Radiation and Nuclear Power

It’s an amazing irony that the only technology that could have any chance of cutting CO2 emissions from the generation of electricity 80% by 2050 is being ostracized by environmentalists.

One of their reasons for opposing nuclear power is fear of radiation, even tiny doses. Opponents of nuclear power chant remember “Chernobyl” and “Three Mile Island” whenever the subject comes up.

The Union of Concerned Scientists and National Resources Defense Council, among others, are ardently opposed to nuclear power, but simultaneously champion climate change and their belief that CO2 emissions must be cut in the United States 80% by 2050.

As shown in the series on CO2 Fool’s Errand these past few weeks, it’s virtually impossible to cut CO2 emissions 80% without nuclear power.

A rational understanding of radiation would help alleviate people’s fear of radiation that’s being exploited by the organizations opposed to nuclear power.

To this end, a new book Radiation and Reason, by Wade Allison, delves into why radiation should be respected, but not feared.

My article Radiation Fears addressed the issue, including the effects of Chernobyl.

The Linear No Threshold (LNT) hypothesis asserts that radiation is dangerous at any level, and this has been the guiding principle behind the public’s understanding of radiation for the past seventy years.

Professor Wade Allison is a Fellow of Keble College and Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and his new book examines why, based on today’s knowledge, LNT is wrong.

He asks, with birds nesting unaffected in the Chernobyl sarcophagus and animals running around unscathed in the area around Chernobyl, “is there something wrong with the accepted orthodox view of the dangers of radiation to life?”

He goes on to examine the LNT approach to radiation.

The book also describes in considerable clarity, some of the basic principles surrounding radiation, including an overview of the entire radiation spectrum from AM radio to gamma rays. He explains why nuclear power is inherently safe, and made even safer with the latest designs that can shut down without fear of overheating the core.

By providing this overview, Professor Wade establishes a scientific basis for his comments that the reader can follow.

A key message from this book, and from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is that people need to be told the truth about radiation.

The IAEA said: “The Chernobyl accident resulted in many people being traumatized by the rapid relocation, the breakdown in social contacts, fear and anxiety [about the unknown].”

The lack of communications and the lack of knowledge among the people about radiation created fear – nameless and unreasonable fear.

The Fukushima accident has reignited fear among people about radiation. When a tuna fish off the coast of California was found to have low levels of radiation, it was headlined by the media. Those opposing nuclear power have used Fukushima to exploit people’s fear about radiation.

Nature recently reported on studies by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) and by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the Fukushima accident. Both conclude that “few people will develop cancer as a consequence of being exposed [to the radiation at Fukushima].”

According to the Nature article, the psychological risk may be far greater than any radiation risk.

Eliminating the LNT view of radiation, and allowing people to realize that low doses are not harmful, could help restore people’s acceptance of nuclear power as being a safe, pollution free and economic method for generating electricity.

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