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Viewpoint: Demystifying radiation - the nemesis of nuclear energy?

07 September 2018


1. As many as ten years ago, UNSCEAR estimated that public radiation exposure attributable to nuclear power generation was minute. Radiation exposure from nuclear power is several orders of magnitude lower than the exposures people normally experience from natural radiation sources, such as cosmic radiation and emissions from the many natural radioactive elements present in Earth since primordial times. Radiology and nuclear medicine used in hospitals expose patients to relatively high levels of radiation in comparison with nuclear power. In fact, UNSCEAR estimated that the global annual average radiation dose to the public attributable to the full nuclear fuel cycle was 1/10000 of that from other sources.
2. Following these estimates and in response to theoretical calculations of the health effects caused by low radiation exposures, UNSCEAR considered the attribution of health effects to different levels of exposure to ionizing radiation and reached, inter alia, the following conclusions:
  • Increases in the incidence of health effects cannot be attributed reliably to chronic exposure to radiation at levels that are typical of the global average background levels of radiation.
  • It does not therefore recommend multiplying very low doses by large numbers of individuals to estimate the number of radiation-induced health effects within a population exposed to incremental doses at levels equivalent to or lower than natural background levels.
  • Increases in the incidence of hereditary effects among the human population cannot be attributed to radiation exposure.
  • Finally, while recognising that public health bodies need to allocate resources appropriately and that this may involve making projections of numbers of health effects for comparative purposes, UNSCEAR emphasised that: this method could be useful, provided it was applied consistently; uncertainties in the assessments were taken fully into account; and it were not inferred that the projected health effects were other than notional.
3. More recently, UNSCEAR has estimated radiation exposures attributable to the generation of electricity through different technologies to show the differences resulting from each technology. It concluded, inter alia, that:
  • Radiation exposures attributable to the generation of electricity are generally low in comparison with the exposure from other sources, such as natural or medical.
  • Notwithstanding, the larger radiation exposures due to electrical energy generation are not delivered by nuclear energy but mainly by coal and geothermal plants.
  • Surprisingly, the larger exposures due to the installation of electrical power plants are caused by the installation of solar and wind plants, which results from the use of rare earth minerals and estimates of occupational exposures for their mining.
UNSCEAR has produced comprehensive ad hoc reports on two of the three accidents that have occurred in the nuclear industry with radiation consequences. For Three Mile Island, the exposure was so minute that this was not even included in the UNSCEAR conclusions. For Chernobyl, UNSCEAR reported that the major radiation impact was on the emergency workers responding to the accident and on children who were fed contaminated milk, but among the general public to date there has been no consistent evidence of any other health effect that can be attributed to radiation exposure. For Fukushima, UNSCEAR reported that: no radiation-related deaths or acute diseases have been observed among the workers and general public exposed to radiation from the accident; the doses to the general public, both those incurred during the first year and estimated for their lifetimes, are generally low or very low; and no discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among those exposed.



González is a senior adviser with the Argentine Nuclear Regulatory Authority, Argentine representative at UNSCEAR, a member of the Commission of Safety Standards at the International Atomic Energy Agency, and a member of the Argentine delegation to IAEA's General Conference and Board of Governors.

I challenge readers to choose any statement made in this article and have a go at refuting it.
The feather shows the Fukushima fallout, the radioactive particulate matter that adhered to the feather.  The radioactive particulate matter would have adhered to lung tissue. An autoradiograph of the bird would show the same pattern on the surface of the bird but body tissue would block the visible signs of any radioactive particulate matter that adhered to the lungs.

Food and blood have been irradiated with X-ray and gamma ray to destroy biological pathogens, they do not make the products radioactive.
Quote:However, opponents of food irradiation aren’t satisfied that the technique is safe, and question whether long-term effects might include genetic damage and cancer, as some data from animal studies have suggested. There is also evidence that irradiation destroys some vitamins in food and creates dangerous trans-fatty acids in meat.

Irradiated Salt Demonstration

Neutron activation is the process in which neutron radiation induces radioactivity in materials, and occurs when atomic nuclei capture free neutrons, becoming heavier and entering excited states. The excited nucleus often decays immediately by emitting gamma rays, or particles such as beta particles, alpha particles, fission products and neutrons (in nuclear fission).

So much is known and safely discussed about external sources.  Little consideration is given to the external sources that get internalized.  Perhaps the ICRP scientists at UNSCEAR forgot about these nuclear workers.  

IRRADIATED: Will the nation’s new nuclear age yield more ...
This investigation looks across 10 states at the accounts of workers, experts, activists and government officials to reveal an unprecedented glimpse of the costs of war and the risks of a strong defense.
The hidden legacy of 70 years of atomic weaponry: At least 33,480 Americans dead
Will the nation’s new nuclear age yield more unwanted fallout?
December 11, 2015
By Rob Hotakainen, Lindsay Wise, Frank Matt and Samantha Ehlinger
McClatchy Washington Bureau

To all, a Happy New Year.
"The map is not the territory that it is a map of ... the word is not the thing being referred to."
For an example of a natural source, when Nitrogen in the air gets bombarded with solar flux, neutron activation converts a Nitrogen atom to an atom of Carbon-14 and releases energy.

For neutron activation here on the surface of the Earth we use nuclear technology.  Here's technical information on activation products created in a nuclear reactor.  

Preliminary Estimation of Long-lived Activation Products ...
be exposed to the radiation from the activation products in the reactor vessel. The thermal, epithermal and fast neutron fluxes in the reactor vessel of the SMART reactor were calculated using the GEOSHIELD code1). The radioactivity due to activation products in the structural material of …

How can UNSCEAR mention hazards of mining rare earth elements without mentioning the known hazards of uranium mining? Agenda based science?
"The map is not the territory that it is a map of ... the word is not the thing being referred to."

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