Toxicology Professor Claims Evidence Shows Hermann Muller Hid Data That Refuted LNT

October 22nd, 2011
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In 1946, Hermann Muller won the Nobel Prize for demonstrating the ability to x-rays (and therefore other forms of ionizing radiation) to cause mutations in living cells. There is no doubt that Muller’s discovery was profound and vital to understanding radiation’s effects on living things and to establishing the field of health physics and radiation protection. The fact that radiation could cause mutations also had important implications to the understanding of cell biology and genetics.

Muller was also an early proponent in the establishment of the linear non-threshold hypothesis for radiation exposure. Despite a lack of conclusive supporting evidence, LNT has become the mainstay for radiation policy and is accepted as fact by many government agencies. The simplistic model basically states that radiation always causes damage with the potential for cancer and that the increase in risk is directly proportional to the exposure level. Thus, there is no “safe” level and all radiation should be avoided when possible, though the danger is small if the exposure is small.

Despite the fact that, even by LNT predictions, the level of exposure from living near a nuclear power plant presents a miniscule increase in risk (less than living next to a coal burner), the model has been used very effectively to argue that nuclear energy is always unacceptable, because the tiny amounts of radiation involved still present a risk. (Don’t ask me how they can make the case that nuclear is worse than coal or gas, or for that matter, having a granite counter top which involve more exposure. I still can’t figure that out.) The model has also resulted in extreme fear of medical radiation, resulting in calls for limiting of potentially life saving imaging and cancer treatment procedures.

While it has always been known that Muller did not have conclusive evidence to prove his claims of an LNT dose-risk relationship, evidence now indicates he may have had evidence that actually refuted it.

Via UMass Amherst News and Information:

AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts Amherst environmental toxicologist Edward Calabrese, whose career research shows that low doses of some chemicals and radiation are benign or even helpful, says he has uncovered evidence that one of the fathers of radiation genetics, Nobel Prize winner Hermann Muller, knowingly lied when he claimed in 1946 that there is no safe level of radiation exposure.

Calabrese’s interpretation of this history is supported by letters and other materials he has retrieved, many from formerly classified files. He published key excerpts this month in Archives of Toxicology and Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis.

Muller was awarded the 1946 Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery that X-rays induce genetic mutations. This helped him call attention to his long-time concern over the dangers of atomic testing. Muller’s intentions were good, Calabrese points out, but his decision not to mention key scientific evidence against his position has had a far-reaching impact on our approach to regulating radiation and chemical exposure.

Calabrese uncovered correspondence from November 1946 between Muller and Curt Stern at the University of Rochester about a major experiment that had recently evaluated fruit fly germ cell mutations in Stern’s laboratory. It failed to support the linear dose-response model at low exposure levels, but in Muller’s speech in Oslo a few weeks later he insisted there was “no escape from the conclusion that there is no threshold.” To Calabrese, this amounts to deliberate concealment and he says Stern raised no objection.

Calabrese adds, “This isn’t an academic debate, it’s really practical, because all of our rules about chemical and low-level radiation are based on the premises that Muller and the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) committee adopted at that time. Now, after all these years, it’s very hard when people have been frightened to death by this dogma to persuade them that we don’t need to be scared by certain low-dose exposures.”

Within a year after Muller and his group persuaded the NAS to accept the linear model for gonadal mutations, the practice was extrapolated to somatic cells and cancer. Twenty years later, NAS adopted the linear approach for chemicals. Soon thereafter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it would use the linear model for risk assessment, Calabrese points out.

Some can accept that even the most distinguished scientists have human failings, he acknowledges. But his view is that “the regulatory research community needs to hear about this. The implications of my findings are that we should revisit our exposure regulations because our regulatory history is founded on a deception. We have seen literally hundreds of thousands of cleanup decisions based on a model that was fraudulently derived. I think we should probably have drastically different exposure standards today, and far less fear.”

Calabrese believes, “The die was cast by Muller and regulations adopted since then have gone unchallenged. I think he got his beliefs and his science confused, and he couldn’t admit that the science was unresolved. So he went ahead and expressed an opinion about how to handle the public health situation.”

Muller may well have had Nobel intentions in withholding this information, but the results show why it is so dangerous for a scientist to abandon objective scientific observation in favor of cherry-picking data to make a point. Like many in his day, Muller was terrified by the thought of an all-out nuclear war and saw the nuclear testing that was being undertaken by the United States and Soviet Union as dangerous to both humans and the environment. By championing LNT in the 1940′s and 1950′s, even when doing so meant withholding data, Muller was making a powerful argument against the use or testing of nuclear weapons.

In 1946, nuclear weapons were fairly new, but their devastating effects had been made clear at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The US was about to begin a the first test series at Bikini Atoll, and it had become clear that the Soviet Union would eventually have the bomb, even as the United States worked to build its stockpile and improve weapon yields.�� A clear doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons had yet to be established, and many saw them as being the next weapon for use in modern warfare.� There was also limited regulation on the testing of weapons and many of the early atmospheric tests did indeed result in levels of radiation exposure that could result in harm.

The belief that even a small amount of fallout was harmful may well have helped to eventually drive nuclear tests underground and may have played a roll in the eventual withdrawal of “battlefield nukes” and policies that could have seen nuclear weapons used on a small scale in regional conflicts. The lives of some in the Marshall Islands (who received doses which are undoubtedly high enough to increase cancer risk) may even have been saved by the fear of fallout that eventually stopped atmospheric nuclear testing. But it also has resulted in many cancer patients not getting the level of treatment most beneficial, and lives have been lost because of this. It has resulted in nuclear energy being kept from making the kind of impact on health and climate it can and it has lead to a culture of radiophobia.

In the end, the increase in caution with nuclear testing undoubtedly resulted in fewer lives saved than have since been lost due to radiophobia, which has resulted� in ineffective cancer treatment, the under-utilization of lifesaving medical imaging, the lack of universal food irradiation and the extreme restraints placed on nuclear energy.

Perhaps, Muller would have acted differently if he could have seen the consequences of his dishonesty as they exist today.� Regardless of his intention, what he did is still unacceptable and worthy of rebuke.� Science is founded on the principle that facts are objectively reported.�� Violating this tenet undermines the entire process and corrupts the expansion of human knowledge of nature.

If you want to influence policy through the telling of lies, become a politician.� That’s their job.�� It’s not the job of scientists.


This entry was posted on Saturday, October 22nd, 2011 at 9:43 pm and is filed under Bad Science, History, Misc, Nuclear, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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32 Responses to “Toxicology Professor Claims Evidence Shows Hermann Muller Hid Data That Refuted LNT”

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    Towards the end of the nineteenth century the German pharmacologist Hugo Schulz (1853–1932) discovered that a particular disinfectant stimulated the growth of yeast if administered in small amounts, but destroyed the yeast cells when administered in larger quantities. This came to be known as the principle of hormesis. Hormesis is the idea that biological organisms generally react favourably to low exposures to toxins and other stressors. In other words, a limited dose of a pollutant or toxin that exhibits hormesis has the opposite effect of a large dose.

    Schulz’ theory of hormesis was largely ignored, however, because of his belief in homeopathy. He and his colleague Rudolf Arndt (1835-1900) presented their discovery as a universal phenomenon and as the explanation of homeopathy. Since even then homeopathy was seen as worthless quackery, and its supporters as deluded, or mountebanks the idea received little notice, and what little attention that was paid to it was negative. A consequence of this attitude was criticisms from the leading scientists of the 1930s which undermined the concept of radiation hormesis and as a result the hormetic hypothesis was all but excluded from research into the health effects of ionizing radiation.

    Science is not practiced in a vacuum. Political and ideological positions can have far reaching effects.


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  2. 2
    Anon Says:

    Brings up the question of just what else is waiting to come out.


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  3. 3
    Massimo C Says:

    I’m more concerned by the fact that such false claim survived to this day, at least in the political/bureaucratic world.
    I mean, it’s really discouraging that despite the fact that other studies also demonstrated the fallacy of LNT, it’s still the base for laws and regulations.
    Unfortunately I think that part of the responsability of that it’s of the scientific community which failed to push a revision of such regulations based of new scientific evidence.


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  4. 4
    George Carty Says:

    Hasn’t LNT survived mainly because the fossil fuel companies have have many billions of dollars to spend on lobbying which they can use to thwart any attempt to change the law?


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  5. 5
    drbuzz0 Says:

            George Carty said:

    Hasn’t LNT survived mainly because the fossil fuel companies have have many billions of dollars to spend on lobbying which they can use to thwart any attempt to change the law?

    Yes, but it helped that it was established to begin with. It would have been harder to get it accepted in the first place without some apparent scientific credibility.


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  6. 6
    DiogenesNJ Says:

    If you are ever in a position to argue against LNT with someone, here are two excellent studies with better statistical power than most Phase III drug trials use.

    First, the late Bernard L. Cohen of the University of Pittsburgh studied lung-cancer rates as a function of radon concentration across the country: Health Physics, Feb. 1995, Vol. 68, No. 2, pp 157-174
    “Test of the Linear No-Threshold Theory of Radiation Carcingenesis For Inhaled Radon Decay Products”

    He showed, after checking hundreds of potential confounding factors (like smoking), that the data contradict LNT by many standard deviations. To my knowledge, this study has never been refuted; it has just been ignored. It was attacked as an “ecological” study, but LNT is an ecological hypothesis. If it were true, we would not need to know the distribution of exposure for a population. The total carcinogenesis should be proportional to the total exposure.

    The other major study (also buried) was the Nuclear Shipyard Workers Study:
    Matanowski, G. M. “Health effects of low-level radiation in shipyard workers, Final report, June 1991″. DOE DE-AC02-79 EV10095, 1991

    The critical difference between this study and almost all other radiation effects studies is that the individual exposures were measured, not estimated post-facto. The workers wore dosimeters and logged exposures. The startling result was a highly significant decrease in all-cause mortality (not just cancer) for exposed workers, with an apparent dose-response relationship. The numbers in the study were quite large, more than 30,000 workers, so it has considerable statistical power. In any other context, a 20% reduction in all-cause mortality would be shouted from the rooftops, or at least deemed cause for further work. But because the aim was to quantify risk, not muddy the waters, the report was quietly shelved and the results waved away as some unknown magical “selection effect” for nuclear workers. However, an independent scientific advisory board supervised the selection process in an effort to ensure that there was no difference between the control and exposed groups, so this seems a bit dubious.

    Check out this expanded version of a talk I gave at my kids’ school back in April after Fukushima:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/54904454 “A Rational Environmentalist’s Guide to Nuclear Power”

    It has lots of other material along with these two citations.


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  7. 7
    Matte Says:

    @DiogenesNJ

    As a luddite I refute those studies due to the ‘healthy worker effects’, they hint or proove nothing.
    There is no safe level for ionizing radiation.

    Try again!


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  8. 8
    DiogenesNJ Says:

    You are not necessarily a luddite although you may be. In this case, you are simply wrong.

    The Cohen study cannot be subject to the healthy worker effect, because it did not preferentially study workers. It studied the cancer incidence and radon exposure of the entire population.

    As you say, try again… ;)


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  9. 9
    Anon Says:

    Might be a good idea for the presentation not to say that the graphite moderator of Chernobyl burned when nuclear graphite doesn’t burn.


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  10. 10
    DiogenesNJ Says:

    However, I am unclear on which method of proof you are attempting:

    http://www.mirrorsoferis.com/ds/014container.html

    Is it #13 (proof by morality), #22 (proof by theology), #22 (Reiki proof by the waving of hands), or #84 (proof by assertion)? Or have you come up with some novel method unknown to science and mathematics?


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  11. 11
    ddpalmer Says:

            DiogenesNJ said:

    You are not necessarily a luddite although you may be. In this case, you are simply wrong.

    The Cohen study cannot be subject to the healthy worker effect, because it did not preferentially study workers. It studied the cancer incidence and radon exposure of the entire population.

    As you say, try again… ;)

    The Shipyard worker study really can’t be refuted with the healthy worker effect either because the non-exposed group were other workers at the same shipyard doing the same jobs just not on nuclear powered ships.

    This article can at a great time. For those that don’t know Christie Brinkley (with her extensive knowledge of radiation and nuclear power) is a strong opponent of nuclear power. And there is a great deal of discussion on her facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/christie.brinkley?sk=wall, where she and her fans try and refute the science of nuclear power and the known insignificant risk from low level radiation exposure. Some poster here may be interested in joining the debate there.


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  12. 12
    DiogenesInNJ Says:

    Anon –

    Are you saying these folks were wrong to refer to the “intense graphite fire”?

    http://www.oecd-nea.org/rp/chernobyl/c01.html

    Do you have a contrary citation? I agree graphite is not easily combustible, and that nuclear graphite is particularly pure and has minimum content of impurities which catalyze oxidation, but a great deal of energy was released in the power surge. The design had a positive void factor, IIRC, so there was significant positive feedback once the failure started.


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  13. 13
    Anon Says:

    Yes they very likely were wrong to refer to a graphite fire (there isn’t any evidence of burning graphite, red hot glowing graphite yes, but not burning).

    See http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/2011/04/did-graphite-in-chernobyl-reactor-burn.html for details.


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  14. 14
    Matte Says:

            ddpalmer said:

    The Shipyard worker study really can’t be refuted with the healthy worker effect either because the non-exposed group were other workers at the same shipyard doing the same jobs just not on nuclear powered ships.

    Actually it can. The workers working with nuclear decommissioning are monitored (healthwise), hence the HWE applies. (apparently being constantly medically checked up improves your health!).

    The Cohen study recieved money from big tobacco, I am sure, so I am covering my ears and singing “Albatross” on that one.

    You loose!

    //The Luddite

    PS. Bugger! I need to practice the ‘Devils advocate’ thing a bit more… DS.


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  15. 15
    DV82XL Says:

            Matte said:

    Actually it can. The workers working with nuclear decommissioning are monitored (healthwise), hence the HWE applies. (apparently being constantly medically checked up improves your health!).

    Before invoking the healthy worker effect, it would be prudent to understand it, which doesn’t seem to be the case here. For one thing it cannot be applied to long-baseline longitudinal studies, because the ‘unhealthy’ leaving the sample space (who’s absence causes the apparent good health of those left) are accounted for.


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  16. 16
    Matte Says:

    Well actually I am not sure you can invoke it, ever.

    I get regular health checks due to being a classified worker. What do they do? Check my blood pressure and do a blood test (screening for cancer indicators I believe). But they would not stop me from working if they find anything, I will get treatment and be sent back to work a.s.a.p.

    True, I do not understand the healthy worker effect. True that workers in the nuclear industry are healthier than the mean, but is it due to better working conditions, better pay and company covered healthcare (US issue only)?


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  17. 17
    DV82XL Says:

    The healthy worker effect, is a phenomenon of of some simple comparative studies where workers in a particular location/field/industry exhibit an overall death rates lower than those of the general population due to the fact that the severely ill and disabled ordinarily become excluded from employment. In short only the unusually tough ones are left.


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  18. 18
    Chuck P. Says:

            DiogenesNJ said:

    …the late Bernard L. Cohen of the University of Pittsburgh…

    Is Cohen dead? He’s still listed on Pitt’s faculty page:
    http://www.physicsandastronomy.pitt.edu/people/bernard_cohen


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  19. 19
    Joel Upchurch Says:

    I’ve found an interesting application of the LNT hypothesis to an area other than radiation. There has been a systematic attack on what is called “third-hand smoking”. This isn’t actual smoke, but the residue of particles that can remain on the walls, ceiling, floors and clothing where smoking has taken place days or weeks later.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-is-third-hand-smoke

    “Why is third-hand smoke dangerous? The 2006 surgeon general’s report says there is no risk-free level of tobacco exposure”

    When I looked at the Surgeon General’s report it doesn’t actually say that. “The scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.”

    http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/secondhandsmoke/report/chapter1.pdf
    Page 11 Major Conclusions.

    They actually reworded what the Surgeon General’s report said to make it look like it supported their claims when it didn’t.


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  20. 20
    DiogenesNJ Says:

            Chuck P. said:

    Is Cohen dead? He’s still listed on Pitt’s faculty page:
    http://www.physicsandastronomy.pitt.edu/people/bernard_cohen

    You would seem to be quite right, he is alive, and I apologize to you (and to him!) for prematurely consigning him to the afterlife.


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  21. 21
    BMS Says:

            Joel Upchurch said:

    I’ve found an interesting application of the LNT hypothesis to an area other than radiation. There has been a systematic attack on what is called “third-hand smoking”.

    Oh yeah … “Third-Hand-Smoke” (THS) is one of the stupidest ideas to come down the pipe in a long time.

    If you read the SA article carefully, you’ll notice that the “study” that was done on THS was not any kind of analysis to measure, quantify, or understand any health risks associated with it. No, it was a survey to discover whether people are aware the “dangers” of THS.

    THS is dangerous by definition, according to these researchers. They even admit that they are not aware of any studies that have demonstrated any negative health effects, but that does not matter to them.

    This is Grade-A junk science.


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  22. 22
    Joel Upchurch Says:

    It is junk science, but some hospitals are threatening to fire employees who smoke on their own time.

    http://www.wishtv.com/dpp/health/iu-health-hospitals-ban-staffs-smoking

    This isn’t the only hospital putting such policies in place. Another hospital in Louisiana is going to send employees home if they can smell smoke on their clothes.


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  23. 23
    BMS Says:

            Joel Upchurch said:

    It is junk science, but some hospitals are threatening to fire employees who smoke on their own time.

    OK. I hadn’t heard about this stuff. Wow! Just wow!

    I’ve never taken up the habit of smoking, and of course, I have no connections whatsoever to tobacco companies, so none of this affects me personally, but this is just stupid beyond words.

    From the article:

    Third hand smoke — toxic gas and particles — lingers in hair and clothes after a cigarette is put out.

    Well, the detergents that we use to wash our clothes and the chemicals that we use to shampoo our hair are toxic too … for anyone stupid enough to snort or drink the stuff. Since they also “linger,” are they going to outlaw detergents next?

    It appears that all of the anti-smoking public awareness campaigns of the last few decades have finally managed to influence the least-intelligent, most-impressionable members of society: university administrators.


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  24. 24
    Matthew Says:

            Joel Upchurch said:

    It is junk science, but some hospitals are threatening to fire employees who smoke on their own time.

    http://www.wishtv.com/dpp/health/iu-health-hospitals-ban-staffs-smoking

    This isn’t the only hospital putting such policies in place. Another hospital in Louisiana is going to send employees home if they can smell smoke on their clothes.

    That’s just… sad. On the gripping hand, I work with some smokers, and it is not fun to have them come by your office, even a couple hours after their last cigarette.


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  25. 25
    Mark Says:

    What some miss is that even if LNT were valid then the risk factors are small. 5% / Sv (i.e. 1:20,000 for 1mSv etc).The issue that there is no safe level of radiation is similar to saying there is no safe level of cigarette smoking. Indeed, there is no absolutely safe ‘level’ of travel by car, by boat, by air etc.


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  26. 26
    Anon Says:

            Mark said:

    What some miss is that even if LNT were valid then the risk factors are small. 5% / Sv (i.e. 1:20,000 for 1mSv etc).The issue that there is no safe level of radiation is similar to saying there is no safe level of cigarette smoking. Indeed, there is no absolutely safe ‘level’ of travel by car, by boat, by air etc.

    The kooks just claim that you have a choice in all the others (never mind that there’s no choice about whether a plane flies over your house with the risk of it crashing right on top of you).


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  27. 27
    I'mnotreallyhere Says:

            Matte said:

    True, I do not understand the healthy worker effect. True that workers in the nuclear industry are healthier than the mean, but is it due to better working conditions, better pay and company covered healthcare (US issue only)?

    For reference, this isn’t precisely a US only issue.

    French nuclear workers are also subject to stringent medical testing to ensure conformity with the regulations surrounding those of status DATR (une personne Directement Affectée à des Travaux sous Rayonnement – someone working in radioactive conditions, loosely translated). This includes regular blood testing and biannual scans of lungs, thorough eye examinations and full ear and nose examinations including some weird feeling endoscopy work in the nasal cavity.

    Thanks to all this I happen to have documented proof of having near perfect hearing and vision, which is nice.

    Those directly employed by the IEG companies (industries électriques et gazières – translate it yourself) are all insured under a specific and very competitive form of health insurance under the auspices of the “statut IEG”. It should be noted though that this health cover is not signficantly better than most private plans which the vast majority of French citizens have.

    I should clarify however that whilst this does apply to the day-to-day operating staff the vast majority of modifications on site are performed by contractors who are not considered IEG employees. On the contrary, EDF and GDF staff who never come near any nuclear site or even any workplace risks (office staff, secretaries, etc.) are still considered IEG but not DATR.

    To clarify all this:

    EDF nuclear workers are certified DATR and covered as IEG
    EDF office staff are usually not certified DATR but are covered as IEG
    Non-EDF nuclear workers are certified DATR but not covered as IEG

    “Certification DATR” is the system of more stringent medical testing which must be archived.
    “Statut IEG” is the designation of the right to preferential medical insurance (amongst other things)


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  28. 28
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Mark said:

    What some miss is that even if LNT were valid then the risk factors are small. 5% / Sv (i.e. 1:20,000 for 1mSv etc).The issue that there is no safe level of radiation is similar to saying there is no safe level of cigarette smoking. Indeed, there is no absolutely safe ‘level’ of travel by car, by boat, by air etc.

    Indeed, and I’ve written about this before. If you are going to assume that LNT is the best way of evaluating risk then you would rank the potential sources of radiation and find nuclear power ranks low.

    Replacing coal burning with nuclear energy REDUCES radiation exposure.

    In terms of relative risk of radiation, granite buildings, cooking with natural gas, living in areas with relatively high radon levels, flying, living in high altitude areas, eating Brazil nuts or bananas, having ceramic tiles and so on.

    If your goal was to reduce radiation exposure then priority one should be to provide radon reduction for all structures, arguably schools and public buildings should be the top priority. You would want to install ventilation systems, seal all foundation cracks etc. You would want to tear down and bury all granite, sandstone and marble structures as well as any masonry structures that had relatively high uranium or thorium content in the mortar. Of course, this would include the US Capitol Building, most monuments, Grand Central Station etc etc. You would also want to consider evacuating and condemning all high background areas, such as high altitude locations and areas with high geological radioactivity. Of course, completely ceasing coal burning and severely limiting natural gas use would also be important.

    All these measures would rank very much higher on the scale of risk reduction than nuclear energy. Nuclear energy exposes people to far far far less radiation than granite structures or coal burners. Of course, coal burners also cause numerous other problems beyond radiation exposure.

    You could even make the case that nuclear energy would be a positive thing that should be encouraged on the basis that, while there is some radiation exposure, it is far lower than that from competing energy sources. Replacing coal with nuclear results in a significant reduction in the net dose to those living in the area, and thus, if LNT is your guiding principle, a lowering of risk.

    It is therefore illogical to use LNT to attack nuclear energy. It makes no sense. The only time it could is if all other higher sources were already addressed, at which point you could say that you had reached then point where nuclear energy presented a relative high risk. But that will never happen, of course.

    But it’s never framed like that. Nuclear energy presents concerns about radiation that are considered. The radiation from other sources is never even in the picture. Radiation only matters when it originates from a nuclear energy-related source. Coal burners can release as much radiation as they like and nobody cares. It makes no sense but there it is.

    I therefore believe that even if we accept LNT this does not in any way condemn nuclear energy. It might well even encourage it.


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  29. 29
    BMS Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    It is therefore illogical to use LNT to attack nuclear energy. It makes no sense.

    Of course it makes no sense! The current radiological standards used for nuclear power are based on the LNT model.


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  30. 30
    DiogenesNJ Says:

            Anon said:

    Yes they very likely were wrong to refer to a graphite fire (there isn’t any evidence of burning graphite, red hot glowing graphite yes, but not burning).

    See http://nucleargreen.blogspot.com/2011/04/did-graphite-in-chernobyl-reactor-burn.html for details.

    Anon — Thank you, you have taught me something. I was not previously aware of the special qualities of the graphite used in reactors, nor of this controversy.

    This guy: http://acs.omnibooksonline.com/data/papers/1995_598.pdf agrees with you. He claims the net effect of airflow into the damaged core would be cooling, not fire.

    I would say that categorical denial is a bit strong. The evidence seems more ambiguous. The graphite at Chernobyl wasn’t the nice neat bricks or tubes used in the testing described; much of it was shattered by the initial explosion, so there were plenty of exposed irregular fracture surfaces to provide additional surface area for oxidation. The quotes say graphite won’t maintain combustion temperature without an external source of heat, but of course there was such an external source — the decay heat of the scattered core material in the rubble.

    This report: http://mydocs.epri.com/docs/public/000000000001013091.pdf seems like the most thorough I’ve found, and goes into the issue extensively. It says that around 10% of the total graphite was “lost through oxidation”, That’s a couple of hundred tons, which is not insignificant considered on its own but may have been dwarfed by the decay heat and the other fires started by ejected hot material.

    So on balance, I’m coming down mostly on your side. I will remove the reference to a “graphite fire”.


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  31. 31
    BMS Says:

    DiogenesNJ – I don’t think that anybody argues that the graphite at Chernobyl did not oxidize. Quite a bit of it did, and that certainly contributed to consequences of the accident. This oxidation is different, however, than what most people think of when they hear about a “fire.”

    In addition to the decay heat in the fuel, it is likely that chemical reactions in the zirconium cladding contributed to the heat and other effects that are typically described as a “graphite fire.” In addition, various parts of the building were damaged in the steam explosion that blew apart the core, and some of this rubble was inflammable and did catch fire and burned, adding to the confusion about what happened during the accident.


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  32. 32
    Krzysztof Kosinski Says:

    “Science is founded on the principal that facts are objectively reported. Violating this tenant undermines the entire process and corrupts the expansion of human knowledge of nature.”
    It’s ‘principle’ and ‘tenet’ respectively.
    The first sentence left me wondering for a brief while because “principal” means “manager of an educational institution”.
    The second sentence is unintentionally funny because “tenant” means “someone who rents a room / building”.

    As for actual content – the consensus behind LNT is slowly eroding. The majority of specialists in e.g. France and Poland reject it. Maybe there is light in the tunnel.


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