Monday, 28 March 2011

A sensible article about radiation on the BBC news website

I am in shock there is a sensible article about radiation on the BBC news website. Admittedly it is just a Viewpoint article and it does not get many links to it but it is there. The views expressed by Wade Allison are sensible, rational and well argued but the BBC will still give more time on phone-ins to people with no scientific knowledge who just know that anything nuclear is bad.

The whole article is a definite must read and I will be printing out copies for all the nuclear-phobes that I meet on a daily basis. Here are a few extracts:
'Chernobyl? The latest UN report published on 28 February confirms the known death toll - 28 fatalities among emergency workers, plus 15 fatal cases of child thyroid cancer - which would have been avoided if iodine tablets had been taken (as they have now in Japan). And in each case the numbers are minute compared with the 3,800 at Bhopal in 1984, who died as a result of a leak of chemicals from the Union Carbide pesticide plant.


A map of Chernobyl in the UN report shows regions shaded according to rate, up to 3,700 kBq per sq m - areas with less than 37 kBq per sq m are not shaded at all. In round terms, this suggests that the radioactive fallout at Fukushima is less than 1% of that at Chernobyl.

The other important radioisotope in fallout is iodine, which can cause child thyroid cancer.

This is only produced when the reactor is on and quickly decays once the reactor shuts down (it has a half life of eight days). The old fuel rods in storage at Fukushima, though radioactive, contain no iodine.

But at Chernobyl the full inventory of iodine and caesium was released in the initial explosion, so that at Fukushima any release of iodine should be much less than 1% of that at Chernobyl - with an effect reduced still further by iodine tablets.

Unfortunately, public authorities react by providing over-cautious guidance - and this simply escalates public concern.


To cope with the friendly fire of such nuclear propaganda on the home front, ever tighter radiation regulations were enacted in order to keep all contact with radiation As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA), as the principle became known.

This attempt at reassurance is the basis of international radiation safety regulations today, which suggest an upper limit for the general public of 1 mSv per year above natural levels.

This very low figure is not a danger level, rather it's a small addition to the levels found in nature - a British person is exposed to 2.7 mSv per year, on average. My book Radiation and Reason argues that a responsible danger level based on current science would be 100 mSv per month, with a lifelong limit of 5,000 mSv, not 1 mSv per year.


Some might ask whether I would accept it if it were buried 100 metres under my own house? My answer would be: "Yes, why not?" More generally, we should stop running away from radiation. '
And who is Wade Allison?
'Wade Allison is a nuclear and medical physicist at the University of Oxford, the author of Radiation and Reason (2009) and Fundamental Physics for Probing and Imaging (2006).'

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