The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

November 17, 2018

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Nuclear Power and the Energy Crisis
P. E. Hodgson - 10/22/08

It is also possible that small doses stimulate the body’s repair mechanisms, so that small doses are beneficial. This is supported by an extensive study made by Frigerio et al at the Argonne National Laboratory in 1973. [4] They compared the cancer statistics for the USA from 1950 to 1967 with the average natural background for each State, and found that the seven States with the highest natural background had the lowest cancer rates. Unless there is some other explanation for this result, it implies that the chance of contracting cancer is reduced by 0.2 percent per rem. Further evidence is provided by “the higher life expectancy among survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs; many times lower incidence of thyroid cancer among children under fifteen exposed to fallout from Chernobyl than the normal incidence among Finnish children; and a 68 percent below-average death rate from leukemia among Canadian nuclear energy workers.” [5] Many studies on animals have given similar results.

Furthermore, it is found that people living in areas of high background radiation show no evidence of detrimental effects; thus in Kerala the life expectancy is seventy-four years compared with fifty-four years for India as a whole. Aircrews are exposed to higher doses of cosmic radiation, and their union asked for compensation. Studies of the mortality rates of 19,184 pilots in the period from 1960 to 1996 showed, however, that they actually decreased with increasing dose. The skin cancer rate was, on the other hand, higher because of the time they spent lying in the sun on tropical beaches. Such evidence has been widely discounted because it seems counter-intuitive.

In favor of the idea of a threshold dose, it can be argued that the passage of a single nuclear particle through a cell, the lowest possible dose, can cause DNA double strand lesions. Such lesions occur naturally at the rate of about ten thousand per cell per day, whereas exposure to radiation at the current population exposure limit would cause only two lesions per cell per day. Thus radiation-induced lesions are insignificant compared with those occurring naturally.

A new technique for evaluating the effects of small doses of radiation has been developed by Professor Feinendegen. [6] His results show conclusively that the linear dose assumption is incorrect: at low doses there is an additional quadratic term. Furthermore, a Joint Report of the Academie des Sciences (Paris) and of the Academie National de Medicine concludes that estimates of the carcinogenic effects of low doses of ionizing radiations obtained using the linear assumption could greatly overestimate those risks. [7]

The concern about nuclear radiation has diverted attention from other threats to our health. Radiation is responsible for only about 1 percent of diseases worldwide, and most of this comes from the natural background and from medical uses. The nuclear industry is responsible for less than 0.01 percent. The vast sums spent to reduce this still further could be spent far more effectively on simple disease prevention. It is greatly in the public interest that these matters should be treated as objectively as possible, taking full account of the scientific evidence. This would avoid much unnecessary anxiety and enable the best decisions to be taken concerning our future energy supplies.

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