Recent Items

Guest Post: Leading Epidemiologist Says that Instead of Trying to Avoid Japanese Radiation, Put Your Energy Into Demanding a Saner Energy Policy

Posted on by

Washington’s Blog


Steven Wing is a PhD epidemiologist, and an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (“Epidemiology” means the study of disease on the population level).

Dr. Wing has spoken out against nuclear power, and has spoken out against the cancer risks from the Three Mile Island accident. He’s not, by any definition, a nuclear industry shill.

So I listened with interest to an interview of Wing by outspoken nuclear critic Arnie Gundersen about the health risks from the Fukushima fallout

Wing said:

  • The generally accepted thinking is that there is no safe dose of radiation with regards to cancer or genetic mutation. There is a linear relationship between radiation dose and the likelihood of getting cancer. As the dose goes down, the risk goes down … but it never disappears
  • When the news media says there is no threat to health, that flies in the face of all of the standard models and all of the studies that have been done over a long period of time regarding radiation cancer
  • When the radiation clouds move around the world, the radiation doses are spread out. But spreading out a given amount of radiation among among more people, it reduces each person’s radiation risks, but it doesn’t reduce the number of cancers which result from that amount of radiation. So having millions and millions of people exposed to a small dose could cause as much cancer as a hundred or a thousand people exposed to the same amount of radiation
  • A lot of people are asking should they take iodine, should they avoid certain foods, should they move? No. There is almost nothing that Americans – or indeed, anyone outside of Japan – can do to reduce their exposure to Fukushima radiation. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be exposed to at least a small amount of radiation from Fukushima [Note: If you are not satisfied with his advice, see this. And a French non-profit group is giving different advice. Finally, Dr. Wing's advice might change if a higher level of radiation reached the U.S.]
  • Fukushima will cause some cancers. But instead of trying to avoid radiation from Fukushima, we should put our energy into pressuring our elected representatives to implement a sane energy policy which won’t lead to these types of fiascos in the future. We should get involved in collective action to put pressure on people in government and the energy industry to come up with a policy which minimizes harm. [For background, see this, this and this]

Print Friendly
Twitter13DiggReddit0StumbleUpon1Facebook7LinkedIn1Google+0bufferEmail

13 comments

  1. attempter

    We should put our energy into demanding a saner energy policy…we should put our energy into pressuring our elected representatives to implement a sane energy policy which won’t lead to these types of fiascos in the future.

    How about this: We put our energy into taking adult responsibility for ourselves, for example by managing our own energy policy. What democratic citizen could still abide this shameful and childish notion of bowing and scraping and begging before “elected representatives”, which is also something proven to fail?

  2. Atomkonzerne schlagen


    pressuring our elected representatives to implement a sane energy policy

    I could never buy the arguments against hydroelectric power. Why should hydroelectric dams hurt the environment if they are built with small percentage of water flow remaining inside traditional stream? You can build many small dams further upstream to supply local area point of use power. Further downstream rivers should remained un-dammed to allow dredging for navigation purposes. If Swiss can do it in Alps, then why we can’t do it in Rocky Mountains? We need to insulate homes and other buildings and use ground-based-heat-pumps with deeper heat exchangers. And we need to stop taxing the guys who are trying to do these things. Government guys need to stop bidding up prices on resources we need for this. They need to stop blowing our money on our vital resources. They need to keep their greedy fingers out of other people’s pockets.

    Thanks, Congress
    !

  3. name

    I learned this in high school. For whatever reason, the populace does not understand this. Most doctors do not understand this. Even most radiologists do not understand this simple, important reality:

    “The generally accepted thinking is that there is no safe dose of radiation with regards to cancer or genetic mutation. There is a linear relationship between radiation dose and the likelihood of getting cancer. As the dose goes down, the risk goes down … but it never disappears”

  4. SteveK9

    The linear no threshold theory is nonsense. We evolved in a radioactive world and mechanisms of DNA repair, apoptosis of mutated cells etc. are known. Studies on Hiroshima survivors and others have demonstrated that low-levels of radiation are harmless. There is also evidence of radiation ‘hormesis’ (benefit from low-levels), also from Hiroshima survivors and other sources.

    Dr. Robert Gale who was invited by the USSR to coordinate medical treatment at Chernobyl, author of 800 papers. MD, PhD in microbiology has stated that the likelihood of any increase in cancer, among the plant workers, let alone the general populace is extremely low. He was also photographed at Fukushima command center consulting with TEPCO wearing no mask or other protective gear.

    1. Lyle

      Right on! If there were such an effect we should see statistically significantly higher caner rates the higher in altitude you live at (Denver gets 3x the radiation of NYC for example)Plus background from the earth in the Rockies is 3x the gulf coast. In addition the same should show up in airline workers who get the equivalent of an extra years radiation dose every 10 transcontinental flights.
      So should we evacuate the Rockies and the Colorado plateau? Ban air travel. We definitly better evacuate Mexico City, La Paz Bolivia and the like because they are at a high altitude.
      Biological organisms have evolved in at least a natural background environment since they emerged.
      Note that the Linear dose theory is unproven but according to Wikipedia was adopted for administrative convenience, since it was not clear what a threshold might be, and in an abundance of caution. But if we are really concerned then we need to evacuate large areas of the world.

      1. Paul Jurczak

        Not necessarily. There are other than ionizing radiation cancer causing factors, e.g. free radicals. Lets assume that combined influence of non-radiation factors is say one billion times greater than radiation on NYC population (purely fictional number). By moving to Denver you will increase radiation factor 9 times according to your estimate, so the total change is now 0.0000009%. Good luck detecting this with traditional epidemiological studies!

        The point of the linear model is that a single ionizing particle may cause cancer. Cell repair and other mechanisms will take care of it most of the time, but not always.

        The threshold model is somewhat of a common sense phenomenon: there is not much I can do about background radiation (and many other factors), so lets just go on with the life instead of buying 1kT of lead plates next month to remodel the living room.

        1. Atomkonzerne schlagen


          a single ionizing particle may cause cancer. Cell repair and other mechanisms will take care of it most

          Alpha muons are streaming down from the heavens. Any one of them could give you cancer, but why push it. Play it cool guys. Do as Nancy said, “Just say no!”!

          Grazia
          !

        2. Lyle

          So where are the studies showing higher rates in Denver or indeed Moab Utah, where there are natural uranium deposits? Or indeed the areas in Iran where there are radium springs that put up to the limiting dose for power plant worker out? (Ramsar Iran 260 msev/year). Do we have studies for there or Guarapai Brazil (35) or Kerla India (85). If we really want to see the effect we need studies to see the cancer rates in the high radiation areas. If for example we don’t see a difference in the rate between Leadville,Co (10k feet) and say Midland,Tx (2k feet) then the threshold is at least as high as the exposure in Leadville. So there are studies that can be done to see if the effect is linear at the low dose. It appears that up till now no studies have shown this explicitly. Of course the age of exposure makes a big difference. Just like they let folks over 60 live in the outer ring of Chernobyl, after all if you are 60 and it takes 30 years for the cancer to manifest itself its likley not going to be a problem for you.
          Recall that some 2 billion years ago in Gabon we had a natural nuclear reactor turn on for a few hundred thousand years.

      2. reslez

        Pardon me, but what the heck are you talking about? Studies do show that airline workers get higher rates of cancer. Ignorance on your part does not equal absence.

  5. Charles Peterson

    Pro-nukes often hinge the argument relative to “natural” radiation exposures, either background or enhanced (such as flying in airplane, thereby getting more cosmic rays). So if Fukushima gives you 0.1, and you normally get 1.0 per year, why are you complaining?

    Of course, that additional 0.1 hurts too, and could be the unlucky straw.

    But the elephant in the room is not exposure to radiation so much as intake of radioactive particles that stay in the body sometimes for the rest of your life, thereby having an estimated 1,000 times greater effect than temporary exposures.

    1. reslez

      Everyone alive since 1945 has markers in their bones of human nuclear activity. Anyone trying to pretend the world we live in now is the same as the “ancestral environment” is a lying hack.

  6. Günther Rückl

    SteveK9 says: ” We evolved in a radioactive world and mechanisms of DNA repair, apoptosis of mutated cells etc. are known.” Who is ‘We’. Apes, anthropoids, Lucy,… ? What do we know about the radiation level (what isotopes?) of 5 to 10 million years ago? Very little to nothing. Yes, DNA repair and apoptosis of mutated cells are important repair/clearance mechanisms but do they eliminate all the risk? No. ” low-levels of radiation are harmless”… Maybe for many, even most, people but there will always be people with a more vulnerable genetic outfit. Do you just want to throw them on the trash heap, Steve? Google ‘hormesis’ and look up wikipedia: “The hypothesis of hormesis has generated the most controversy when applied to ionizing radiation. This theory is called radiation hormesis. The commonly accepted model of dose response in radiobiology is the linear no-threshold model (LNT), which assumes a strictly linear dependence between the risk of radiation-induced adverse health effects and radiation dose. The United States National Research Council (part of the National Academy of Sciences), the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (a body commissioned by the United States Congress)and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Ionizing Radiation (UNSCEAR) all agree that radiation hormesis is not clearly shown, nor clearly the rule for radiation doses.” Steve, you see things in black and white and reality is not black or white. Besides, if you make a claim please offer a reference. Dr. Robert Gale does not speak for most of us physicians; please watch http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=8746168177815160826 and read http://www.opednews.com/populum/print_friendly.php?ok=y&p=The-UN-Cover-Up-of-Ionizi-by-Lynda-Williams-110402-171.html&c=a

  7. Carla

    The waste, the waste, the waste. When someone figures out what to do about nuclear waste I will at least listen to arguments for nuclear power. Until then, I am deaf.

Comments are closed.