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Safe Radiation

A lie I deal with:

That “limited regulated releases” of radiation are safe.

The BEIR report (Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation) shows that there is no lower limit on radiation exposure that does not carry a negative health effect. All exposures to radiation, including medical and dental exposures, and natural background exposures, carry an epidemiological risk. Cumulatively they combine with other environmental factors and genetic factors to increase the risks of cancer, birth defects, mutations, and the general malaise and lack of disease resistance that are the primary effect of low dose radiation exposure. Nuclear regulatory agencies base their regulatory regimes on an antiquated philosophy of utilitarianism. Briefly, utilitarianism uses the greatest good for the greatest number as its criterion of value. First articulated in 1780 by Jeremy Bentham, there are a number of problems with this:

1) The philosophy has generally been superseded by a human rights philosophy under which no individual should have the security of their person threatened.

2) There is no real way to calculate and quantify the benefits and costs in applying the utilitarian philosophy to practical matters.

3) In the particular matter of radiation, we can see that the distribution of costs and benefits is inequitable. That is, the costs, i.e. low dose exposures, from say, tritium from nuclear power plants, radon from mine tailings, as well as incidental exposures from higher dose sources throughout the industry, are distributed widely throughout populations generally at random. Those exposed are generally not able to decide if they want to be exposed or not. The benefits of nuclear enterprise, however, are concentrated to a much smaller population cohort, i.e. nuclear industry owners and employees, regulatory agency staff, militarists who rely on weapons, and so on, who are able to chose if they want to be in that group receiving the benefits.

In a nutshell, that is the lie. The use of the principles of “limited regulated releases” and exposures “as low as reasonably achievable” (the ALARA principle) by nuclear industry is not safe because it does not recognize that there is no exposure that is without risk, and that there is no ability among populations to choose not to be exposed.

Sincerely:

Philip Kienholz

US born, Minnesota youth > Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada during Vietnam war, architecture degree U of MB; Buddhist lay monk; Northwest Territories Dept Public Works and Services 1993 – 2011 managing construction projects. Retired architect, writer.

Comments (3)

  • Jeff L

    The ALARA concept is used for human imaging/exposure not the nuclear industry. It relates to using the lowest dose to achieve the benefit from medical imaging. I believe the author’s misconstruing of the concept to an industry for which it is not intended will do more harm than good.

    Benefits of medical imaging CAN and are computed as evidenced by numerous scientific articles.

  • Philip Kienholz

    In Canada, where I live, the ALARA principle is used as a safety principle throughout the nuclear industry, not only in medical imaging. Certainly there are benefits to the use of radiation in medical imaging, but Jeff L. has not addressed the concurrent risks of exposure in his comment, which speaks only of benefits.

    Individual medical patients have the right to refuse X-rays, but with the generalized distribution of radiation, such as from the former atomic bomb testing programs, or with current and future failures at nuclear power plants, or with radon gas from uranium mine tailings, one has far less ability, if any, to select to be exposed or not.

    There is the also an issue with disposal of obsolete X-ray equipment that is radioactive–not always done responsibly. The US nuclear regulator is now proposing to remove restrictions on releasing radioactive components into waste metal streams for recycling!

    Warning: this comment is a troll-free zone.

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