The ‘unscientific’ approach to Radiation Risk

This post was going to be about the ICRP’s (International Committee on Radiological Protection) risk model. However, Dr Chris Busby has recently written1 an article for The Ecologist which covers some of what I was going to say. However, there are a few additional points I would like to make.

It is important to note that many of what are called ‘anti-nuclear’ arguments do not need this critique since they merely take the ICRP risk factors and apply them2. This gives about 5000 fatal cancers from Fukushima and more than 32,000 from Chernobyl.

To go onto the ‘unscientific’ way in which these risk model is applied it is important to understand something about the scientific method used. Since there are variables which can affect cancer risk in the real world understanding what is happening is a bit like detective work. There has been a murder and Colonel Mustard has been caught near the body with a bit of lead piping. So you think that he is the murderer. However, a little bit later a new bit of evidence appears. Professor Plum is found with a candlestick with the victims blood on it. There are several things that you can do with this new evidence:

  • ignore it
  • make it fit your original theory (Colonel Mustard must have given the candlestick to Professor Plum
  • rethink your original theory and think – maybe it was Professor Plum who is the murderer

Unfortunately many studies on the affects of radiation take the first two approaches rather than the last – they apply the risk factors from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, which as Dr Busby explains may be wrong1. If there is evidence that contradicts this – e.g.. more people are dying of cancer than you expect – then the evidence is either ignored or modified to fit the theory.

For example the number of people suffering ill health due to Chernobyl is greater than you would expect from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki data. Therefore there must be some other factor – they started smoking or started having promiscuous sex.

These are theoretical calculations based on the Hiroshima model that you say that if you have a certain radioactivity you know from Hiroshima that so and so many would die from it…

Hans Blix3

Similarly the leukaemia cluster near Sellafield was put down to various factors other than radiation since the radiation dose was ‘too small to create the affect’.

One of the things that prompted this post was a talk my Timothy Mousseau:

Again the evidence is ignored since it does not fit the theory.

Source Term

The evidence of more harm occurring than would be calculated from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki studies may not be solely or totally due to the calculated risk factors being wrong.

When there is a radiation exposure it is necessary to estimate the ‘source term’. i.e. how much radiation was released and how much the population was exposed to this radiation. This can be very difficult to estimate and different estimates can vary by several orders of magnitude.

Other Problems with Hiroshima and Nagasaki

There are several other problems with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki data which I am sure Dr Busby is aware of but is not in his article. The study was not started until five years after the bombings so some of the people more vulnerable to radiation affects would have already died and were not included in the study. There is also a problem with ‘missing doses’ in the studies4.

The evidence of risks greater than predicted by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki studies may or may not be criticised for the scientific methods and analysis used. However, they should not be rejected since they do not fit the ‘established theory’.


 

1 The ICRP’s radiation risk model is bogus science, The Ecologist, 2 October 2014 (http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2596275/the_icrps_radiation_risk_model_is_bogus_science.html)

2 New UNSCEAR Report on Fukushima: Collective Doses, Ian Fairlie, 2 April 2014 (http://www.ianfairlie.org/news/new-unscear-report-on-fukushima-collective-doses/)

3 The True Battle of Chernobyl (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBAT13Bt9Ic) – this film is well worth watching if you have not seen it already.

4 Missing Doses in the Life Span Study of Japanese Atomic Bomb Survivor, David B. Richardson, Steve Wing, and Stephen R. Cole, American Journal of Epidemiology Advance Access published February 20, 2013 (http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2013/02/20/aje.kws362.full.pdf)

 

 

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One Response to “The ‘unscientific’ approach to Radiation Risk”

  • PCAH says:

    Download the US Environmental Protection paper from http://www.epa.gov/radiation/radionuclides which identifies individual radionuclides, lists their health effects and how to test patients for the causal evidence. It also describes the nuclear radiation illness progression from early symptoms through to end stage premature deaths from central nervous system illnesses plus heritable genetic mutations causing birth defects and lifetime handicaps.


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