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Radiation: The Facts

Opening eyes to the facts: Radiation is safe within limits.

Nuclear power is a green environmental solution. It generates no CO2. The fuel is cheap and inexhaustible.

Green nuclear power can solve the global crises of air pollution deaths and climate change. Cheap energy can help developing nations escape poverty and let industrialized nations improve economic growth.

Is it safe? The primary obstacle to nuclear power is misunderstanding of radiation safety.


  • There is no safe level of radiation.
  • Radiation effects are cumulative.
  • Chernobyl killed nearly a million people.
  • Nuclear waste is deadly for a million years.

These create public fear, so regulators adopted unnecessary rules to isolate the public from radiation. The excess costs and delays make nuclear power more expensive and impede its benefits to people.


Radioactive materials have atoms that decay at random. Half decay within their half-life.

Atom                            Half-life
potassium-40                1.2 billion years
americium-241              432 years
cobalt-60                       5 years
iodine-131                     8 days

Radiation results from each atom’s decay.

  • Alpha particles (two protons + two neutrons) can not penetrate skin.
  • Beta particles (electrons ejected from nuclei) do not penetrate metal foil.
  • Gamma radiation (energetic photons) is partly absorbed by bone to make X-ray images.

Radioactivity is a count of atom decays. One count per second is one Becquerel (Bq). A banana has beta radioactivity of about 15 Bq from its potassium-40. Smoke detectors have americium-241 made in nuclear reactors, with alpha radioactivity of about 30,000 Bq.

Radiation dose is the energy transferred from radiation to body tissue. A one-millisievert (mSv) dose is 0.001 watt-second of energy per kilogram of tissue (x20 for alpha particles). One mammogram exposure1 may be 2 mSv.

Natural background radiation comes from cosmic rays, breathing radon, ingestion of food and water, and proximity to rocks such as granite.

Natural radiation dose rates vary, averaging 3 mSv/year in the US, 4 mSv/y in Denver, and 7 mSv/y in Finland.



A massive, single, whole-body radiation dose severely injures blood cell production and the digestive and nervous systems. A dose over 5,000 mSv is usually fatal. Spread over a lifetime it is harmless. Why? At low dose rates cells have time to recover. Cancer is not observed2 at dose rates below 100 mSv/y.

Linear response

Radiation can break a chemical bond in a DNA molecule and create a slight chance it might recombine improperly to propagate cancerous cells. Linear no threshold theory (LNT) says the chance is proportionate just to radiation dose, even at low dose rates over long times. It’s wrong.

Hermann Muller received the Nobel prize in 1946 for LNT theory. He used fruit flies exposed3 to 2,750 mSv and up. But to heighten public fear of atomic bomb fallout during the Cold War, he extrapolated his results down to below 100 mSv, despite contrary evidence.

The flaw in old LNT theory is that it considered only radiation dose, not dose rate. LNT theory ignored life’s adaptive response.

Adaptive response

Radiation can be safe. We now know that DNA strands break and repair frequently, about 10,000 times per day per cell. MIT researchers observed4 that 100 mSv/y radiation dose rates increased this number by only 12 per day. The overwhelming majority of breaks are caused by ionized oxygen molecules from metabolism within the cell. Because DNA is a double helix, the duplicate information in one strand lets enzymes readily repair any single-strand break.


Double strand breaks also occur naturally, about once per week per cell. Most such breaks are also due to intracellular oxygen, with natural background radiation increasing the break rate5 by about 0.1%. Specialized repair centers within cells fix these breaks, as observed by scientists at Lawrence Berkeley Labs6

Adaptive response continues at the cellular, tissue, and organism levels. This protection5 peaks near 100 mSv exposure and persists for a year or so. The process is similar to immune response to vaccinations against smallpox, polio, or influenza.


These examples show that radiation is safe below 100 mSv/y and LNT is wrong.

Atomic bomb survivors 

The US exploded atomic bombs over Japan in 1945, killing 200,000 people. 93,000 survivors have since been closely monitored for health effects. In 55 years 10,423 survivors died7 from cancer, 573 more than the 9,850 deaths normally expected by comparison with residents away when the bombs exploded.

But there were no cancer deaths8 observed from radiation doses less than 100 mSv.

Taiwan apartment buildings

Recycled steel contaminated with cobalt-60 was used to build apartments, exposing 8,000 people to 400 mSv of radiation over 20 years. Cancer incidence was sharply down9, not up 30% as LNT predicted. Instead the adaptive response to low-level radiation seemed to confer health benefits.


Doses up to 8,000 mSv killed 28 emergency workers in 1986. The Chernobyl Forum10 estimated up to 8,000 children contracted thyroid cancer from milk contaminated with iodine-131, and 15 died. Relying on LNT theory, the report projected up to 4,000 future fatal cancers might occur, but these have not been observed among the 100,000 fatal cancers normally expected.

US nuclear shipyard workers

The US studied workers maintaining nuclear submarines who were exposed to low levels of gamma radiation from cobalt-60. The study compared 28,000 nuclear workers and 33,500 non-nuclear workers. People exposed to more radiation (averaging 8 mSv/y) had a death rate11 from all causes 24% less than the others. This contradicts LNT theory.

Medical radiation

 Radiation medicine exposes a US person to 3 mSv/y on average. Diagnostic radiation doses12 are low, ranging from 0.001 mSv for a dental X-ray to 20 mSv for a CT procedure. 

Therapeutic doses13 are high. A rotating X-ray beam focused on cancer tissue delivers up to 80,000 mSv. To minimize the risk of causing cancer in nearby tissue, radiologists divide the radiation dose into fractions, administered daily rather than all at once, giving healthy tissue time to recover. If LNT were true this fractionated radiation therapy wouldn’t work.


The tsunami-flooded reactors overheated and released radioactive materials. Residents were evacuated from areas with > 20 mSv/y exposure. (IAEA14 recommends > 220 mSv/y.) A UN panel of expert scientists concluded15 that radiation caused no attributable health effects and likely none in the future. Radiation killed no one, but the evacuation stress did kill16 hundreds. Most refugees could have safely returned home.



Exposure limits that were set by LNT theory ignore observed low-level radiation effects. Public radiation safety limits have become more restrictive, from 150 mSv/y (1948) to 5 mSv/y (1957) to 1 mSv/y (1991).

These rules are political and inconsistent. Nuclear workers are allowed 50 mSv/y, and astronauts 500 mSv/y. EPA’s limit for indoor radon is 8 mSv/y, but 0.04 mSv/y for tritium in drinking water. EPA limits Yucca Mountain exposure to < 0.1 mSv/y for 10,000 years.

The LNT fallacy that any radiation can kill you led to the ALARA principle (as low as reasonably achievable). But achievability is based on ever-changing technology capability, not health effects. LNT and ALARA ratchet limits lower and increase costs and fear.

Radiation is safe within limits.

An evidence-based radiation safety limit would be 100 mSv/y. Ending LNT and ALARA rules will enable the full environmental and economic benefits of green nuclear power.

Ask your senators and representatives to require NRC and EPA to adopt new, scientific, evidence-based radiation safety limits.

Notes1-16 at

Robert Hargraves's picture

Thank Robert for the Post!

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Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Mar 3, 2014 9:56 pm GMT


Great summary Robert, a few questions. What is the average DNA double strand break rate from radiation?

What is the probability of a double strand break leading to cancer relative to that for a single strand break?

An interesting comparison is the mouse and the elephant. The elephant has thousands of times more cells and thousands of times more DNA than the mouse. The elephant lives a hundred times longer than the mouse, yet mice have more cancer than elephants.Without very efficient repair mechanisms, large long lived animals, including us, would be impossible, because we would die of cancer before we could reproduce.

In the past earth was much more radioactive than it is now. It is reasonable that life evolved defense mechanisms against the threat just as it did for other threats, such as skin pigment for UV radiation.


Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Mar 4, 2014 12:31 am GMT

Am in wrong when I say that the claim radiation is harmless at low levels can be made more easily when discussing adults than when discussing children?

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Mar 4, 2014 2:09 am GMT

Stephen, Your are right. During growth cells divide and temporarily split the DNA strands into two, eliminating the redundancy that enable rapid repair. The IAEA 220 mSv evacuation limit takes this into account, considering the health risks to children and pregnant women. Please do follow the link to the notes and the references.

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Mar 4, 2014 2:20 am GMT

Bill, The single strand break rate is 10,000/cell/day. The double strand break rate is 1 per cell per week. So the ratio is about 10**5 to 1. The DNA breaks are only the start of the adaptive response process, which generates repair centers within the cell, communications with bystander cells, and up-regulation effects at the tissue and organ levels. Life evolved to adapt to environmental insults from radiation, trauma, viruses, heat, light, etc.

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Mar 4, 2014 2:30 am GMT

Andrew, I’ve wondered about this myself. But I have to believe that in any studies such as the Japan bomb survivors LSS (long-term survivor study) the doctors examining patients would surely treat them for any discovered cancers or other maladies. So the reported death rates from cancer would be lower than than untreated disease. However the incidence of cancer should be the same. A related issue is the screening effect; cancers may be reported more often in a group that has been singled out for cancer surveillance, such as the children who may have contracted thyroide cancer from drinking milk from cows grazing on grass contaminated with iodine-131 from the Chernobyl accident.

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Mar 4, 2014 2:49 am GMT

In the 1970s I understood advanced genetics pretty well. You are presenting mostly 1950s genetics.

“Point mutations” you describe have little chance to cause a cancer, as I understand it. Point mutations cause disfunctional peptides, or perhaps other cell process disfunction.

The big genetic players are viruses, as I understand it. They find where to integrate into DNA and convert the host cell into a slave virus factory. “Transformation and “translocation” of host cell DNA can turn the cell into a very different genome.

There is a lot to this is all I’m trying to say. I don’t know if it effects your conclusions or not. Simply respect the complexity before dismissing the problem.

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Mar 4, 2014 4:11 am GMT

If the National Academy is wrong to adopt LNT as a “model” to guide us as we decide what to do about radiation exposure in humans, and we should therefore regard them as not capable of assessing what the current state of knowledge is in the study of radiation, why should anyone take them seriously on any other subject, for instance, climate change? 

How can the NAS be so wrong, decade after decade, report after report, about how dangerous radiation is, yet be right when they say civilization needs to decarbonize as rapidly as possible to avoid facing the most dangerous consequences of climate change? 



Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Mar 4, 2014 7:32 am GMT

It all comes down to the testability of the hypothesis.  At low dose rates (near background rates), the LNT hypothesis is not testables, as it predicts health effects which are generally too small to measure.  In engineering, we generally ignore things which are too small to measure, but politically appointed committees have to provide some sort of answer.  So they come up with a compromise: a long winded report (admitting lack of conclusive data) that no one will read, plus a politically motivated summary.

When to take them seriously?  When they claim to have compelling data (as is the case with climate change).

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Mar 4, 2014 9:50 am GMT


Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Mar 4, 2014 9:49 am GMT

I realize that’s a rhetorical question, but it’s a fair one to ask anyway.  It has a perfectly reasonable answer.  I’m not nearly as up on the subject as Robert and others here may be, but I believe that the NAS has not said “Yes, we find that the LNT theory is correct.”  What they’ve said is more like “Given all that we still don’t know about cellular repair and the causes of cancer, we don’t feel that the evidence and theory refuting the LNT theory is as yet sufficiently compelling to warrant abandoning it as a basis for setting safe exposure levels.”  

Nobody ever said that the NAS is scientifically pristine and entirely above politics.  The scientists who are its members are as human as any of us.  But in this case, the politics is saying, “Don’t take any chances where public safety is concerned, and watch out for the lawyers.  If we say that exposure standards can safely be relaxed, whether it’s scientifically true or not, we open ourselves to attack by class action lawyers chasing monster settlements on behalf of anyone who ever dies of cancer.”

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Mar 4, 2014 11:16 am GMT

The US was conducting low-dose radiation health effect studies. But in 2012 as the results began to disprove LNT, the government withdrew funding. Here are some nice summary reports from that still-born effort.

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Mar 4, 2014 11:30 am GMT

Being conservative about radiation limits has incresed harm to most of the evacuated people in Fukushima, causing deaths from evacuation stress. Being overly conservative makes waste storage and decommissioning of power plants overly expensive, slowing the deployment of nuclear power plants that can check CO2 emissions, stop millions of air-pollution deaths, and end energy poverty.

The National Academy of Sciences can save face by changing radiation limits from theory-based to evidence-based. Evidence-based science has been a mantra of the current federal government administration.

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Mar 4, 2014 12:23 pm GMT

“Radiation: The Facts” is also available as a tri-fold printed brochure.


Meredith Angwin's picture
Meredith Angwin on Mar 4, 2014 1:45 pm GMT


Excellent brochure!

I have often wondered about how much of this debate is fueled by the idea that radiation is the one-and-only carcinogen in the world, or at least, the idea that it is by far the strongest carcinogen?  There are many carcinogens: smoke is a moderately strong carcinogen: exposure to smoke through smoking is a very clear cause of cancer.  Wood smoke contains the same carcinogenic elements as other types of smoke.

We cannot ban carcinogens from our world.  They exist.  In most cases, we deal with them through setting limits for exposure or release.  Only radiation bears this LNT burden, which is the equivalent of saying that “any bit of radiation could kill you! ” Yes, and any particle of wood smoke in your lungs could lead to lung cancer, etc.  I mean, where will it end? No more woodstoves or fireplaces?

Since zero exposure to carcinogens is not possible, and since we have mechanisms to fight off low exposures (or we would never live to grow up), setting reasonable limits for various toxins is the reasonable approach.  Using a non-measurable “rule” (we have to attempt to get to zero exposure for this one) is not reasonable.

David Lewis's picture
David Lewis on Mar 4, 2014 3:36 pm GMT

The NAS latest BEIR report has a list of references that runs to what looks like over 1000 peer reviewed papers, including some written by scientists who dispute LNT.  Its a bit difficult to believe the committee didn’t examine what evidence there is. 

If people who aren’t expert listen to you, it seems that they would have to accept that the NAS can’t assess a scientific issue.  If the NAS can’t assess a scientific issue, who can?  You?  A minority of scientists who study radiation?  

What does it say about the evidence that civilization should do something about climate change that the NAS, these morons who can’t grasp the most basic thing about radiation, have in the case of climate agreed with you?  Or are you one of these pro-nuclear types who believe there is nothing to the case that civilization has a climate problem who cynically use climate to argue for more nukes?

My reading of BEIR VII was that because we live in a sea of background radiation it has been impossible so far to give the definitive answer you say you can come up with. 



Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 4, 2014 5:16 pm GMT

David, what’s missing from the discussion of LNT is perspective.

Because of genetic predisposition or resistance to mutation, as well as environmental and sociological factors constantly in a state of flux, debating the validity of LNT is a false question – a bit like asking whether drinking too much water is bad for you. How much is “too much”? What is “bad”? Who are “you” (old, young, male, female, healthy, diseased…?)

More importantly, in the context of climate change and energy it’s irrelevant. The number of fatalities resulting from additional ionizing radiation below background – whatever that number is – is infinitesimal compared to either deaths from burning coal or climate change. The emphasis on the issue is manufactured, and when NAS accurately reports “we don’t know for sure” antinuclear activists excitedly point to it as justification for their cause. While no one at NAS is a moron, I can’t say for certain about some people interpreting their conclusions.

Collectively, we really do need to get a grip. Low-level radiation is far more dangerous as an exciter of the human imagination than any physiological effects it might have.

Bill Woods's picture
Bill Woods on Mar 5, 2014 12:53 am GMT

“Radiation dose is the energy transferred from radiation to body tissue. A one-millisievert (mSv) dose is 0.001 watt-second of energy per kilogram of tissue (x20 for alpha particles). …”

You’re skipping maybe half a step here. 1 joule/kg of radiation is a dose of 1 gray. That gets converted into the effective dose in sieverts, depending on the type of radiation (alpha particle vs. neutron, beta or gamma) and type of tissue exposed.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 5, 2014 3:58 am GMT

Thanks Robert, the adaptive response PPT is fascinating. Moral: if you want to keep your funding, don’t ever, ever suggest that a small amount of radiation might actually be good for you.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 7, 2014 5:47 pm GMT


You write: “Notes1-16 at”

So I went there, but no references at all??

May be you can provide the links you refer?

Otherwise this looks like a phantasy.



Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 8, 2014 7:03 am GMT

Bas, a quick glance at the menu of that page reveals a link to Notes and References:

Really – this incessant stirring of the pot gets tiresome. If you have something to add to the conversation – by all means, do. But accusing a published author with a PhD in physics of posting “phantasy” (sic), simply because you didn’t perform due diligence, is just being a nuisance.

Or at least have the courtesy of presenting your credentials, which apparently embolden you to do so.

Marcus Pun's picture
Marcus Pun on Mar 8, 2014 5:30 am GMT

this doubled up as a post…sorry.


Marcus Pun's picture
Marcus Pun on Mar 8, 2014 5:28 am GMT

You make the evacuation around the Fukushima plant sound like it was unnecessary. A look at the  timeline and the potential costs dictated a conservative approach. For those in need of a quick refresher, an hour after the earthquake,  the tsunami knocked out the backup generators to the Daiichi plant that had come online after the automatic reactor shutdown.  The water inside the reactor cores quickly heated up and the water levels within were dropping. TEPCO notified Japanese authorities who initiated a 3KM evacuation and asked everyone else up to 10KM to stay indoors, even though there was no release of radioactivity at the time. The next day, March 12, Daiichi Unit 1 containment vessel pressure rose as high as 840 kPa. TEPCO vented the vessel with filtering to reduce radioactive release into the atmosphere although some cesium-137 and iodine-131 was released into the area. Daiichi Unit 3 was also vented.  A later explosion blew out the roof and walls surrounding the containment vessel of Unit 1, which was still intact. However radiation levels in the immediate area climbed to 500ms/hr. This caused authorities to increase the evacuation radius, eventually to 20km.  That evening they started pouring seawater and boric acid into Daiichi Unit 1. Also that evening the Daiini nuclear facility, 12 km away, was starting to experience problems with cooling.  So that area was evacuated. Two days after tsunami, Daiichi Unit 3 had to be vented again, attempts at high pressure water injection had failed and water levels in Units 1,2, and 3 were still dropping. At that time TEPCO and Japamese authorities were thinking that at least 2 of these units had already suffered a partial meltdown because of low water levels. Other incidents in the first 5 days included a 2 hour fire that hit the Daichi Unit 4 spent fuel storage pond and released radioactivity directly into the atmosphere. Even a week later they were wondering if the containment vessels for Daiichi units 2 and 3 had cracked open.

I think prudence by the authorities was quite appropriate given the uncertainties about their abilities to control the situation in both the Daiichi and Daiini plants and if by chance things got much worse and there was little or no evacuation, what then?  The authorities would have been blamed for the aftermath of that possiblity for not taking enough action. They are stuck with high probablilty of what eventually happened and low but much more costly probability of a larger disaster. You realize that they were witnessing what was originally thought of as a very low probablility. So no doubt they were thinking about what other “low probability” outcomes were going to become reality. This is probably why nearly two weeks later, around March 25th, they increased the evacuation zone as they had yet to have a firm handle on the situation.

I also have to take note of the cultural issues in Japan regarding radiation exposure, no matter how minimal in reality. Like the myth of rhinocerous horn as an aphrodisiac it is not explained by rational but by cultural beliefs and norms. That causes a lot of stress and is not doubt a partial explanation for the many deaths several years after the incident.   For instance, one who is contemplating marriage would not say that they were in Fukushima at the time of the accident for fear that they might jeopardize marriage prospects and the like. Could it have been handled better? Yes. Problem is that TEPCO has a credibility problem as does the Japanese government. 

As it is, I think we need to get away from larger nuclear plants and have smaller ones that would be easier to maintain and control, easier to license through mass production and with many proven designs out there, such as those for nuclear powered aiercraft carriers, and easier to site because of cooling and water needs.


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 8, 2014 10:37 am GMT

If Japanese authorities really took care for the innocent children near the Fukushima Daiichi plant, they would have evacuated them immediately.

Now, according to this WHO report (radiation experts from around the world), about 2% – 7% of those children will experience serious cancers due to the radiation they got from this accident.

To my knowledge, this is the first time since the 1959 agreement*) that the WHO reported themselves about such radiation matters without following the lead of IAEA!

*) Before the 1959 agreement, the WHO was critical about the atmospheric bomb testing of the atomic powers (estimations are those killed some millions). After that agreement no critics, so that bomb testing could continue for another ~7years before other scientist organisations & governments forced the atomic powers to do only underground testing.

That 1959 agreement forced WHO to follow the IAEA regarding all relevant nuclear radiation matters.
WHO had to sign that agreement as the atomic powers financed >90% of its budget.

The IAEA targets a.o. the (peaceful) expansion (promotion) of nuclear energy. So they have a vested interest to keep the radiation regulations less strict.

Regarding Chernobyl, that 1959 agreement delivered clownesque behavior of an WHO simply following the lead of IAEA, which had no problem to distort matters. E.g. the scientific contributions in the report lead to a low number of deaths (by neglecting a lot), then the summary states a much lower number, and the press release even a much lower number compared to the summary (which was copied in the papers).

WHO did nothing to correct, so the semi-fraud has some success, despite many publications of scientists with more real estimations. The New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS) felt that the discrepancy was so great that they published a book regarding the death toll of Chernobyl, which also summarizes East-European (Ukraine, Belarus, Russia) research (neglected by western scientists, partly due to the language problem). That book states one million death until ~2006, which implies 4-8million death until 2200 (the only book NYAS published regarding Chernobyl!). 4 – 8 times more due to the well-known latency effects (20-60years, just as with smoking, asbestos, air pollution, etc), and the heredity effects.

Still, Chernobyl radiation damage estimates neglect children and even fetuses. While those are xxx times more vulnerable as their cell division rate is so much higher and the DNA support structure in their cells is still very fragile (the idea that radiation breaks DNA is superseded, that was half a century ago. Now we know the damage is created because the DNA support structure is weakened by radiation).
And indeed many research results show many damaging health effects for fetuses in countries 1000 miles off Chernobyl and adverse heredity effects in countries 1,000 miles away from Chernobyl that got low level fall-out (<0.5mSv/year).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 8, 2014 11:02 am GMT

I started to study those.

It seems Robert missed almost all scientific developements in the past decades regarding the origin of cancers in cells. That evidence shows that the story about radiation hitting DNA is hardly relevant. The failing support of the DNA, especially at the moment of DNA splitting with RNA, etc., seems to be far more important.
Without adequate support (energy, etc) by the cell structures, the DNA cannot repair.
That supports gets more exhausted when people get older (more cancer) and have more older cells

That support gets exhausted more early if it has to be very active. So cancer after a latency time of 20-60 years with low level radiation, Similar with smoking, etc.
That even shows with some one time extra radiation as shown by LSS (the Life Span Studies) in their last report 14, etc.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 9, 2014 5:53 am GMT

It seems apparent that the power of nuclear is definitely worth its weight for CO2 reductions.

Now, consider that the type of nuclear the author is talking about is on the order of 100x as efficient as that!

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 9, 2014 7:37 am GMT

It shows the superiority of wind+solar+storage: no fuel at all needed!

And that without any such dangers as radiation, which will kill a million people or so since Chernobyl.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 9, 2014 9:33 am GMT

We cannot ban carcinogens from our world.
Agree. But we can do a lot more:

We know already more than half a century that smoking, asbestos, air-pollution by cars, etc. do shorten the life of millions substantially. Still we often do not much to ban those.
Execpt asbestos that is banned, but only in well developed countries and even not in Canada (yet?).

Even cars are not forbidden in busy city centers while EU studies have shown that those shorten life of inhabitants with a few years. Ony in Germany new regulations ban old more polluting cars from city centers.

Similar with low level radiation, while additional radiation of only ~10% more than background (0.2mSv/year) affects heredity and damages fetuses and even kills, we still have regulations that allow such high levels of extra radiation.


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 9, 2014 10:03 am GMT

…Low-level radiation is far more dangerous…
Chernobyl showed that even extra levels of 0.2mSv/year (=~10% extra compared to background) create already substantial more damage to fetuses such as extra congenital malformations, significant more Down syndromes, etc.

As well as extra damage to the genes which implies heredity damage, as also shown in studies regarding residents in areas with high background radiation such as Ramsar (Iran), Kerala (India).

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Mar 9, 2014 4:18 pm GMT

The cited information about adaptive response to radiation is recent. Adaptive response is now shown to supercede the older linear response theory.

2012 MIT

2012 Lawrence Berkeley Labs

2012 Feinendegen et al preprint of 



Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Mar 9, 2014 4:31 pm GMT

Bas Gresnigt, The NYAS publication was not peer-reviewed nor endorsed by NYAS. The logic has been discredited because the report treated all  million excess regional deaths as attributable to Chernobyl. You inflate that number to  4-8 million. The UN WHO paper you cite relies on low-dose extrapolation of cancer risk computed by the linear no-threshhold theory derived largely from the Japan Long Term Survivor study, which does not indicate increased cancer risk even at acute doses less than 50 mSv. The redent UN report I cite says

“Radiation exposure following the nuclear accident at Fukushima-Daiichi did not cause any immediate health effects. It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers,”

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 9, 2014 4:33 pm GMT

The closed cycle:

  • Can consume the so called spent fuel from today’s LWR
  • Uses far less fuel
  • No high pressures
  • No water (which turns into explosive hydrogen if something goes wrong)
  • Creates mostly fission products
  • 300 years till radioactivity is GONE!

The LWR’s solid fuel can only be fissioned to just a few percent because fission products (such as xenon) boils out causing cracks which is one reason why molten fuels are superior. They also cause neutron absorbsion (making the fission process not work). Thus the very long halflife of wasted unburned fuel from today’s light water reactor (on the order of 1,000x longer!).

The highly radioactive mix is to be contained in smaller, more hardened reactors (without need for huge pressurized water to steam containment building). Only a head on asteroid strike could blow it up! Fission products can be vitrified in glass and put back into geologic storage. The natural background of earth is just as radioacative as this (after it decays back down in a few centuries).

We learned to “contain” chemical wastes from all sorts of necessary industrial processes. We also learned to deal with those that can’t be contained properly (such as excess CO2 and toxins from coal combustion and fracking). After actually visualizing, it is obvious that BILLIONS of tons of “outer electron” toxins can NOT be isolated as just THOUSANDS of tons of properly isolated fission products can. That’s a million times reduction in volume!

Closed cycle is far superior to a hydrocarbon based infrastructure because it offers MORE energy for less money (once peak oil and NG starts to set in and closed cycle or similar reactors are mass produced in a factory setting).

Solar, wind and nuclear, all the way (we aill need them ALL)!

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 9, 2014 4:51 pm GMT

Similar is tried in France (Phenix and Super-Phenix), Germany (Kalkar), Japan (Monju), etc.

All became very expensive failures…

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 9, 2014 5:15 pm GMT

…did not cause any immediate health effects.
That is right as with low level smoking, asbestos, air pollution in city centers by cars, etc.

But it do cause

  • serious health effect and deaths after a latency period of 20-60 years! Similar as with smoking, etc.
  • serious damage to fetuses, as smoking by the mother clearly does, as well as air pollution …
Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 9, 2014 5:59 pm GMT

I’m still studying these links of your original post.

My preliminary comment:

1. The studies of these links concern short term adaptation of cells and the body.
Of course the body adapts with low level radiation, as it does with smoking, air pollution, etc.

But these studiest ignore the real issue with low levels pollution (such as radiation).
After a latency period of 20-60years the damage of low level pollution starts to show and kills.
As with smoking, etc. and also with low level radiation (a.o. shown by LSS).

2. These studies do not consider the effects/damage to fetuses and heredity.
Solid epidemiologic studie show that fetuses are sensitive to real low level. Levels a thousand times less than old people.

I link here a rock solid study. Rock solid due to unique circumstances that:
 – some districts got fall-out (0.1-0.5mSv/year) and other similar districts got no fall-out.
 – all serious birth defects were registered at district level since 1980 (Chernobyl was in 1986).

The study shows a very significant jump in serious birth defects after Chernobyl, but only in districts that got fall out (~40% more serious birth defects per 0.5mSv extra radiation!).
Moreover the frequency of serious birth defects was linear related with the level of radio-active contamination from Chernoby (0.1-0.5mSv/year)!

So one cannot use your linked studies to set any radiation standard for the general population, as the general population concerns also next generations (=fetuses and heredity).

Especially since these results are supported by many other studies, though they are less solid as those miss the unique circumstance of similar districts that got no Cs-137 fall-out.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 12, 2014 2:26 am GMT

I don’t agree. Coal is becoming the expensive failure. Search LFTR, I know this stuff is possible (and safer than the LWR).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 12, 2014 8:31 am GMT

You can find those ideas, incl LFTR & IFR, in the literature of half a century ago.
At that time discussions about different designs for Generation IV reactors (that cannot escalate/explode).

If governments would have had the strength to demand Gen. IV as a minimum, than nuclear fission would have had some chance.
But the lobby of the nuclear scientific community was too strong, thus destroying the future of fission.
We may get another chance with fusion.

I have some hope that together with a next generation of  ITER, we can develop an high temperature resistant wall cover that directly converts the high energy radiation into electricity, similar as PV-panels do.
So avoiding the old cumbersome and expensive steamturbine/generator system.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 12, 2014 12:01 pm GMT

The land footprint (some nuclear folks state ‘power density’) of wind and solar is much better than that of nuclear.

Rooftop solar (=zero land use) is more than enough if 50% of all roof surface is covered with the present low yield (15%) PV panels, even in UK..And new panels with much higher yields (30%) will come.
Offshore wind turbines also do not use land.

Onshore wind turbines: The 7.5MW Enercon wind turbine requires a footprint of ~300m².
Most nuclear folks forget the land used by uranium mines but even without that: Onshore wind turbines score ~10times better than nuclear.

As German experience shows, a good share of wind+solar enhances electricity supply reliability greatly.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 12, 2014 10:24 am GMT

The NYAS book is not a study.
It is a summary / review of thousands of studies that IAEA/WHO did not consider.

IAEA/WHO restricted itself to only direct Chernobyl involved people. Not even all evacuees.
So even Ukraine government (pro-nuclear at the time) felt it necessary to publish a review that contra-dict the results of IAEA/WHO.
The biggest Chernobyl health damage is caused by the slightly enhanced levels of radiation (0.05-0.5mSv/a) that affected hundreds of millions of people.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 12, 2014 2:10 pm GMT

Invalid theory
The idea that radiation particles hitting DNA cause the health damage is left decades ago. Failing support, due to damaged cell structures (by radiation) that e.g. deliver energy, is by far the main cause of DNA dysfunction (=>cancer, heart disease, etc).

Cell damage activates repair mechanims. The activated mechanisms improves defense, so a person may develop some immunity (well known with arsenic). But only during some time as up-regulated repair mechanism get exhausted faster, so repair is no longer done well.

That explains why the health damage of low levels of radiation, nicotine, asbestos, etc. mainly start to show (cancer, heart, etc) after some decades. And why older people have considerable more cancer, etc. risks.

Age, heredity
The referenced studies consider adults, while the population also contains children (~10x more vulnerable) and fetuses(~100x more vulnerable). The last Life Span Study report 14 shows also that the vulnerability increases greatly with younger ages.
In line with this, it has been shown that children living near NPP’s also get more cancers, etc. Though those results are of course disputed.

Many studies regarding the effects of Chernobyl caused extra radiation of only ~0.5mSv/year (~20% of background), show that those low levels harm fetuses very substantial (~20-40% more stillbirth, Down, malformations, lower intelligence, etc.).
The much bigger harm to fetuses is in line with the predictions that their much higher cell division activity implies more vulnerability, as repair is difficult at the moment of cell division (RNA is single strand, support structures not fully in place yet, etc).

Results are in line with studies that show that residents living in areas with raised background radiation levels (~3-6mSv/year) have more health risks and more damaged DNA.

Near all your referenced studies consider immediate (within a year or so) effects, but the damage of low level radiation show only after many (20-60) years, as shown by medical and the famous Life Span Studies.
This latency causes that only recent LSS reports could conclude about the extra health risk of atomic bomb victims that got low levels of atomic bomb radiation.

Taking into account that fetuses and young children are so much more sensitive, and that the serious detrimental health effects often show only after many years (decades), the radiation standards for the population should become at least 10 times more strict (<0.1mSv/year extra radiation).
Older people, above 60years (no reproduction), may be exempted.

Cuttler, who you refer, shows many examples of selective presentation.
He writes that lower leukemia incidence among atomic bomb survivors is “compelling evidence”. However his conclusion is based only on the wrong dose estimates from before 1958 (LSS did a major revision). No lower leukemia in the 2012 LSS report 14. In addition; leukemia often comes fast after radiation exposure (shown after Chernobyl, and stated at the LSS report:”the risk of leukemia increased in the early period after the bombing and then decreased..”). LSS started more than 5 years after the bombs, so many leukemia cases were probably missed.

He also states:“(LNT) … raises enormous fear about the safety of exposures to small doses of radiation (and chemicals)”.
One such chemical, asbestos generates a specific cancer, so it is more easy to show the effects of low levels. Research has shown that even extremely low levels cause cancer after decades (hence total ban of all asbestos now). Still asbestos proponents claim that there is a threshold, while all earlier stated thresholds have been smashed and research showed that only one single asbestos micro-fiber in a lung may deliver the specific asbestos cancer.

Another striking point is the wrong assumption that there will be (is) no damage if no DNA damage is seen shortly (<a year) after an radiation experiment. Especially since we know that impaired support of the DNA is enough to cause such damage later on in life.

Bill Hannahan's picture
Bill Hannahan on Mar 13, 2014 4:18 am GMT


David, of those more than 1,000 references you mention, how many reliably measure the harmful effects of radiation exposure below 100mS/YEAR?


Please list them, I find none.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 13, 2014 5:12 am GMT

This seems to be serious stuff, however, are the writers sure that these effects weren’t caused by the burning of hydrocarbons? The choice (for base load) is rather obvious as long as humanity concentrates on building only meltdown proof reactors.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 13, 2014 5:15 am GMT

Bas, Chernobyl showed nothing of the sort. Sometimes I wonder if you even read your own links – or if your aim is merely to snow your readers with so much information as to appear learned while discouraging anyone from following up.

Those who do stand a slim chance of being rewarded. For example, the authors of the article cited in your first link, Congenital Malformation and Stillbirth in Germany and Europe Before and After the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Accident, present a title of which slyly infers a causal relationship. There’s an agenda here – co-author Hagen Scherb is a virulent antinuke activist who alternatively calls himself a “scientist”, a “mathematician”, or a “statistician” without specifying where (or whether) he attended an institute of higher learning (lame by even antinuke standards; Helen Caldicott is actually a pediatrician).

But even Scherb and his co-author Eveline Weigelt (also ohne title and listing “Dentistry” among her specialties) can’t bear to outright lie. From their conclusion:

…causal inference is of course difficult. However…the mere possibility of con-founding is not a proof of confounding and, even more so, it is not a proof of no effect.

So the best we can say is that there’s no proof of no effect. And yet you turn that into

Chernobyl showed that even extra levels of 0.2mSv/year… create already substantial more damage to fetuses…,

a conclusion which far overreaches even that of authors themselves. How can you justifiy that?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 13, 2014 5:34 am GMT

Solar, wind, natural gas and nuclear offers the least amount of excess CO2 emissions

The tired old plans of yesteryear is our only hope, because fusion is just another hype from yesteryear. Even though it will be developed in about 20 -50 years, it will take a very high capital expenditure to generate baseload from fusion. Heck, it might even be cheaper to do the redundant approach with wind and solar… overbuild with mega storage (as long as the land is still available)!

Reality dictates that the developing world will build the cheapest thing which is fossil fueled steam and gas turbines. There is nothing cumbersome about these advanced marvels because they work.

Our goal, as a civilization is to replace that baseload source with something “just as new or newer” than coal itself (as long as it is meltdown proof). Furthermore, the intrinsic costs of such should become less than coal because the fuel costs less than coal, causes less enviro damage than coal (because there is a million times less of it) and because there should be no future CO2 taxes added!

True, the lobby of every established source will try to prevent any new competition… so are we to throw our arms up in the air and say “we give up”?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Mar 13, 2014 6:03 am GMT

That was from a totally flawed nuclear design that used water as a core cooling fluid. Even our coal plants might not be that bad (except for the danger of excess CO2)! Whatever we do, such as make many thousands of sq miles of solar panel, or lots of closed cycle nuclear fuel, etc… we MUST isolate the wastes properly from the environment!

Consider, toxicity is also involved with solar, but I would not discount solar because these can be contained. However, the wastes will NOT decay back down to acceptable levels (on their own) in just a few centuries!

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 13, 2014 8:57 am GMT

Both cause other diseases, such as heart attacks, etc. as well (~40% other, similar as nuclear radiation).

Chernobyl caused radiation (such as in Germany, 1000miles away) continues during decades, as the half life of Cs-137 is ~30years.

And that small extra radiation (~30% more compared to background in some areas) already caused an increase of 20-40% in serious birth defects such as Down syndrome, serious congenital malformations, stillbirth (=deaths in the last 2 months). With P between P<0.001 and P<0.000001!

Furthermore the study showed that the frequency of those serious birth defects was linear related with the level of the fall-out contamination in the area (p<0.001).

The contamination levels in different districts depended on rainfall from the radio-active cloud that passed. Many districts got very small contamination, others 0.2mSv/a, etc. The max was ~0.5mSv/a.
This study also proofs that there is no threshold at levels above ~0.2mSv/a for fetuses, hence for the population (if any exist at all…).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 13, 2014 11:13 am GMT

…effects weren’t caused by the burning of hydrocarbons?
Than nearby districts that did not get radio-active contamination from the Chernobyl cloud, would also show such upward jump in serious birthdefects (Down, etc).

They did not.

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Mar 13, 2014 11:22 am GMT

Posting total lies about relative energy density of solar and nuclear destroys your credibility. You wrote “The land footprint (some nuclear folks state ‘power density’) of wind and solar is much better than that of nuclear” but this example illustrates a 50:1 advantage for nuclear power.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 13, 2014 11:49 am GMT

The unique solid study seems to offer no other explanation than the 0.2-0.5mSv/a Chernobyl radiation as the cause for the big upward jump in serious birth defects (Down, etc).

But that does not exclude the possibility that someone comes with another plausible explanation.
So that statement of the authors is a cautionary statement, as the whole nuclear scientific community tries to attack the conclusions.

Until now I have not seen anyone coming up with a plausibe other explanation, despite publishing it a lot! So my judgement that the study (and results) is rock-solid, seems correct.

You also seem to have no real critics as you try to degrade the study by attacking the authors CV.
The authors could simple extract the data for the study from the population registers (physicians classified in line with the directions since before 1980). They included all births (which excludes sampling bias).
So then the main operation was a statistical one.

And for that Scherb was excellent, as he is an university statistical mathematician who also authored scientific publications regarding the best methods, etc. His excellent track record was probably the reason he could move the prestigious Helmholtz institute.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 13, 2014 12:43 pm GMT

… totally flawed nuclear design that used water as a core cooling fluid...”
Could not occur with western designs.. Until Fukushima…
Near all western NPP’s also use water as core cooling fluid.

Worse, almost all western NPP’s cannot stand a simple 200ton plane flyïng into the reactor with e.g. 500km/hr.

The EU stresstest after Fukushima had to restrict itself to a light sportsplane flying at cruise speed only, because otherwise no NPP would have passed that stress test…

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 13, 2014 8:52 pm GMT

Robert, I wrote rooftop solar, so excluded also those more expensive solar plants that consolidate the position of incumbent utilities.

Rooftop solar is more than enough to deliver all electricity (MWh) that USA needs, if 50% of of all roof surfaces are covered with it. Just do the calculation with e.g. the Sunpower x-series panels.

Near all solar installed here (NL) and also in Germany is rooftop, as rooftop solar takes no land at all!

In addition we also have wind turbines with their much higher energy per m² footprint than nuclear.


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