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RE: [cdn-nucl-l] How Bad Would A Dirty Blast Be? Here's What The Experts Say
would like to comment.
to the Montreal Gazette do not work for me. However, I have
downloaded the PDF file, and looks very much as though the information
there is derived from testimony given to the U.S. Congress by Henry
Kelly, President of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) -- an
organization of which I have been a proud member for many years.
However, this time they have fallen off the deep end.
testimony can be found at
excerpts from correspondence that a colleague (Alex DeVolpi) and I have
had with Dr. Kelly.
To: "Kelly, Henry" <email@example.com>
From: George S. Stanford
Subject: Re: Testimony on "dirty bombs"
Dear Dr. Kelly:
distressed and disappointed by the absence of quantitative data to
support your "analysis." It is surprisingly shallow, very
much out of line with what I have come to expect from the FAS.
Granted the uncertainties are inherently large, but something more than
fear-fostering hand-waving should come from an organization that claims
to (and does) represent scientists.
so, a couple of blunders are obvious . For one thing, you
evidently have assumed the linear no-threshold (LNT) theory of radiation
damage, although it is unsupported by valid experimental evidence, and is
counter-indicated by a large body of work. To be objective, you are
obligated to explain that to your readers -- and to Congress.
problem is your reference to Chernobyl, which gives the impression that
the radiation from Chernobyl caused widespread damage. It did
not. The only claim of off-site harm to people has been a putative
increase in thyroid cancers in the immediate vicinity. The
exclusion zone around the plant has become a lush nature preserve, with
no observed radiation damage to flora or fauna, as I understand it,
except perhaps to some trees very close to the plant.
Nations Scientific Committee study issued in 2000 (the "UNSCEAR 2000
report") says that the accident
"caused the deaths, within a few days or weeks, of 30 workers and
radiation injuries to [a hundred] others. It also brought about the
immediate evacuation, in 1986, of about 116,000 people from areas
surrounding the reactor and the permanent relocation, after 1986, of
about 220,000 people from Belarus, the Russian Federation, and the
Ukraine. . . . There have been about 1,800 cases of thyroid cancer
in children who were exposed at the time of the accident, and if the
current trend continues, there may be more cases during the next decades.
Apart from this increase, there is no evidence of a major public
health impact attributable to radiation exposure fourteen years after the
accident. " [Emphasis added]
thyroid exposure came, of course, from I-131, which has an eight-day
half-life and therefore would not be present in any "dirty"
terrorist bomb, even if it contained fission products.
That information, too, should have been included
in your report.
Your bottom line (the set of recommendations) is
eminently reasonable. But -- to repeat -- the FAS does not enhance
its credibility by exaggerating the dangers, contributing unnecessarily
to the potential for panic, and failing to carefully research and cite
(at least on a Web page) the relevant background information and the
basis for the conclusions.
I respectfully suggest that, in the future, you
submit such statements to a wider variety of knowledgeable
Dear Mr. Stanford and Mr. DeVolpi:
for your notes regarding my testimony on dirty bombs. As I'm sure
you're aware, extensive figures and calculations aren't appropriate in
congressional testimony, explaining their absence. We are preparing
an article that will provide more details.
perplexed, though, by your assumption that we didn't do extensive
research. The material was reviewed by FAS Board members Dick
Garwin, Steve Fetter, Frank von Hippel, as well as by a wide variety of
other experts. They reviewed our complete analysis and the
parameters we used to prepare the testimony. Subsequent to my
testimony, we provided all the details of our analysis with physicists at
the NRC, EPA, LLNL, and LANL.
regard to your specific technical concerns:
1) We were asked to show the radiation
hazards created by a radiological weapon compared to existing safety
regulations for workers and general population exposure. We did not
attempt to revisit the process by which these criteria were set or the
assumptions (such as the LNT hypothesis) used to set them. We did
suggest that these standards may need to be revised if an incident
actually contaminates a large urban area.
2) The Chernobyl exclusion zone is set by
Cs-137 levels, not I-131. We used these numbers for our
comparison. Again we did not attempt to evaluate the criteria used
to establish these exclusion zones.
3) We don't list specific source details or
dispersion approaches as we feel that would be irresponsibly providing
"instructions" to a wide audience. We have, of course,
shared all relevant information with public officials and scientists in
NRC, EPA, DoE who asked to see it. This has led to much fruitful
To: "Kelly, Henry" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Alex DeVolpi
Subject: Re: Our testimony on "dirty bombs"
for the explanatory e-mail. The impression that you didn't do
extensive research was earned by the lack of any quantitative information
in your lengthy article in the PIR. [the monthly Fas "Public
Interest Report"]. I'm glad to hear that you did do extensive
research and the material was reviewed by a number of capable
individuals. That was certainly not the impression I got from the
article. However, sometimes even so-called "experts" are
careless or biased. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that Dick and
Steve approved the PIR article. As I mentioned, I concur with the
"FAS Recommendations" and with most of the "FAS
Conclusions," though with some caveats.
look forward to your supplying me with that backup information you
have. As far as I am concerned, the article leaves the impression
of unfounded conclusions not consistent with FAS standards.
referenced link to "analysis by Michael Levi, Robert Nelson, and
Jaime Yassif, which can be found at
-- to be kind -- misleading at best.
that a public-interest organization should self-censor assumptions
regarding source intensity and dispersion factors is indefensible.
After all, these are nothing but assumptions; they are hardly viable
you have ignored psychological factors, which I expect will greatly
outweigh any physical harm you can postulate. Worse yet, your
article is probably contributing to that false sense of fear, which might
be a greater level of irresponsibility than your concern over providing
"instructions." For example, your figures depicting
"Long-term Contamination Due to Cesium Bomb. . . ." demand
To: "Kelly, Henry" <email@example.com>
From: Geprge S. Stanford
Subject: Testimony on "dirty bombs"
Dear Dr. Kelly:
Thanks very much for your
explanation. It's now clearer how you got roped into giving the
testimony you did. But the thrust of my comments still
At 03:06 PM 5/19/2002 -0400, you wrote:
"As I'm sure you're aware, extensive figures and calculations aren't
appropriate in congressional testimony, explaining their absence.
We are preparing an article that will provide more
detailed article will be welcome, and I hope you will be able to make it
"I'm perplexed, though, by your assumption that we didn't do
extensive research. The material was reviewed by FAS Board members
Dick Garwin, Steve Fetter, Frank von Hippel, as well as by a wide variety
of other experts. They reviewed our complete analysis and the
parameters we used to prepare the testimony."
I assume that the research
that you and your colleagues did was done carefully. Indeed, the
detail in your presentation is impressive. The problem is the
research you did not do. The fundamental flaw in your
testimony -- its Achilles' heel -- is its espousal of LNT. Your
reviewers should have caught it. More on it below. Apparently
your "wide variety of other experts" did not include anyone
up-to-date on the current state of knowledge of the effects of low-level
radiation, rendering your "variety" truly inadequate.
"Subsequent to my testimony, we provided all the details of our
analysis with physicists at the NRC, EPA, LLNL, and LANL."
That was somewhat after the
fact, wasn't it. But perhaps you will get some useful
feedback. Any radiation biologists amongst the
You say, "1) We were asked to show the radiation hazards
created by a radiological weapon compared to existing safety regulations
for workers and general population exposure. We did not attempt to
revisit the process by which these criteria were set or the assumptions
(such as the LNT hypothesis) used to set them."
The FAS has a long and
honorable tradition of questioning official stands on many topics.
You have missed a golden opportunity to do it again. The input
assumptions are, of course, crucial to the usefulness of the result
("garbage in, garbage out"). By not
"revisiting," you indulged in a simplistic academic
exercise. While you undoubtedly were obliged to recognize the
current official policy, you were not required to endorse it with
enthusiasm -- as you did, for example, in the following passage in your
"Triggering cancer is largely a matter of chance: the more radiation
you're exposed to, the more often the dice are rolled. The risk is never
zero since we are all constantly being bombarded by large amounts of
gamma radiation produced by cosmic rays, which reach us from distant
stars. We are also exposed to trace amounts of radioactivity in the soil,
in building materials, and other parts of our environment. Any increase
in exposure increases the risk of cancer."
relevant quantity is not cancers "triggered," but cancer
mortality. Cancers initiated and deaths from cancer are not at all
the same thing. From what I can gather, there is evidence that the
same low level of radiation that can "trigger" a cancer also
activates protective measures that inhibit the cancer's
development. That's the source of much confusion concerning
model has no empirical basis. It was adopted for setting standards
because (a) it was simple (the more correct term would be simplistic),
and (b) it was seen as "prudent" in light of the state of
knowledge at the time. Your statement that "Any increase in
exposure increases the risk of cancer" might or might not be
narrowly true, but it is not relevant. A careless reader might
interpret it to mean "Any increase in exposure increases the risk of
dying of cancer," which would be untrue because it ignores the
considerable body of empirical evidence that low-dose radiation has
beneficial consequences that tend to counter the carcinogenic
concept of "person-rem" is a regulatory convenience and
over-simplification that has no demonstrated relevance to the real
world. For a given dose, the dose rate is all-important. That is
completely ignored in your presentation.
"We did suggest that these standards may need to be revised if an
incident actually contaminates a large urban area."
to be saying that regulators might be motivated take another look at LNT
when the public is in a state of panic after a radiological
emergency. Wouldn't that be a little late?
discussing your Example 1 (cesium dispersal), you say, without
qualification: "Residents of an area of about five city blocks, if
they remained, would have a one-in-a-thousand chance of getting
cancer." There are two serious omissions there.
course, is the need to add something like "if the LNT model
the striking lack of perspective. A non-critical reader might be
left with the impression that one-in-a-thousand is a significant
risk. I suggest that you were obligated to point out that the
overall cancer death rate is more than 300 per thousand, so that what you
are predicting, using LNT, is a 0.3 percent increase in the probability
that an individual near the terrorist attack would eventually die of
cancer. [Basis: On the Web site of the Cancer Research Institute
(<http://www.cancerresearch.org/immincid.html>) I find this:
"Without major advances in cancer prevention, one out of three
Americans now living will eventually get cancer. In 1995 alone, the
estimated number of cases diagnosed was 1,252,000. The estimated number
of deaths resulting from cancer in 1995 was 547,000, making cancer the
second leading cause of death in the United States."]
terrorist wanting to cause panic (increased, unfortunately, with your
assistance) could perhaps release that amount of radioactive
material. What you could productively have done is point out that a
terrorist who wants to do real physical damage can find thousands of more
lucrative, if non-radiative, ways to do it. Exaggerating the
radiation risks plays into the terrorists' hands, giving them the means
to cause, not direct damage, but panic, social disruption, and indirect
damage through over-reaction.
You go on
to say "If decontamination were not possible, these areas would have
to be abandoned for decades." You would do that to avoid
a cancer-increase probability of a maximum of 0.3% (but probably
zero)? Perhaps that would be called for by current regulations, but
the FAS should not treat such nonsense as though it were
I see the
following in the caption for your Figure 2: "Outer Ring: One cancer
death per 10,000 people due to remaining radiation; EPA recommends
decontamination or destruction." That's a cancer rate increase
of 0.03 percent, even if true! You will have to agree that this is
bureaucratic idiocy -- but you quote it with no indication that you see
how ridiculous it is.
Example 2, the release of cobalt-60. You say, "Over an area of
about three hundred typical city blocks, there would be a one-in-ten risk
of death from cancer for residents living in the contaminated area for
forty years. The entire borough of Manhattan would be so contaminated
that anyone living there would have a one-in-a-hundred chance of dying
from cancer caused by the residual radiation. It would be decades before
the city was inhabitable again, and demolition might be
necessary." This prediction is certainly more serious than the
one in the preceding example, implying a cancer-death probability
increase ranging from 30% down to 3% in your postulated footprint.
It shows the extreme harm that can be caused by a faulty assessment of
the risk of low-level radiation. If LNT ever was
"prudent," it no longer is.
should recommend an authoritative evaluation of the LNT model, with
adequate funding for empirical work if needed. The economic consequences
of LNT are staggering -- even absent terrorist activities. It is
past time for the issue to be laid to rest.
additional problem with your cobalt-bomb picture: What are the
chances of a terrorist's being able to construct and deliver an effective
device before he gets a disabling dose? I don't know the answer to
that, but I think it needs to be addressed in any evaluation of the
scenario. And would-be suicides should be made aware that death
from radiation sickness is not mercifully swift.
"2) The Chernobyl exclusion zone is set by Cs-137
levels, not I-131. We used these numbers for our comparison.
Again we did not attempt to evaluate the criteria used to establish these
I did not even hint that the
exclusion zone was based on I-131. That, of course, would make no
sense, in light of the 8-day half-life. What I pointed out was that
the only identified off-site health consequences of Chernobyl have been
limited to thyroid cancers imputed to I-131 -- and that life in the
exclusion zone is thriving (due to the absence of humans).
Chernobyl's Cs-137 has caused no identifiable health damage,
anywhere. I don't know what the radiation break points are (and you
unfortunately don't give them), but if they are anything like your
Example 1, they, too, are outrageously small.
You say, "3) We don't list specific source details or
dispersion approaches as we feel that would be irresponsibly providing
"instructions" to a wide audience.
Hey, nobody wants you to
publish a dirty-bomb recipe. But, particularly in Example 3 (alpha
emitter), your assumptions need to be made clear. How much
ingestion, inhalation are you assuming? What particle sizes? What
Again, the regulatory
assumption that LNT is valid leads to serious exaggeration of the risk,
and the FAS could do an important public service by pointing out how
questionable it is. The hazards of plutonium inhalation, for
instance, have been blown up beyond all reason in the popular press (and
by some "experts" who should know better). Well over 200
people have acquired significant body burdens of plutonium, and -- as
best I can find out -- they have tended to live longer than their
unexposed peers, and none has contracted cancer of the type that
plutonium could cause.
The LNT model, combined with
monstrous over-reaction even to what it predicts, is doing enormous
harm. The blind acceptance of regulatory standards as realistic
depictions of risk is a trap that the FAS should not fall into.
P.S. There has been no further response from Dr. Kelly.
P.P.S. In my earlier message, quoted below, I questioned the
statistical validity of the 335 excess deaths at Hiroshima. Jerry
Cuttler tells me (a) that my estimate of 26,000 natural cancer deaths was
far too high (more like 7300), and (b) the 335 number is indeed
significant, due to deaths at the high end of the exposure range.
At 10:35 AM 7/3/2002 -0400, Franta, Jaroslav wrote:
Would anyone on this
list care to comment on the dirty bomb first responders' course scenario
described in the pdf document at
.....it made the front page - in blazing Technicolor - of
the Montreal Gazette. The original story is at
(make sure you click on the linked image) and a subsequent editorial is
From: George Stanford [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Saturday June 29, 2002 2:37 PM
To: Canadian Nuclear Discussion List
Subject: Re: [cdn-nucl-l] How Bad Would A Dirty Blast Be? Here's What
The Experts Say
Two footnotes to the generally well-balanced Washington Post article:
(a) I believe the expected number of cancer deaths in those 86,572 people
at Hiroshima would be something like 26,000. If so, the claimed excess of
335 translates to an increased risk of 1.3 percent. Is the "expected"
number known to within 1.3 percent? Or am I correct in thinking that the
335 number has no statistical insignificance?
(b) The article should have pointed out that potassium iodide pills would
be completely useless in countering the effects of any dirty bomb that a
terrorist could put together. The pills only protect against I-131, of
which there would be none -- the radioactive material in the bomb would
almost certainly have been out of any reactor for many times the 8-day
half-life of I-131.
At 02:30 PM 6/28/2002 -0600, Chris Davey wrote:
> Posted in the Washington Post on June 13, 2002 and at:
> Very interesting figure - for the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
> "...of those survivors since 1950 show that of 86,572 people exposed to
> levels of radiation thousands of times greater than a dirty bomb could
> produce, cancer deaths exceeded the expected numbers for that population
> by 335".
> How Bad Would A Dirty Blast Be? Here's What The Experts Say.
> By Don Oldenburg
> Washington Post Staff Writer
> Thursday, June 13, 2002; Page C01