Why can’t the nuclear industry produce and apply the equivalent factual treatment of the readily documented lack of health effects from low dose radiation exposures!?
Regards, Jim Muckerheide
By Joshua Gilder
October 25, 2005
It turns out that scaring people to death may be more than a
figure of speech. That's the overriding message of a recently
released U.N. report on the health effects of the 1986 explosion
The result of an exhaustive investigation by eight U.N.
agencies, the report concludes that a "paralyzing fatalism"
among the residents of the effected areas and problems such as
suicide, alcoholism and clinical depression -- resulting in part
from people's perceived sense of hopelessness -- "pose a far
greater threat to local communities than does radiation
as much radioactivity into the environment as the
currently inhabited by some 5 million people. (Built with
standard Soviet disregard for public safety, the unstable
reactor had no containment structure.)
At the time of the disaster, all
panic, with estimates of as many as a half-million people dying
as a result of the contamination. Yet, according to the report,
there have been fewer than 60 fatalities so far, about 50 of
them on-site staff and emergency workers exposed to massive
radiation poisoning at the time of the blast and its immediate
aftermath. It is believed that nine children have also died of
thyroid cancer as a result of the accident, though these deaths
may have been preventable.
The U.N. scientists were deeply divided over the report's
prediction that an extra 4,000 may eventually die from cancer, a
statistical conjecture based on what many believe to be faulty
All agreed, however, that the more urgent task is for
governments in the region to get accurate information to their
frightened populations, as the decline in mental health brought
on by undue fear is by far "the largest public health problem
created by the accident."
Getting the American people accurate information on
radiation and its dangers (what's real, what's only imagined)
might be something the
For decades, anti-nuclear activists have hyped fears about
nuclear safety in order to halt the construction of nuclear
power plants in the
this effort by official government regulatory policy, which is
based on something called the linear no-threshold theory (LNT).
More a result of politics than sound science, LNT holds that any
amount of radiation is bad for you (that there is no threshold
under which the effect is benign), and that the damage is
cumulative, building up consistently over time. Thus one can
extrapolate from the effects of massive radiation poisoning in a
straight line back to zero, predicting a certain number of
cancers even at levels of exposure far below the normal
variations in natural background radiation. The
report's prediction of another 4,000 deaths was such an LNT
One problem with this theory is that it is contradicted by
massive epidemiological evidence. While the average level of
natural background radiation in the
three times greater than the
exposed to as much as eight times more radiation than in other
13,000 millirem annually, compared to the
millirem -- all without observable adverse health effects.
In a recent unanimous report, the French Academies of
Science and Medicine also took issue with LNT, pointing out that
no carcinogenic effect from low doses of radiation has been
shown in animal tests. More devastating, the academy declares
that LNT is based on old science and that its underlying
assumptions are "not consistent with current radiobiological
knowledge" concerning self-repairing mechanisms within cells.
Why does this matter? Because many people today forgo
low-level medical radiation treatments and X-rays due to
inflated fears about their cancer-causing potential. Our country
endlessly debates whether to build desert storage for spent
nuclear fuel that might leak inconsequential amounts of
radiation in a million years. And anti-nuclear activists use LNT
to try to block the construction of new nuclear power plants,
the only possible source of the abundant clean energy we'll need
to wean ourselves off foreign oil -- and stop pumping
petro-dollars into the hands of terrorists.
"paralyzing fatalism" on nuclear energy and its uses, it's going
to have to discard the flawed science of LNT theory. One hopes
this happens sooner rather than later: Our personal health and
economic well-being -- not to mention our national security --
may well depend on it.
Joshua Gilder is a visiting fellow at the