Friday, April 15, 2016

Yes, You Can Be Too Careful (Part 2)

Bernard Cohen reports, in his book The Nuclear Energy Option, [Plenum Press, New York, 1990] that $100,000 in medical treatments or highway safety improvements would save a life. Government, meanwhile, spends - or requires the spending of - $2.5 billion (yes, that's billion) to save a life from radiation exposure at the cost of 25,000 less "obvious" lives. And it now appears that the life supposedly saved from low-level radiation wasn't saved at all, as it is surfacing that the decrease in hormetic range radiation is actually costing lives.

Another appalling case reported by Rod Adams, editor of Atomic Energy Insights, involved a project used to blast out "contaminated soil" near the nuclear reactor at McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. Battling potentially lethal weather conditions, the task was completed at considerable risk to the workers and immense cost to taxpayers. So what was done with the offending material that may have caused a needed hormetic effect in the radiation-poor polar region? It was shipped (at another obscene cost to the taxpayers) to the United States, where it was used for parking lot fill in Port Hueneme, California.

Rather than trying to paraphrase the flowing and informative prose of Dr. Rockwell, here is a final example of government's mindless adherence to the Linear No-Threshold hypothesis - in his words:

"The question of whether tiny amounts of radiation must be avoided, even at great cost, is neither abstract nor trivial. Hundreds of billions of dollars are to be spent 'remediating' U.S. sites even though there is no scientific basis for claiming any health or other benefit. Worldwide, this cost has been estimated at more than a trillion dollars. [A more recent estimate, based on actual remediation projects, is $3 trillion worldwide, and $1 trillion for the United States alone. Using the figure of $20 million per life sacrificed, a trillion dollars is equal to 50,000 lives at the shrine of the Linear No-Threshold hypothesis.]

"This is in addition to the unquantifiable cost of lives lost by fear of mammograms, radioactive smoke detectors, irradiated food, or other beneficial uses of radiation. Most, if not all, of this cost would be saved if we did not try to reduce radiation levels below the natural radiation background, which is several hundred times lower than the lowest levels at which any health effects have been found."

Rockwell continues:

"But one person's wasted tax money is another's lucrative contract. Here's one example to remember. At some 46 sites in 14 states, there are some 82 million cubic feet of uranium tailings left over from the wartime weapons program. This material is what is left when you take as much uranium out of the natural ore as you can. It is now less radioactive than the original ore, and 20 times less radioactive than what the law calls "low-level waste." There is a lot of natural rock that is more radioactive. [Emphasis added.]

"The Dawn Mining Company was recently licensed to haul 35 million cubic feet of this material from the East Coast to a huge pit at its closed uranium mine near Ford, Washington. The material will travel to Spokane by train, then be transferred to trucks for the trip to the final destination. The company says this will require about 40 very large trucks, with six to nine axles and weighing 93,000 pounds each when loaded. These trucks will travel over the back roads each day for 260 days a year for five to seven years."

Of course, this doesn't include the expense of maintaining the roads under this unplanned-for load and the cost of the statistically certain accidents that will result from 93,000 pound trucks travelling some 5 million miles. But if you weren't lucky enough to get this contract, don't fret. There are another 47 million cubic feet of this material at other locations across the country. While you won't be producing any beneficial health effects, nobody really cares... and it's just taxpayers' money.

Even our state officials charged with insuring the public health are rebelling against the EPA and other heavy-handed federal government intrusions that have the force of law. For example, the EPA limit on radium-226 in drinking water is 5 pCi/l (0.18 Bq/l). The average adult will consume about one liter of water per day. Is there any evidence that 6 pCi/l will harm you? Not a whit. Yet to remove the radium is an expensive proposition borne by the local citizenry for an arbitrary, bureaucratic caprice. [A South Carolina rural water district manager recently told me that one of their wells tested at 5.6 pCi/l, requiring special treatment at a cost of $30,000 per year to the customer base for that single well.]

What evidence is there concerning the harm of ingesting radium - in addition to the fact that people have been drinking the water for hundreds of years without ill effects?

There is good evidence of a death from radium about sixty years ago. But it wasn't from drinking water with 6 pCi/l.

In 1928, an eccentric millionaire, Eben Byers, was so enthusiastic about the invigorating qualities of a radium-based patent medicine that he partook of three to four vials per day of Radithor. Each vial contained 3,500,000 pCi of radium - a 1,918-year supply according to the EPA's limitations. He eventually died of his addiction after ingesting an estimated 10 billion pCi - a 5,480,000-year dose consumed in three years.

Eben isn't the whole story, however. There were 400,000 to 500,000 vials of Radithor sold with no indication that it caused any problems whatsoever. With what other "poison" can you consume 700,000 times the government-dictated maximum dose and still walk away... not once, but on a regular basis? Could the poison be in the dose?

While support for the LNT and collective dose is rapidly waning in light of the evidence brought forth by Luckey, Cohen, and a growing flood of researchers, there are still those who will (or perhaps feel they must) defend these hypotheses. Do they do so with evidence, such as dose-response curves? Not once have I seen low-level evidence showing increased risk - unless it was an extrapolation from high-level data. The response is invariably the same: It is better to err on the side of safety than to take any chances on the possibility of an increased cancer risk.

If you're building a bridge, it doesn't cost much to increase its safety factor; a little more steel and concrete will do the trick. But the same doesn't go when building an airplane, as too great an emphasis on structural safety factors would keep the airplane from ever getting airborne. Regulators and bureaucrats - who are willing to see nuclear technology and hormesis research stay on the ground rather than expend the effort required to give a proper analysis to the overwhelming amount of data pointing to the threshold/hormesis models - are doing a great disservice to those whom they claim to be safeguarding. Whenever any of them starts feeling complacent about their rules and how they might be helping to save some theoretical life somewhere, I wish they would think a few seconds about a number - the number 100,000.

That's the lower estimate of unborn children who were aborted out of a totally unreasonable fear of their being "nuclear monsters" [after Chernobyl]. I wonder if those (almost) mothers sacrificed any Mozarts or Madame Curies or Salks on the altar of the LNT?