WILLIAM TUCKER: At Last, Some Common Sense on Fukushima
By William Tucker
Dr. Richard Muller is a Berkeley physics professor with a best-selling book entitled Energy for Future President: The Science Behind the Headlines. For that reason perhaps, he is not afraid to speak up about the enormous public tragedy that is unfolding in Japan and elsewhere around the world over exaggerated fear of nuclear radiation.
In a lengthy front-page piece in the “Review” section of The Wall Street Journal this weekend, Muller picks apart the fears and obfuscations still surrounding the accident Fukushima. He isn’t saying anything different from what Ted Rockwell and other radiation experts have been saying for the past year, but Muller has a public forum and respectability and that may make a difference.
Muller points out the most obvious thing about radiation – it is everywhere and the minor amounts that are the residue of Fukushima are well within the range of variations throughout the world. He uses the example of Denver, where high altitude and proximity to the uranium-laden Rocky Mountains produce radiation exposure that is twice the background level of most other parts of the U.S. and 50 percent higher than what we generally receive from all sources, natural and medical. Applying the “no safe dose” hypothesis – the favorite tool of radiation fear-mongers –would mean that cancer rates in Denver should be higher than the rest of the United States. Yet they are distinctly lower.
What does this suggest? Muller shuns the “hormesis” hypothesis – the theory that low levels of radiation actually inoculate people against cancer by stimulating the body’s defense mechanisms. That idea is not yet widely proven (although there’s lots of supporting evidence) and it’s a little bit too much for the public to swallow right now. You can’t talk hormesis without sounding like a zonked-out weirdo who’s been brainwashed by the nuclear industry.
But Muller points out the obvious. The idea that every little bit of radiation exposure is the equivalent to a dose of cancer is, as he writes, “a theory that has never been tested, will not be tested in the foreseeable future, and . . is known to fail for leukemia.” The U.S. Academy of Sciences and other regulatory bodies have adopted the linear-no-threshold hypothesis on the grounds that “you can’t be too safe” when it comes to radiation, but they readily ignore its implications:
The International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends evacuation of a locality whenever the excess radiation does exceeds .1 rem per year. But that’s one-third of what I call the “Denver dose.” Applied strictly, the ICRP standard would seem to require the immediate evacuation of Denver.
Nonetheless, on the basis of this standard thousands of people have been forced out of their homes. As Muller says, “The long-term evacuation of Fukushima [has] probably caused[d] more harm than good.”
Even more damaging has been the abandonment of nuclear energy, both in Japan and elsewhere:
The great tragedy of the Fukushima accident is that Japan shut down all its nuclear reactors. Even though officials have now turned two back on, the hardships and economic disruption induced by this policy will be enormous and will dwarf any danger from the reactors themselves.
Japan’s economy is in a nosedive. Factories are moving to the Philippines in search of cheaper electricity. The country’s always healthy trade balance has reversed and carbon emissions have skyrocketed.
This panic has also spread to Germany, where even a trained physicist like Angela Merkel has somehow convinced herself that a modern industrial nation can power itself on windmills. Last week Germany announced the opening of two state-of-the-art coal plants. This indicates where Germany’s “green” effort is really going.
It’s encouraging to see an expert such as Muller speaking up on what is a very unpopular issue. Still, I don’t think such experts are going to have much impact until the radiation community starts adopting the tactics of Greenpeace, which is, after all, the world’s greatest PR firm.
I’d like to see a delegation of radiation experts volunteer to go over to Japan and live in the Evacuation Zone for a month to demonstrate to the public just how exaggerated the fears of nuclear radiation really are. As Muller points out, the excess dose of radiation you would get in leaving the confines of Berkeley for the dangers of the Evacuation Zone would be one-third what you would experience in moving from Berkeley to Denver. Maybe a joint delegation from Berkeley and the University of Colorado could lead the expedition.