Radiation and Health: Contrary Evidence (or Maybe Not). Updated.

Update 4/28/11: More links in a Comment below, from an American who lives in Japan.

Update 4/8/ 11   Questions and answers on safety from the serious journal “Nature.” Link at the end of this post. More from the Wall Street Journal, referenced also at the end.

In my previous posting entitled “Radiation Danger, Seriously,”I promised that I would post anything contrary to my impression that there is little quantitative evidence regarding the ill effects on human health. of light and casual exposure to radiation Again, I specified that the evidence had to be quantitative, not merely impressionistic or anecdotal. In the posting, I referred explicitly to the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in the Ukraine. Since it was and is, as of this writing (03/29/11), the worst nuclear accident ever, this reference was tantamount to inviting everyone to show evidence of trailing illness attributable to the accident.

Since the original posting, 14 days ago, this posting has been opened 234 times. Of course, I don’t know how many people actually read it. I assume it’s a large percentage because of the topicality of the piece and because of underlying anxiety. I speculate, probably pessimistically that it was, perhaps 60% or about 140 people. In spite of what I think is the counterintuitive thesis in the piece, I have received not a single contradiction satisfying my simple request for numbers, not one. Instead, I got a cryptic response from one of the listeners to my radio program, “Facts Matter” (Sundays, 11 am to 1 pm, KSCU Santa Cruz 1080 AM). During the show, two days ago, an anonymous listener sent a fax directing me to an article in the Journal of Radiological Protection. I am sure it’s a serious, respected scientific journal. Although the referenced given to me was complete, I was unable to open the article itself. I only gained access to its abstract. The abstract does not described the methods or design of the study except that it appears to be a conventional epidemiological study of a very large exposed population ( more than five million people).

The summary of the study findings is couched in technical terms that I do not understand and it appears to be a translation from Russian, possibly by someone who did not understand the technical terms himself. The abstract seems to allege an increase in thyroid cancers among those exposed to radiation as children. From the abstract, I am unable to judge whether the presumed effect is credible. More importantly, assuming that it is, I was not able to assess how large it was or whether it was even statistically significant. The size of a statistically significant effect matters a great deal: 1 part arsenic per million in my drinking water does not bother me, 10,000 part would probably make me unhappy.

So, I have not much reason to change my perception at this point. This is not to say that the study itself does not comprise striking evidence that casual and light exposure to radiation has major deleterious consequences. I just don’t know much more than I did before my listener called my attention to it.

Again, I realize that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Yet, I am intrigued by the fact that hundreds of thousands of opponents to nuclear energy have not located this study and trumpeted its findings all over the world. After all, some of them are literate. In fact, I am so surprised that I wonder if the study does not show negative evidence. I mean by this that the study may demonstrate that the real ill effects are minuscule. Again, I don’t know this. I am just wondering aloud.

Below is the study’s full reference. Perhaps you will have better luck than I. Please, let me know.

Dynamics of thyroid cancer incidence in Russia following the Chernobyl accident.”

Ivanov VK, Gorsky AI, Tsyb AF, Maksyutov MA, Rastopchin EM.

Medical Radiological Research Centre of Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, Obninsk.

Comment in:

Here:    http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=experts-on-japan-nuclear-crisis-ans-2011-04-06&WT.mc_id=SA_CAT_ENGYSUS_20110407

David J. Brenner has a piece on the dangers of low doses of radiation in the 04/11/11 Wall Street Journal. Dr Brenner is the director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center. His opinion piece: ” Fukushima Radiation Fallout,” does not in any way contradict the remarks I made minimizing the dangers in the two relevant postings. My call for contrary evidence has gone unanswered after more than two hundred and fifty presumed viewings of these posts. (I have to say “presumed  because I only know how many open the postings not how many actually read them.)

About jacquesdelacroix

I am a sociologist, a short-story writer, and a blogger (Facts Matter and Notes On Liberty) in Santa Cruz, California.
This entry was posted in Current Events, Socio-Political Essays and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Radiation and Health: Contrary Evidence (or Maybe Not). Updated.

  1. Sam says:

    Jaques,

    The following link is to an excellent chart of radiation doses from a variety of phenomena. It does not attempt to be and is not the evidence you are looking for one way or another but it is a great guide for non-scientists like us to understand the relative strength and danger of the wide range of radiation doses. He cites sources at the end. I have not examined them but my guess is that they are not studies but the content of studies synthesized for general consumption.

    Hope this helps!

    http://xkcd.com/radiation/

    p.s. Full disclosure: the author is the author of a web comic, which may be taken as a detriment to his credibility on technical scientific matters, however, a quick browsing of the comic will show you that Munroe is quite well informed on nearly all scientific matters (as well as philosophical, mathematical, computational, and pretty much every geek-related matter).

    • jacquesdelacroix says:

      Thanks but I am not trying to gain small understanding on the quick of this vast subject. That seems to me like a losing proposition, like a poor recipe for life in general. I don’t know much about auto mechanics either and it’s not important that I know more. What’s important is that I improve my understanding of what’s a good car mechanic and a credible car mechanic. My approach is this: If it were the case that … then so, ad so, and so would do X, Y or Z. If they don’t, then….

  2. Peter Miller says:

    A couple of new items about radiation:

    Brigadier General Crawford F Sams, MD was chief medical officer during the Occupation in Japan. He says in a 1979 interview that he was directed by higher-ups in the U.S. War Dept to deliver statistics showing high deaths from post-blast radiation at Hiroshima, the purpose being to enhance the post-war deterrent effect of nuclear weapons. So he included anyone who died of any cause, being run over by a bicycle, whatever, for six months following the atomic bombing. He says the U.S. military then believed its won propaganda, and that is the origin on the present-day radiation hysteria. The interview may be heard or read in transcript:
    Washington University Oral History Project;
    http://beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/oral/transcripts/sams.html

    The second item relates to psychological effects of radiation fears.
    Date: Wed, 27 Apr 2011 14:34:12 -0400
    From: “Leo M. Lowe”
    Subject: Psychological Impacts of Chernobyl

    One measure of the real impacts of the fear and stress caused by Chernobyl is the number of induced abortions brought about by perceived potential birth defects. The number of excess induced abortions in Europe due to this fear has been estimated in the tens of thousands, and even higher. For example, see:

    1. Trichopoulos et al “The victims of Chernobyl in Greece: induced
    abortions after the accident” Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987;295;1100.

    2. LB Knudsen “Legally-induced abortions in Denmark after
    Chernobyl” – Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy (1991) 45:229-231.

    These were real lives lost, just out of fear of what could happen
    from “radiation”. Better information given to those exposed
    post-Chernobyl about the real risks of radiation could have saved
    many of these lives.

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