[ RadSafe ] Danger from radiation is exaggerated, say scientists

Dawson, Fred Mr Fred.Dawson199 at mod.uk
Mon Jul 10 01:23:25 CDT 2006

The Times reports :-

Danger from radiation is exaggerated, say scientists


THE dangers of radiation to human health have been exaggerated
significantly, according to scientists who have examined the legacy of
the Chernobyl disaster 20 years ago. 

Research into the aftermath of the meltdown at the Soviet nuclear
reactor has suggested that low levels of radioactivity are not as
harmful as believed - and may even be beneficial. 

Evidence from people and animals exposed to fallout has convinced
experts that the risks of radiation follow a much more complex pattern
than predicted. 

Generally, the hazards are thought to rise directly with increasing
doses of radiation. But the new theory suggests that there is a
threshold, below which any amount of exposure is probably safe. The
theory will be outlined on Thursday during a BBC Two Horizon
documentary. It will intensify controversy over the safety of nuclear
power in the week in which the Government's energy review is expected to
back a new generation of atomic plants. 

Scientists on the programme said that there was mounting evidence that
the dangerous reputation of radiation and nuclear energy was

Mike Repacholi, of the World Health Organisation radiation programme,
said: "People hear radiation, they think of the atomic bomb and they
think of thousands of deaths. They think that the Chernobyl reactor
accident was equivalent to the atomic bombing in Japan, which is
absolutely untrue." 

The Chernobyl disaster was initially predicted to cause hundreds of
thousands of deaths. Two decades later the death toll stands at 56. The
United Nations Chernobyl Forum estimates that no more than 4,000 people
will die as a direct result of fallout, while radiation may be a
contributory factor in another 5,000 deaths. 

Dr Repacholi said that even these estimates could be too high. While
4,000 cases of thyroid cancer have been detected in the Chernobyl
region, with 15 deaths, many can be attributed to better detection
because of the screening conducted after the disaster. 
The main negative health impacts of Chernobyl were not caused by the
radiation, but a fear of it, he said. "We know that there were low doses
of radiation received by a large number of people. We don't want to
minimise the effects but we also know that the fear and anxiety about
radiation was a much greater factor and it's this fear which has caused
a huge number of health complaints that have overloaded the healthcare

The low number of deaths and adverse health effects suggests that the
low levels of radiation to which people around Chernobyl were exposed
were not as dangerous as had been assumed. 

Further evidence has been taken from wildlife in the most contaminated
area around the reactor. Research by Professor Ron Chesser, of Texas
Tech University, found that mammals exposed to 8 to 15 millisieverts of
radiation a day - equivalent to 8,000 chest X-rays - showed none of the
genetic damage that his team had expected. "The radioactivity, even
though it was very high according to all of our measures, was not enough
to result in any appreciable measure of DNA damage in animals that lived
their entire life in this area," Professor Chesser said. "This was
something that that we really didn't expect." Other research into
natural background radiation also suggests that low levels of exposure
do not cause genetic damage or cancer. 

Antoine Brooks, of Washington State University, said: "We have, through
our fear of radiation, parlayed it into a major player, which it is

Horizon: Nuclear Nightmares will be broadcast on BBC Two at 9pm on

Fred Dawson
Health Physics Assistant Director & Team Leader
Directorate of Safety & Claims
6-D-30 MOD Main Building
Whitehall, LONDON  SW1A 2HB
phone   +44 (0)20 7807 0215
mobile   +44 (0)7 973 169 339
email     dsc-hpad at mod.uk
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