Nuclear industry happy to confuse the facts about measuring ionising radiation

Chernobyl – how many died?The Ecologist Jim Green – Nuclear Monitor 26th April 2014“………Little scientific confidence on quantifying radiation risk While the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion holds that there is no threshold below which radiation exposure is harmless, there is less scientific confidence about how to quantify the risks.


Risk estimates for low-level radiation exposure are typically based on a linear extrapolation of better-understood risks from higher levels of exposure. This ‘Linear No Threshold’ (LNT) model has some heavy-hitting scientific support. For example a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states:

“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.” [1]

Likewise, the 2006 report of the US National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation (BEIR) states that “the risk of cancer proceeds in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold and … the smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans.” [2]

Uncertain risk does not equal zero risk

Nonetheless, there is uncertainty with the LNT model at low doses and dose rates. The BEIR report makes the important point that the true risks may be lower or higher than predicted by LNT.  This point needs emphasis and constant repetition because nuclear apologists routinely conflate uncertainty with zero risk. That conflation is never explained or justified – it is simply dishonest.

The UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and the International Commission on Radiological Protection recommend against using collective dose figures and risk estimates to estimate total deaths.

The problem with that recommendation is that there is simply no other way to arrive at an estimate of the death toll from Chernobyl – or Fukushima, or routine emissions from the nuclear fuel cycle, or weapons tests, or background radiation, etc.

Indeed UNSCEAR itself co-authored a report which cites an estimate from an international expert group – based on collective dose figures and risk estimates – of around 4,000 long-term cancer deaths among the people who received the highest radiation doses from Chernobyl. [3] And UNSCEAR doesn’t claim that low-level radiation exposure is harmless – its 2010 report states that

“the current balance of available evidence tends to favour a non-threshold response for the mutational component of radiation-associated cancer induction at low doses and low dose rates.” [4]

Nuclear amplification

The view that low-level radiation is harmless is restricted to a small number of scientists whose voice is greatly amplified by the nuclear industry – in much the same way as corporate greenhouse polluters and their politicians amplify the voices of climate science sceptics.

In Australia, for example, uranium mining and exploration companies such as Cameco, Toro Energy, Uranium One and Heathgate Resources have sponsored speaking tours by Canadian junk scientist Doug Boreham, who claims that low-level radiation exposure is beneficial to human health.

 Medical doctors have registered opposition to this dangerous quackery and collusion. [5]


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