Nuclear and radiation
neglected by public health for 70 years
Wade Allison, Emeritus Professor of Physics
and Fellow of Keble College, Oxford
21 June 2018
Radioactivity and its radiation is safer
Huge range of radiation doses that are beneficial or harmless
LOW DOSE 0.2 mGy per month, chronic very variable background.
Natural internal source, also rocks, space
MODERATE DOSE 10 mGy, acute or
CT/PET/SPECT diagnostic scan
HIGH DOSE 20,000+ mGy per month,
given in daily fractions to healthy tissue
during the radiotherapy of a tumour
MARIE CURIE pioneered the science and
Welcomed and trusted by the public for
100 years – but how may we explain the
benefits of radiation elsewhere in society
Public health errors and consequences
There is no popular understanding of the simple dangers from radiation,
eg it is not contagious like disease and does not “catch” like fire
In the 1950s all were told that radiation caused many cancer deaths
after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In fact 99% of deaths
were from blast and fire, not radiation (published data)
The nuclear arms race alarmed everybody. In response, the ICRP
safety standard was changed (without evidence) from 70 mGy per
month (1934) to 0.1 mGy per month (today) to appease public opinion
Exciting fiction and media stories were built on fear of radiation.
After Chernobyl many thousand deaths from radiation were expected,
but the published count is 43.
The same happened at Fukushima with zero deaths from radiation.
In both accidents fear caused consequential death, mental illness,
family break up and economic damage, locally and internationally.
Why is radiation so safe?
It is strange given that radiation is so powerful.....
But life has been immersed in ionising radiation for 3,500 million
years – more intensely in the past
Without evolved protection against low and moderate doses life
would not have survived
Multiple layers of overlapping protection work by repairing DNA,
scrapping damaged cells, quenching broken molecules, policing by
a diligent immune system – many of the same mechanisms also
protect against rogue oxygen molecules.
All life needs protection, with/without central nervous system.
Protection is devolved to cells and groups of cells – we are left
unaware of how well we are protected.
At high doses the protection fails, and so there is a threshold
The effect of a radiation dose is not linear
The dead response assumed by LNT (Linear No-Threshold) and ALARA safety
regulations gives the red line.
Real tissue is alive and responds to protect itself – the blue line shows
a non-zero response only above a threshold.
Public reassurance needed in 21st Century
Nuclear power is the only energy source that has no effect on
nature, is carbon-free and is available anywhere and at any time
The only reason nuclear is expensive, unfamiliar and unwelcome
is the unnecessary fearful safety regulations, LNT/ALARA.
per kg Good? Bad?
Power of water,
wind, solar and
100-1000 Old fashioned
1) Huge power
Combustion Coal, oil, gas,
wood, candles 24 million
Nuclear Fission 4 million
1) Compact safe
2) No effect on
Follow Florence Nightingale – illustrate!
She succeeded in showing society what it had previously ignored.
She collected the data, analysed them, drew coloured diagrams
for all to understand, published them herself and demanded change
A simple diagram illustrating the safety
of radiation – and the conclusion
Graphics to illustrate
and those a
thousand times smaller
and those a
million times smaller,
that need not cause
To the public: it is better to appreciate
natural protection than simply to follow
effective natural protection experts on parade in impressive suits
shaped over billions of years that frighten more than protect
Nuclear waste causes no deaths
only unnecessary public concern..
It is easily and safely managed,
unlike human biological waste that causes
millions of deaths per year
Because nuclear fuel carries so much energy,
very little is needed and a correspondingly tiny
amount of waste is produced.
A comparison of wastes per person per day:
Wanted: public education and personal
Children learn early they are responsible for
their own dangerous human waste. Effective
All Japanese learn at school about
earthquakes and tsunamis. They practice what
to do if it happens. In March 2011 they acted
quickly and all but 5% escaped in the short
time before the tsunami arrived. Effective
Everywhere children and adults learn about fire
and engage in fire practice. Effectve
On nuclear matters people are told nothing,
except that safety is assured, an ineffective
and authoritarian policy. When an accident like
Fukushima happens, there is no knowledge,
no plan – only distrust, panic, social and economic breakdown.
A similar lack of nuclear education obtains in all countries.
Sunbathing is a bigger health threat
Solar radiation 1000 watts per sq m (of which small % is UV)
- warm and beneficial
- but causes 9000 skin cancer deaths per year (US).
Nuclear radiation at 100 mGy per month = 1/25,000,000 watts per kg
- far too weak to be felt.
- causes no detectable cancers but is 1000 X the public ALARA limit.
Sensible public health advice about sunbathing safety.
Helpful guidance on a pharmacist's plastic carrier bag
(without a web of overlapping international committees)
What needs to be done now?
Talk to young people – it will be their world and they learn most
Promote reassuring public information about radiation and nuclear
Encourage broader education with less use of thinking delegated to
Urge that the ALARA/LNT Regulations be changed
Reduce Healthcare costs and optimise scans for diagnosis
Alert politicians. Write simple articles and get them published in the
Write books that tell the whole story and encourage people to read
Build nuclear power stations, all/any kind, but design new ones too
Work with others around the world and spread trust in science
We need to talk more with medical staff, school
community leaders, the press, and the public
But how did we get into this mess?
After 1945 political and military imperatives were allowed to Trump
Radiological Safety was set up in the 1950s, the McCarthy Era, when
truth was often classified 'secret' and the subject of espionage
The Nuclear Arms Race with the Soviet Union frightened everybody
on both sides. The extreme regulations were meant to appease them
To bolster their status the regulations were recommended by the
United Nations and became the business of too many bodies
Members of these international committees were not broad enough
scientists to establish them on a wide science-based remit
In each country a safety industry became established, securing jobs
for many who became reluctant to rock the boat. “Job'sworth”!
Until the 21st C it seemed that fossil fuel was a viable option and there
seemed no need to fight the mistaken view of the nuclear option