NOT a threshold

    Kharecha and Hansen talk of “the generally accepted 100 mSv threshold for fatal disease development “, and based on startlingly limited evidence, suggest that LNT “might not be valid for the relatively low radiation doses that the public was exposed to from nuclear power plant accidents”. They, and ACS Publications, might like to consider the following from “The radiobiology/radiation protection interface in Healthcare” (Martin et al, 2009), published by the Journal of Radiological Protection and available at the Institute of Physics website.

    “The 21st L H Gray conference gathered leading experts in radiobiology, radiation epidemiology, radiation effect modelling, and the application of radiation in medicine to provide an overview of the subject………

    Epidemiological evidence from the Japanese A-bomb survivors provides strong evidence that there is a linear relationship between the excess risk of cancer and organ dose that extends from about 50 mSv up to 2.5 Sv, and results from pooled data for multiple epidemiological studies indicate that risks extend down to doses of 20 mSv. Thus linear extrapolation of the A-bomb dose-effect data provides an appropriate basis for radiological protection standards at the present time…..

    The Japanese A-bomb survivor group provides data for a population with a wide range of ages who received relatively high doses primarily from external radiation……. The results have proved that there is a linear relationship between cancer risk and organ dose between about 100 mSv and 2.5 Sv (Hall 2009). If data from A-bomb survivors who received doses between 5 and 125 mSv are grouped together and the excess risk plotted against a mean dose, the data give a definite excess relative risk for cancer mortality and a value which agrees with the LNT extrapolation of the A-bomb survivor data for a mean dose of about 40 mSv (Brenner et al 2003)………

    Another area of study which is relevant when considering carcinogenic effects at low doses is the induction of childhood leukaemia in children radiographed in utero with doses of 10-20 mSv (Stewart et al 1956, Knox et al 1987). These studies provide further evidence that effects do occur at doses down to 10 or 20 mSv…….
    Data from the UK, USA and Canada have been combined to give results for 95 000 radiation workers who received a mean individual cumulative dose of 40 mSv (Cardis et al 1995) and data from 15 countries pooled to give 400 000 workers with a mean cumulative dose of 19.4 mSv (Cardis et al 2005b). Results from both studies indicate an excess relative risk of leukaemia that is statistically significant………..

    Comparative studies on groups exposed to different levels of natural background radiation do not have the statistical power to detect effects on cancer incidence, because of the small numbers receiving higher doses (BEIR 2006, Hendry et al 2009). Based on current risk estimates a population of 10 million would be required in order to prove whether there was a high incidence of solid cancer in an area where the population was exposed to 10 mSv yr-1, whereas the populations that have been studied comprise less than 100 000 individuals. Populations that have higher doses from radon exposure provide the best indicator of a link between cancer and dose at lower dose levels. Results of a European project, which combined data from a number of individual case control studies in member states, show a clear increase in the risk of lung cancer among residents of homes with an enhanced concentration of radon (above 150 Bq m3)……

    …the LNT dose-effect model is the most appropriate one to adopt to describe the risks of cancer and provides a workable practical framework for the operation of protection………….” .

    Kharecha and Hansen, and ACS Publications, might also wish to consider the following from the British Journal of Radiology :

    “The linear no-threshold model

    In this section we emphasise human cancer data, rather than surrogate end points. The linear no-threshold (LNT) model assumes a curvature at moderate doses, but linearity at low doses or low dose rates. However, for the low doses and dose rates relevant to diagnostic radiology, the curve can be assumed to be linear (Figure 1, curve c). It is consistent with the data for solid tumours at doses 1 m) and in time (>1 ms). On biophysical grounds it is difficult (although, as discussed later, not impossible) to conceive how two independent electron tracks that are remote in space and time can cooperate (synergistically or agonistically) to increase or decrease the cancer risk. Thus it can be concluded that in all likelihood the key rate-limiting event at 10 mGy is due to one-track action.
    • If one-track action can cause cancer, then it follows that reducing the radiation dose by a factor of 10 will simply reduce the number of electron tracks by a factor of 10, and therefore reduce the probability of cancer initiation by the same factor.
    • A linear model, with no threshold dose below which radiation is safe, is therefore the most appropriate model in the absence of strong evidence to the contrary.
    There is considerable, though not universal, consensus in the radiation protection community that radiation-induced cancer can occur at the doses and dose rates* encountered in diagnostic medical radiation. Although little epidemiological evidence exists for the precise shape of the dose–response curve at radiation doses <0.15 Gy, mechanistic radiobiological data would support the conceptual canonical theory of a single electron track potentially inducing cancer.

    Although some theories of radiation risk predict even higher risks at low doses, this LNT model is among the more conservative estimates.

    It is prudent that the LNT model should continue to be used as the basis for radiation protection policy, including that which is applicable to diagnostic radiology. There is no consistent evidence to support a departure from the LNT model, either by introducing a threshold level of “safe” radiation or by altering the shape of the LNT curve at low doses."

    Radiation-induced cancer: a modern view
    D J Shah, MRCS, FRCR1, R K Sachs, PhD2,3 and D J Wilson, FRCP, FRCR4

    Richard Doll

    As far back as 2003, Brenner, Richard Doll (I assume the Richard Doll who finally nailed the link between re cancer and smoking) et al asked

    “First, what is the lowest dose of x- or gamma-radiation for which good evidence exists of increased cancer risks in humans? The epidemiological data suggest that it is ~10–50 mSv for an acute exposure and ~50–100 mSv for a protracted exposure. Second, what is the most appropriate way to extrapolate such cancer risk estimates to still lower doses? Given that it is supported by experimentally grounded, quantifiable, biophysical arguments, a linear extrapolation of cancer risks from intermediate to very low doses currently appears to be the most appropriate methodology..”

    Cancer risks attributable to low doses of ionizing radiation: Assessing what we really know
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

    Dr. Ian Fairlie

    The radiobiologist Dr. Ian Fairlie has written "It is dispiriting to read many articles – on both sides of the Atlantic – by media pundits and poorly-informed scientists about low-level radiation risks. These articles commonly assert, with little or no evidence, that there is nothing to worry about radiation and that nuclear projects are encumbered by overly strict safety limits. In particular, they usually state that no risks are seen below 100 mSv; that the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) model is wrong; and that there were only about 50 deaths at Chernobyl with no more expected.
    There often seems to be a close relationship between the level of ignorance evidenced in articles on this subject and the over-confidence with which they are written."

    Background radiation

    A January 2013 study found effects from natural background radiation (a few mSv):

    “We conducted a large record-based case-control study testing associations between childhood cancer and natural background radiation. Cases (27,447) born and diagnosed in Great Britain during 1980-2006 and matched cancer-free controls (36,793) were from the National Registry of Childhood Tumours. Radiation exposures were estimated for mother's residence at the child's birth from national databases, using the County District mean for gamma rays, and a predictive map based on domestic measurements grouped by geological boundaries for radon. There was 12% excess relative risk (ERR) (95% CI 3, 22; two-sided P=0.01) of childhood leukaemia per millisievert of cumulative red bone marrow dose from gamma radiation; the analogous association for radon was not significant, ERR 3% (95% CI -4, 11; P=0.35). Associations for other childhood cancers were not significant for either exposure. Excess risk was insensitive to adjustment for measures of socio-economic status. The statistically significant leukaemia risk reported in this reasonably powered study (power ~50%) is consistent with high-dose rate predictions. Substantial bias is unlikely, and we cannot identify mechanisms by which confounding might plausibly account for the association, which we regard as likely to be causal. The study supports the extrapolation of high-dose rate risk models to protracted exposures at natural background exposure levels.

    A record-based case-control study of natural background radiation and the incidence of childhood leukaemia andother cancers in Great Britain during 1980-2006.
    Kendall GM, Little MP, Wakeford R, Bunch KJ, Miles JC, Vincent TJ, Meara JR, Murphy MF.–control+study+of+natural+background+radiation+and+the+incidence+of+childhood+leukaemia+and+other+cancers+in+Great+Britain+during+1980–2006.+Leukemia

    Application of LNT to the 98 million citizens affected by an average dose of 1.3 mSv
    ( Table B19) would give a further 6,000 fatal cancers.

    There is currently no strong evidence for effects at the 0.3 mSv average dose level received by 500 million people outside the old Soviet Union, and the enormous size of studies necessary makes it unlikely this question will ever be resolved epidemiologically, but if effects have been credibly demonstrated at lower and lower levels (the 100 mSv “threshold” endlessly touted is ancient history now), right down to natural background level, it would be prudent, logical and scientific, if public health is genuinely a concern, to assume the graph continues. Applying LNT here gives a further 8,000 fatal cancers.

    Leukemia among cleanup workers

    Re Kharecha and Hansen’s quote from UNSCEAR 2008 that “reports of an increase in leukemia among recovery workers who received higher doses are inconclusive”, a 2013 study of a very large (110,000) group of Chernobyl cleanup workers by Zablotska et al , might be of interest:
    “Exposure to low doses and to low dose-rates of radiation from post-Chornobyl cleanup work was associated with a significant increase in risk of leukemia, which was statistically consistent with estimates for the Japanese atomic bomb survivors."
    Radiation and the Risk of Chronic Lymphocytic and Other Leukemias among Chornobyl Cleanup Workers ( )


    Kharecha and Hansen’s information is out of date, (as is UNSCEAR 2008), and reads more like naive nuclear propaganda than science. While some people have exaggerated the known risks from radiation, and the public often has exaggerated fears, that is poor excuse for scientifically-trained people to make similar errors of a similar order of magnitude in the opposite direction. Rather than give a range of values with different degrees of confidence, UNSCEAR has used uncertainty to avoid making any estimate at all. Kharecha and Hansen have, incredibly, gone a huge step further, and turned UNSCEAR’s concerns about uncertainty into an completely unwarranted dismissal of risks altogether. By claiming 43 as Chernobyl’s death toll, and with their ill-informed questioning of LNT, they put themselves in dubious “safe threshold”/“hormesis” company, well outside the long-established radiological consensus, increasingly firmly grounded in epidemiology and theory. They are entitled to their minority poorly-informed opinions, but should not be allowed to parade them as established fact or science.

    Yours sincerely,
    Chris Murray.

  • Nuke Pro

    Here is the statistically certain medical study on low dose radiation, as low as 4 mSv cumulative ( not annual) causing cancer. Read it.