[ RadSafe ] (no subject)
jimm at WPI.EDU
Thu Dec 8 15:48:35 CST 2005
This was distributed on another mailing list by Paul Primavera. Thanks,
Note the references to the work of Zbigniew Jaworowski, Sohei Kondo, and
Regards, Jim Muckerheide
Deadly Assumptions: Radiation and Risk
By Theo Richel Published 09/28/2005
A new report tells us that the number of future cancer deaths as a
consequence of the disaster in Chernobyl has been adjusted downward from tens
or even hundreds of thousands to 4,000. But even this estimate may be way too
high. It is quite likely that Russian health statisticians will one day have
to register a cancer deficit among the people who were irradiated in 1986 --
that many people in the area do not have cancer as a result of their extra
doses of radiation.
This is the view of Prof. Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski, from Poland, a longtime
member of the United Nations Scientific Commission on the Effects of Atomic
Radiation (Unscear) and author of hundreds of studies in the peer reviewed
radiological literature. In 1986 he was responsible for the distribution of
supplemental Iodine to 18 million Poles (to protect their thyroid glands),
but afterwards he considered those and other measures a complete waste of
time and money. Only about 140 people around the reactor received very high
doses (28 of them died as a result), the rest of the population received an
extra dose that was lower than normal background radiation (some were
evacuated, to a place where natural background radiation was substantially
The 4,000 future cancer cases, Jaworowski tells me over the phone, "are just
a theoretical construction. We will never see them."
One reason for this is that epidemiologists lack the instruments to identify
these people in the group of 600,000 that received extra radiation.
But more important is that these cancer deaths will never occur. Or better:
no doubt some of these people will develop cancer but it will have nothing to
do with the radiation they received from the exploding power plant.
The massive (some might say hysterical) reaction to the explosion in
Chernobyl has its roots in the year 1958, when radiation scientists concluded
that any amount of radiation could be dangerous and thus should be avoided.
They had their data from the consequences of the nuclear bombs that fell on
Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They had calculated the doses that the people in
different circles around Ground Zero had received and correlated those with
statistics of disease and death. A straight line emerged, which seemed to
confirm a dose effect relationship: the more radiation one receives the
higher the chance of death.
Not completely, however. Some people had received an amount of radiation that
was about 50-100 times the normal, natural, background radiation that the
rest of the Japanese receive (about 2.5 milliSieverts/year). In this group of
so called Habakushas (bomb survivors) they could not find enough cancer
deaths to create a decent statistic that showed radiation is carcinogenic
even at these low doses. So the straight line of dose and effect suddenly
The graphic should have read: No more data available but instead the
scientists simply assumed that the dose-effect relationship would continue:
any amount of radiation is dangerous. There is no level below which radiation
is safe (a threshold) it was claimed, and they called it the LNT-hypothesis
for "Linear No-Threshold." So soon after the devastating explosions of the
two bombs this reasoning may be understandable, but even at the time several
scientists protested it.
A scientist bases work on data, not on assumptions, they said, but they were
ignored. The LNT-hypothesis still has no scientific basis, but it is
nevertheless the rule and the major cause of the disaster that Chernobyl
In the past half century it became clear that there are many places on earth
where background radiation is 50, 100 or more times higher than the sea level
average of 2.5 milliSievert. Parts of Iran and India and China, the beaches
of Brazil, parts of Central Europe, the southwest of France, Norway. In all
these places epidemiological studies were started and they produced a
remarkably consistent picture: the people there have either the same or a
slightly lower chance of cancer compared to their less-irradiated countrymen.
They live just as long or a little bit longer.
Studies among radiologists and workers in nuclear factories gave similar
results: a little extra radiation is either harmless or beneficial. And the
same goes for studies of accidental exposure:
high levels are dangerous, lower levers are harmless or are even beneficial.
Researcher Sohei Kondo found in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that some people have
a higher life expectancy after the bomb and a lower chance of cancer. And in
Chernobyl it is shown again: the thousands of liquidators -- the firemen and
emergency workers -- have the same chance of cancer as the average Russian
population (somewhat lower, though not significant). This is why Jaworowski
is convinced that the 4,000 radiation-induced cancer victims will never
materialize in Chernobyl.
The authors of the report of the Chernobyl Forum make much of the
sociological and psychological problems of the 350,000 people evacuated from
the area. The evacuation has disrupted their lives, they have no knowledge of
radiation, are fatalistic, have adopted "poverty lifestyles" (e.g.
alcoholism). These problems are probably very real but the focus should not
be so much on Russians who have no clue about radiation, but on the
scientists who started the scare in the first place: those who are
responsible for the continuation of the LNT-hypothesis. If you are told that
"any amount" of radiation is dangerous, then it is not illogical to be scared
when you are in the vicinity of "any amount" of radiation. The whole,
enormous rescue operation, the evacuations, everything that happened in the
past 20 years was inspired by the LNT-hypothesis, by an assumption that low
levels of radiation are dangerous.
Many billions were spent. Belarus and the Ukraine together claim that they
have lost a total of $400 billion. These countries may not be known for
accuracy, but these numbers give an indication of the enormous sums involved
(the international community also contributed considerably). It is clear now
that many of these billions were wasted; no extra lives were saved with them.
Research has shown that the average amount of money a hospital in the US
spends to save a life is $44,000. That implies that if you waste a billion
dollars you do not have enough money to keep more than 20,000 people alive.
These are the real ethics of radiation protection (or protection against any
other risk). If you spend your money on small risks you have nothing left for
the big risks. And that is exactly what radiation scientists have forced us
to do. The rescue operations in Chernobyl saved lives at a price of $2.5
billion each, according to Jaworowski.
The scientists who support the LNT-hypothesis are confronted with the darker
side of their views, since the next Chernobyl-like disaster is waiting to
happen. Not an explosion of a nuclear power plant, but another wave of
useless measures to protect us against the dangers of radiation. Several
governments in Europe are now preparing measures to ventilate houses where
the concentrations of the natural radioactive gas radon are too high. The
dangers are exaggerated. An Austrian scientist found that the LNT-based
prognosis of radon deaths in his country exceeds the real numbers of total
mortality from all causes. Other researchers have shown that many so-called
radon deaths are in fact tobacco-deaths. American researcher Bernard Cohen
has shown that a very low level of radon is correlated with a higher chance
of cancer. Meanwhile many thousands of people in Germany, Poland, the Czech
Republic and Japan visit radon spas to breath radioactive air for their
health (and these benefits are scientifically confirmed). It is already known
that these measures to ventilate homes will divert money from more worthy
causes and the number of lives saved will be negligible.
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