I don't understand why nuclear people are so concerned about claiming hormesis. The rest of the world has already pretty much accepted it. Toxicologists fight with nutritionists over how much selenium we should have. Too much can be fatal, but a small amount is beneficial. Today, for instance, I came across the following article on contaminants in food in "The Scientist":
"It should also be noted that all substances are poisons; only the dose differentiates the poison from a remedy. This concept was developed by Paracelsus, a medical doctor in Europe in the 16th century, and it is useful in evaluating risk in our daily lives by considering examples of well-known substances with low and high toxicity consumed today. For example, water might be considered one of the least toxic substances that we commonly encounter. However, there are many reports of water toxicity in the scientific literature. Too much water can, indeed, be fatal...Even well known carcinogens, such as arsenic or nicotine, are only harmful if exposure is high enough."
So, I respectfully suggest that we stop trying to shield people from a truth that most people have already accepted:
It is possible to get too much radiation, whether sunshine or ionizing radiation, but it's a proven fact that most people would benefit from more radiation in the range of interest.
[This is an up-date on some previous discussions we've had here]
How Much Is Science, How Much “Prudence”?
U.S. Regulatory Report NCRP-136 examined the question of establishing permissible radiation limits. After looking at the data, it concluded that most people who get a small dose of nuclear radiation are not harmed by it, and in fact are benefited. That’s what the science said: Most people would benefit by receiving more radiation.
But curiously, the report’s final conclusion was just the opposite. It recommended that our regulations should be based on the premise that any amount of radiation, no matter how small, should be considered harmful. It made that recommendation just to be “conservative” or “prudent.”
Let’s think about that. Why is it prudent do just the opposite of what the science indicates? Why is exaggerating a panicky situation considered prudent? I’ve never seen a good answer to that question. Whatever the reasoning, that’s where we’ve ended up.
We’ve had three uncontrolled releases of radioactivity from serious malfunctions of nuclear power plants: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. In each of these, fear of radiation proved to be much more harmful than the effects of radiation itself. And announcing that no amount of radiation is small enough to be harmless was certainly effective in creating and nurturing phobic fear of radiation, when none was justified by the facts.
In addition, the problem is aggravated by the fact that we’ve been told for sixty years (two human generations) that nuclear terror is infinitely more dreadful than any non-nuclear threat, particularly when you blur the distinction between power plants and bombs.
But what Fukushima tells us is that this abstract, academic position looks very different when you’re telling people they can’t go home – perhaps for years, because, well, it seems more prudent that way, even though radiation hasn’t actually hurt anyone there.
Radiation expert Professor Wade Allison, author of “Radiation and Reason,”has cast the question in a new light. He suggests, let’s set the permissible radiation limit the same way we set all other safety limits. Not by asking how little radiation we can get by with, but how much can we safely permit? There’s no intention of lowering the safety margin, and it will not be lowered. That’s not the issue. It’s a matter of working with the scientific data, rather than from a generic fear not supported by the science.
Prof. Allison concludes that setting the permissible radiation limit, with a good margin of safety, results in an annual permissible level about 1000 times the current figure.
To see a brief video of Prof. Allison’s talk to the Japanese people, click on:
New lessons are beginning to emerge from Fukushima. Each new concern leads to additional safety requirements. But some contradictions are beginning to raise questions: Amid tens of thousands of deaths from non-nuclear causes, not a single life-shortening radiation injury has occurred. Not one! And while some people in the housing area are wearing cumbersome rad-con suits, filtered gas-masks, gloves and booties, there are many people living carefree in other places like Norway, Brazil, Iran, India where folks have lived normal lives for countless generations with radiation levels as much as a hundred times greater than forbidden areas of the Fukushima homes.
At Fukushima this is no abstract issue. People are being told they cannot return home for an indeterminate period – perhaps years. And efforts to decontaminate their home sites may require stripping off all the rich top-soil and calling it RadWaste. People who were evacuated have been reduced to economic poverty, clinical depression, and even suicide.
There is good scientific evidence that, except for some hot spots, the radiation levels at these home-sites are not life-threatening. The current restrictions are based on a desire to be “conservative.” No matter how well intended, this “conservatism” is cruelly destructive. The respected radiation authority Wade Allison, author of Radiation and Reason, has proposed that the current annual radiation dose limit be raised 1000-fold, which he says is still well below the hazard level of clinical data on which he bases his proposal. Other radiation protectionists are beginning to feel unhappy about the harm their rules have caused and are joining in the cry for quick action as the Japanese head into winter.
It’s time that the draconian measures be revoked. A simple declaration of the known health facts about radiation from the proper authorities would be a good first step.