Guest Post: No, a Little Radiation Is NOT Good For You

Washington’s Blog

Government scientists and media shills are now “reexamining” old studies that show that radioactive substances like plutonium cause cancer and arguing that exposure to low doses of radiation is good for us (a theory called “hormesis”).

It is not just bubbleheads like Ann Coulter and pro-nuclear hacks like Lawrence Solomon are saying it as well. In virtually every discussion on the risk of nuclear radiation, someone post comments arguing that a little radiation makes us healthier.

However, the official position is that there is insufficient data to support the hormesis theory: As Wikipedia notes:

Consensus reports by the United States National Research Council and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) have upheld that insufficient human data on radiation hormesis exists to supplant the Linear no-threshold model (LNT). Therefore, the LNT continues to be the model generally used by regulatory agencies for human radiation exposure.


The notion of radiation hormesis has been rejected by the National Research Council’s (part of the National Academy of Sciences) 16 year long study on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation. “The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial.

See this, this, this and this.

Most proponents of the hormesis theory claim that data from the residents of Nagasaki and Hiroshima shows that residents exposed to low levels of radiation (i.e. some miles from the bomb blasts) lived longer than residents who lived so far away that they were not exposed to any radiation.

However, as Reuters noted in 2000:

Japanese survivors of the atomic bomb have their life expectancy reduced by an average about 4 months, which does not support claims that survivors exposed to low levels of radiation live longer than comparable unexposed individuals.

To clarify the question of whether atomic bomb survivors have enhanced or reduced life expectancy, Drs. John B. Cologne and Dale L. Preston from the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, Hiroshima, Japan, studied 120,321 survivors and estimated their radiation exposure and mortality rates after 45 years of follow up.

They report in the July 22nd issue of The Lancet that median life expectancy fell by about 1.3 years per Gy of estimated radiation dose, and declined faster at higher doses. At doses below 1 Gy, median life expectancy fell by about 2 months, while exposures of greater than 1 Gy resulted in a median loss of life of 2.6 years.

Drs. Cologne and Preston estimate that at a dose of 1 Gy, 60% of those exposed died from solid cancer, 30% from illnesses other than cancer, and 10% from leukemia.

“These results are important in light of the recent finding that radiation significantly increases mortality rates for causes other than cancer,” they write.

A large study of bone cancer in survivors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima published in March of this year also showed no hormesis, but rather increased cancer risk even at low doses. (See this and this for more evidence that low levels of radiation can cause cancer.)

Other data has also been misinterpreted by those who advocate that a little radiation is good for you. For example, the above-quoted Wikipedia article notes:

In popular treatments of radiation hormesis, a study of the inhabitants of apartment buildings in Taiwan has received prominent attention. The building materials had been accidentally contaminated with Cobalt-60 but the study found cancer mortality rates more than 20 times lower than in the population as a whole. However, this study compared the relatively young irradiated population with the much older general population of Taiwan, which is a major flaw. A subsequent study by Hwang et al. (2006) found a significant exposure-dependent increase in cancer in the irradiated population, particularly leukemia in men and thyroid cancer in women, though this trend is only detected amongst those who were first exposed before the age of 30. This study also found that rate of total cancer cases was lower than expected.

Even If Hormesis is Real, We’ve Got Too Much of a Good Thing

Even if the accepted scientific consensus is wrong and hormesis is real, we’re getting too much of a good thing.

As I’ve previously noted:

There Are NO Background Levels of Radioactive Caesium or Iodine

Wikipedia provides some details on the distribution of cesium-137 due to human activities:

Small amounts of caesium-134 and caesium-137 were released into the environment during nearly all nuclear weapon tests and some nuclear accidents, most notably the Chernobyl disaster. As of 2005, caesium-137 is the principal source of radiation in the zone of alienation around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Together with caesium-134, iodine-131, and strontium-90, caesium-137 was among the isotopes with greatest health impact distributed by the reactor explosion.

The mean contamination of caesium-137 in Germany following the Chernobyl disaster was 2000 to 4000 Bq/m2. This corresponds to a contamination of 1 mg/km2 of caesium-137, totaling about 500 grams deposited over all of Germany.Caesium-137 is unique in that it is totally anthropogenic. Unlike most other radioisotopes, caesium-137 is not produced from its non-radioactive isotope, but from uranium. It did not occur in nature before nuclear weapons testing began. By observing the characteristic gamma rays emitted by this isotope, it is possible to determine whether the contents of a given sealed container were made before or after the advent of atomic bomb explosions. This procedure has been used by researchers to check the authenticity of certain rare wines, most notably the purported “Jefferson bottles”.

As the EPA notes:

Cesium-133 is the only naturally occurring isotope and is non-radioactive; all other isotopes, including cesium-137, are produced by human activity.

So there was no “background radiation” for caesium-137 before above-ground nuclear testing and nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl.

Similarly, I’ve pointed out:

The Argonne National Laboratory notes:

Essentially all the plutonium on earth has been created within the past six decades by human activities involving fissionable materials.


Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, which ceased worldwide by 1980, generated most environmental plutonium. About 10,000 kg were released to the atmosphere during these tests.

Average plutonium levels in surface soil from fallout range from about 0.01 to 0.1 picocurie per gram (pCi/g).

Accidents and other releases from weapons production facilities have caused greater localized contamination.

So like radioactive cesium and iodide – which I discussed yesterday – plutonium doesn’t exist in nature in any significant quantity, and so “background radiation” is a meaningless concept.

In other words, even if a little radiation is good for us, we have already been getting exposed to a lot more radiation – from nuclear weapons tests, Chernobyl, Japan and other sources – than our ancestors were ever exposed to.

Indeed, even if the studies did show that low level exposure by the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki helped them live longer, background radiation in 1945 was much lower than after above-ground nuclear tests, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Other Toxic Exposures

It’s not only apologists for the safety-averse nuclear power industry which is trying to convince us of hormesis. Apologists for all big polluters are arguing hormesis as well.

Wikipedia describes the general theory:

Hormesis … is the term for generally favorable biological responses to low exposures to toxins and other stressors.

Even if radiation hormesis is true, we are exposed to a wide range of toxic chemicals, including BPA in our cans, rocket fuel in our drinking water, mercury in our fish, and many others.

Even if any toxic substances might have a hormesis effect in a vacuum, we are not exposed to chemicals in a vacuum … we are exposed to several chemicals at the same time. Indeed, scientists long ago demonstrated the “synergistic effect” of toxins, where:

The combined effect of the substances acting together is greater than the sum of the effects of the substances acting by themselves .

For example, smokers are much more likely to get cancer from exposure to radioactive radon gas than non-smokers.

So even if there is hormesis from a chemical at low doses (hormesis promoters claim that low level exposures cause our body to produce a wave of antioxidants and other cancer-fighters), by the time we get swamped with the myriad of toxic chemicals and radiation exposures present in modern life, our body’s defense mechanisms become so overextended that any hormesis effect is lost.

The bottom line: Some more radiation from Japan or a new nuclear power plant will not be good for us.

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About George Washington

George Washington is the head writer at Washington’s Blog. A busy professional and former adjunct professor, George’s insatiable curiousity causes him to write on a wide variety of topics, including economics, finance, the environment and politics. For further details, ask Keith Alexander…


  1. eightnine2718281828mu5

    It is not just bubbleheads like Ann Coulter

    If Coulter wants Pu in her water supply I won’t stand in the way.

    1. majia

      Internal emitters–radiation that is inhaled or consumed–are fundamentally different in their impact to the body than external exposure to beta and alpha radiation.

      (The body does not assimilate the radioactive potassium from bananas. Don’t believe me? Check wikipedia on this.

      ‘Radiation doses and risks from internal emitters.” Journal of Radiological protection. published in 2008 by John Harrison and Phillip Day





      External exposure cannot be compared with internal exposure.

      Type of radiation is very important when predicting effects.

      Radioactive elements inside the body don’t evenly distribute energy and may have higher outputs towards the end of their track

      DNA damage need not be restricted to the directly impacted cells through bystander effects


      It is absurd to compare the epidemiological significance of Fukushima with the cancer rates of populations living at high elevations or with any measure of “background” radiation populations are exposed to typically (in the absence of contamination caused by nuclear or coal plants, etc)!

      It is absurd to compare X-Rays with consumed Iodine, Cesium, or Plutonium.

      Populations vary in their susceptibility with children being the most vulnerable (this from many other studies)

      Low-Dose radiation suppresses the body’s adaptive response against genomic instability

      Huang L, Kim PM, Nickoloff JA, Morgan WF. 2007. Targeted and nontargeted effects of low-dose ionizing radiation on delayed genomic instability in human cells. Cancer Research 67:1099–1104.

      “The demonstration of a bystander effect in 3D human tissues and, more recently, in whole organisms have clear implication of the potential relevance of the non-targeted response to human health. The observations that the progeny of non-targeted cells show an increase in genomic instability as evidenced by an increase in delayed mutations and chromosomal aberrations many generations afterwards indicate the need for a comprehensive assessment of the bystander issue, particularly among genetically susceptible populations….” (


      “Overall, the evidence from the studies conducted following the Chernobyl accident, nuclear tests, environmental radiation pollution and indoor accidental contamination reveals consistently increased chromosome aberration and micronuclei frequency in exposed than in referent children…. Future research in this area should be focused on studies providing information on: (a) effects on children caused by low doses of radiation; (b) effects on children from combined exposure to low doses of radiation and chemical agents from food, water and air; and (c) specific effects from exposure during early childhood (radioisotopes from water, radon in homes). Special consideration should also be given to a possible impact of a radiochemical environment to the development of an adaptive response for genomic damage”

      Fucic, A.; Brunborg, G.; Lasan, R.; Jezek, D.; Knudsen, L.E.; Merlo, D.F..Genomic damage in children accidentally exposed to ionizing radiation: A review of the literature. By: Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research, Jan2008, Vol. 658 Issue 1/2, p111-123, 13p;


      “In a recent paper (Wakeford et al 2009 Leukaemia 23 770–6) we stimated the proportion of childhood leukaemia incidence in Great Britain attributable to natural background radiation to be about 20%.

  2. Hal Horvath

    “…comments arguing that a little radiation makes us healthier.”

    I did read hundreds of comments over weeks of time, and did not see this claim in such a pure way. This appears a strawman here in this forum. Is there some nut somewhere on the internet that argues this? Of course. Any foolish argument can be found somewhere on the internet. Is it representative of arguments that question the effects of low doses? Not at all. Not even close.

    Instead, for instance, I saw some nuanced discussion about how does the body react to extremely low doses. You should see words like “threshold” and “linear extrapolation” etc.

    The body is constantly killing off defective cells. High doses of radiation overwhelm this defense with too numerous a quantity of pre-cancerous cells. It is a numbers game. So is aging itself. They are complex processes, and not susceptible to easy generalizations.

    Worse though is the use of the label “apologist”, which is akin to the use of the label “socialist” to mis-label and obscure various efforts at health insurance regulation and inclusion.

    It amounts to a smear against comments that question your argument. Of course, smears are commonplace.

    But why don’t you rise above that level and elevate yourself?

    Give me arguments without labels, please. Give me something real, not hand-waving.

    It is very reasonable to question the safety of spent-fuel pools (indeed they frighten me more as I learn more). It is far-fetched, but rational, to question whether the EPA is giving accurate data, though if data is confirmed from independent sources it would remove such a question. There’s work for you. Can you dis-prove the EPA data in a more scientific and less rhetorical way? I would actually delve into that if you did, and use the information. I’d spread the knowledge. See, I’m neither pro- nor anti- nuclear. Please avoid labels.

    1. Ish

      People. Hal Horvath comes on here reliably every post about radiation or nuclear power to dominate the discussion with his views. Perhaps people, this time you won’t feed the trolls.

    2. curmudgeonly troll

      hear hear

      I don’t think our most pressing concern is that people will suddenly start thinking radiation is good for them because Ann Coulter says so.

      not sure why I keep reading this stuff, another 3 minutes of Sunday wasted LOL

    3. Hal Horvath

      The real science attempts to figure this low-dose effect out just are not simple:

      “DNA damage responses encompass pathways
      of DNA repair and signal transduction
      processes that serve to effect cell
      cycle checkpoint arrest and apoptosis.
      For DNA double strand breaks (DSB), the
      most biologically significant lesion
      induced by ionizing radiation, the major
      DSB rejoining process is DNA nonhomologous
      end-joining and the most significant
      signaling pathway is dependent upon the
      kinase, ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3
      related ATM. Mammalian DNA is wrapped
      within chromatin; regions of DNA that are
      frequently transcribed lie with euchromatic
      DNA whilst heterochromatin regions,
      which are likely not transcribed, are more
      tightly packaged. This packaging makes
      DNA difficult to repair and hence the repair
      of even low levels of DSBs can take place
      over many hours. The DSB signal transduction
      pathway regulates a process
      called cell-cycle checkpoint arrest, which
      arrests cells at critical places in the cell
      cycle, to allow additional time for repair
      before processes such as replication or
      mitosis. Whilst DSB repair is important for
      survival postirradiation and cell-cycle
      checkpoint arrest is important for the
      maintenance of genomic stability, it is the
      cooperation between the two processes
      that is really critical to avoid genomic
      instability. Surprisingly, however, recent
      studies have suggested that the cell-cycle
      checkpoint that regulates entry into mitosis
      from G2 is not sensitive to a single
      DSB but rather allows progression of cells
      with 10 to 20 DSBs to progress into mitosis.
      Moreover, it does not appear to be
      activated by very low doses of radiation
      inducing less than this number of DSBs.
      This aspect of the damage response
      exposes a potential window allowing
      genomic instability to arise even after low
      doses of radiation. This will be discussed
      in the context of evaluating the risk from
      radiation exposure.”

      Distrust simple assertions.

    4. Ray Phenicie

      I have anticipated your very question and all of your concerns about rhetoric. Since my own efforts have been so very great on this, I will just sent you to the fruits of my labor straight away.

  3. eightnine2718281828mu5

    I did read hundreds of comments over weeks of time, and did not see this claim in such a pure way

    I suggest you watch the Coulter video that Yves so kindly provided in which Coulter clearly states that a 5x exposure of radon is good for you.

    Coulter should have been asked if, based on her statement, she adds radon to her environment. And if not, why?

    1. Hal Horvath

      You are asking me to defend Ann C? Oh my, one of the least interesting and least informed persons I’ve ever had the misfortune of hearing for more than a few seconds (to my regret). So, the smear is working. We all then disappear into a fog of labels, and argument, no matter how careful or nuanced, is rendered mute. You are either with us or against us, etc.

      No thanks. We can’t even say you can just trust the opposite of whatever Ann C. says to be true (tempting, I know!), but instead it just appears that there is little correlation at all to reality, positive or negative. Just noise, so far as real facts are concerned. But I wish it was just noise so far as political effects are concerned.

      1. eightnine2718281828mu5

        did not see this claim in such a pure way

        You are asking me to defend Ann C?

        Not asking for a defense; you said it was never stated in a pure way. Coulter’s video is straight, no-chaser.

      2. Yves Smith

        Washington has provided links to other sources making the same “a little extra radiation won’t hurt you and might even be beneficial” from people a tad more credible than Coulter in prior posts here. So you are more than a tad out of line.

        Saying you have found someone who provides a nuanced view does not disprove the fact that Washington has multiple sightings of the argument he is disputing. I even recall seeing one that Washington did not cite, and I hardly go looking for this sort of thing.

  4. quixote

    There are people out there propounding that century-old drivel about a little radiation being good for you? Maybe somebody needs to update them that nobody’s been to Radium Springs for “the cure” since the 1930s.

    To Hal Horvath: when there is overwhelming scientific evidence supporting facts (such as that any dose of hard radiation causes cell damage), then calling people who refuse to educate themselves “apologists” is entirely appropriate. There are enough studies cited in the post to satisfy anyone who wants to learn. How did you miss them all?

    1. Hal Horvath

      See my comments above. I’m against the over-simplifications and strawmen.

      1. reslez

        Wow, Horvath. I’m sorry you have to work on Sunday. I used to notice NC gets fewer trolls on weekends, but now I see they make you guys work weekends too.

  5. quixote

    There are people out there propounding that century-old drivel about a little radiation being good for you? Maybe somebody needs to update them that nobody’s been to Radium Springs for “the cure” since the 1930s.

    To Hal Horvath: when there is overwhelming scientific evidence supporting facts (such as that any dose of hard radiation causes cell damage), then calling people who refuse to educate themselves “apologists” is entirely appropriate. There are enough studies cited in the post to satisfy anyone who wants to learn. How did you miss them all?

  6. Jim A

    Well you’re right about the silliness of the theory of radiation hormesis. Just about anything study that is dealing with statistics down that close to the “noise” level is easily thrown by any accidental systemic error.

    OTOH, I really DON’T think that it is meaningless to talk about background levels of radiation. It just doesn’t matter whether the gamma-ray that breaks a DNA strand and may lead to cancer came from a naturally occuring isotope, a man-made isotope, or cosmic radiation. Naturally occuring radiation sources can kill you just as dead as manmande ones. Home grown, hand rolled cigarettes are MUCH more likely to give you cancer than the typical dose from living a mile away from a properly functioning nuclear power plant.

    While we DO have to hold exposures that people have no choice in to a MUCH higher level of scrutiny that one that people choose, it is worthwhile to look at the cost benefit choices that people make in their lives when making public policy decisions.

    1. reslez

      It just doesn’t matter whether the gamma-ray that breaks a DNA strand and may lead to cancer came from a naturally occuring isotope, a man-made isotope, or cosmic radiation

      Based on what evidence? Man I get so sick of watching people declare known poison safe based on sheer opinion. Maybe you’re not one of those guys, exactly, but you’re close enough to confuse the issue. When you post things like this consider what master you serve.

      1. RufusW

        The point is whether or not low levels of radiation have deleterious effects. That high levels of radiation can kill you is not disputed, but there is little to no evidence that low level radiation is harmful (it may temporarily harm a cell but repair mechanisms act quickly to repair the damage) and some evidence (you may consider it spurious, but nevertheless it has gone through peer review) that it could be beneficial in certain respects. By your logic we could never use salt or many other substances, as high levels of salt kill.

  7. BWR Mark I

    Oppenheimer met Truman – he eventually lost his security clearance, and the rest was history.

  8. charles 2

    few points :

    The Hwang study : is definitely not about low-dose. The individual receiving the highest radiation got an estimate 2363 mSv ! I wish they had restricted their study to the less than 20mSv per year population, which is the commonly accepted low-dose domain.

    “Cesium 137 does not occur in nature” : Cesium is biologically similar to potassium, which happens to have a radioactive isotope (potassium) that spews the same beta radiation from Cesium (beta radiation), with approximately the same energy (source wolfram alpha). The body has no way to tell the difference between a beta particle from Cesium and a beta particle from Potassium. The activity of Potassium 40 is around 60 Bq per kg of body mass (Potassium is 0.2% of body mass, Potassium 40 is 0.0117% of natural potassium, and Potassium 40 activity is 265400 Bq/g). Environmental Cesium 137 exposure due to bombs in the atmosphere or Chernobyl is of the same order of magnitude.

    “by the time we get swamped with the myriad of toxic chemicals and radiation exposures present in modern life, our body’s defense mechanisms become so overextended that any hormesis effect is lost.”

    It may be so ! But let’s not forget that :
    a) modern life in itself is hugely positive in terms of health, despite the “myriad of toxic chemicals and radiation exposures”, if only because we can use a significant part of the wealth modern life produces to pay for hygiene, healthy food, well-trained health professional and the development of successful drugs ;
    b) therefore we want to keep modern life, that goes with a fairly high energy usage, while striving to lower the waste ;
    c) so the point is not looking at radiation risk on an absolute basis, but on a relative basis. If nuclear power can displace or diminish a source of higher pollution or any other externalities (for instance, mountain-top coal mining) for the same energy benefit, it should be used.

    Approaches such as the ExternE study or the recabs project at the IEA are the right way to do it. (I am not endorsing one methodology or another, as both have their strengths and weaknesses. I am just saying that this is how we should frame the debate)

  9. JohnL

    Come on people, before you get all breathless about low dose exposures, do a quick little bit of research and discover how much you get exposed to every day.
    PS stay away from basements, bananas and airplanes.


    1. reslez

      I realize the world is much less worrisome when you convince yourself that unavoidable dangers are hardly dangerous at all. Yet there is a big difference between radioactivity and radiation, just as there is a difference between naturally occurring potassium isotopes and nuclear waste. Chiding those who appreciate the distinction and bullying those who don’t is either a disservice or an odious idiocy.

      The subtext of your post is that Fukushima is on the scale of a banana or an airplane ride. Frankly, you terrify me.

  10. Hal Horvath

    The edits in the post have improved it now. Better without the term “apologists”. But even narrowing and focusing the labels still is…well, labeling. The problem with using labels is that it leads to error sooner or later.

    About the excerpt I noted above regarding DNA repair vs DBs, it might be a fascinating avenue whereby evolution could have an specific driver here — small mutations (DBs) may be allowed to slip past the defenses at a small rate. Fascinating. And of course it is a way that small radiation (which is always present through all time) can cause a natural cancer rate also. Altogether, such a mechanism would make a non-linear curve at the low end.

    I’m afraid I won’t have time to discuss this further here, but it will be discussed scientifically I’m sure.

  11. bob goodwin

    cesium-137 may not be natural, but there are plenty of other natural radioactive material in the world.

    I would not live in the chernobyl exclusion zone, but the health effects on have been studied on the animal populations, and have been lower than expected. I suspect that man-made radiation has not been the most dangerous thing man has made (war, swimming pools?)

  12. Crocodile Chuck

    1)We have about 0.8m of DNA in each of our ten trillion cells (excluding erythrocytes)
    2)Every day about a billion base pairs are damaged in each of our cells
    3) Over the eons, we have developed extremely sophisticated enzyme repair systems to mitigate this. There are five main categories; more here:
    4) Hundreds of millions of years ago, levels of radiation were much higher than today, eg the ozone layer was not as robust and minerals/rocks were much more radioactive (the concept of ‘half-life’)

    Leaving to one side the sensationalist claim that ‘radiation is good for you’, the notion that ANY is harmful is naive, for the reasons laid out above.

    We swim in it everyday, and life has evolved to deal with it. UPSHOT: the so called ‘Linear No Threshold’ theory is probably incorrect.

  13. Crocodile Chuck

    Error in post above-every day about a MILLION base pairs experience damage in each of our cells.

  14. Max424

    I love how in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” our protagonists trek through poisoned lands filled with cannibals (a journey of hope!) to reach the sea (the redeeming sea!), and when they get there, they find, if anything, the sea is more toxic that the land.

    Too funny! Man, I tell ya, at that point in the novel, I laughed my balls off. That McCarthy, what a jokester.

    Which got me to thinking as I read this post; which geographical area, do you think, contains the most poison, northern Honshu, or the Gulf of Mexico? Land or sea? When I watch testimonials like this one, I lean toward the Gulf,

    but I have to admit, I think northern Honshu has FAR greater potential — and this is coming from a man who has concluded that many tens of thousands of Gulf residents will die, long before their time, as a result of relatively minor amounts of exposure to Oil & Corexit Stew.

  15. Elliot

    The banana-radiation thing was debunked @ the Guardian weeks ago, dahlings.

    And as one who read the “it was little and relatively harmless radiation at Hiroshima & Nagasaki” crapola years ago, it didn’t make sense then because it was NONSENSE. And it’s still nonsense.

    It’s nice to see that the N-industry is skeert enough it’s making Hal work overtime, though. I hope you’re missing your favorite sports games and time with your family, Hal. Shilling for poison and sociopathic industries should be embarrassing and sad.

  16. Nameless

    Regarding the Reuters/Lancet article on Japanese survivors. If they are dealing with doses on the order of 1 Gy, that’s largely irrelevant to the question of hormesis, because 1 Gy is way more than “a little of radiation” in almost anyone’s book. (Consider that the median lethal dose for a short-term whole body exposure is generally considered to be around 5 Gy, though advances in medicine may push that number upwards somewhat.) Besides, Japanese survivors were likely to receive all that dose in a relatively brief burst (at the moment of explosion). Hormesis presupposes levels of radiation which are slightly elevated over your entire lifetime. A better approach would be to study populations living at different distances from Chernobyl and look at their mortality rates. Unfortunately, most of the area that was affected by fallout from Chernobyl is in ex-USSR, and their overall situation with health and mortality is so messed up (life expectancy under 65, last I checked, even in unaffected areas) that there’s just too much noise to make any conclusions about this specific factor.

    It is not true that background radiation levels (typically, ~2.4 millisievert/year) are much higher today than they were back in 1945. Nuclear weapons testing increased the background by less than 1% (just check Wikipedia!). A lot of background comes from naturally occurring sources, like radon and potassium-40.

    1. Nameless

      To expound on that point, here’s a random scientific article I found on that argues for radiation hormesis, but also says that it decreases in response to acute doses “above about 100 mGy” and is not observed above 500 mGy.

      It can be safely said that absolutely no one except for some workers on Fukushima plant, and certainly no one this side of the big pond, got more than 100 mGy as a result of the incident.

  17. Jani

    “we have already been getting exposed to a lot more radiation – from nuclear weapons tests, Chernobyl, Japan and other sources – than our ancestors were ever exposed to.”

    Nonsense.For example, by far the most exposed group of people in Finland were the Sami people (the ones herding reindeers). Between 1955-1985 they got an additional dose of 0.4mSv/year from the nuclear weapons test (Chernobyl was similar in magnitude). This is about one tenth of the natural dose, so I am not sure what you mean by “a lot more”. Incidentally the Sami people have a substantially lower (about 30%) risk of getting cancer than the rest of the Finns.

    1. RufusW

      Is it now? Prof. Gofman made several predictions of the numbers of deaths attributable to radiation exposure from the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl accidents using a linear no-threshold model; 333 deaths for Three Mile Island and 500000 deaths for Chernobyl. His predictions are not born out in the evidence available to us now (unless you choose to believe that absurd Greenpeace report with its somewhat “interesting” methodology). It doesn’t seem like linear no-threshold models work in reality.

      1. RufusW

        I should clarify, I mean that linear no-threshold models do not work in the low level dose limit. They do work at higher dose levels, as is born out in the data for Hiroshima and Nagasaki and elsewhere.

  18. LhasaDatchi

    And I don’t see any mention of the recent ozone depletion of our atmosphere thus increasing our dosages. I think we’re all getting plenty enough of radiation over our short life-span. Do I really need more? ;)

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