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Friday, May 08, 2009


In 1983 a group of 180 apartment buildings was completed in Taiwan. Somebody had made a serious mistake. They had mixed into the concrete a considerable amount of highly radioactive cobalt 60. This meant that ultimately 10,000 people lived in buildings for from 9 to 20 years so radioactive that they received an average of 74 mSv of radiation per year in 1983, declining thereafter as cobalt 60 has a half life of 5 ½ years. This compares with a rate of 0.5 mSv above background which is the normal maximum exposure for radiation workers & total of 15 mSv maximum safe limit for land fit for habitation according to US government standards.

According to the linear no threshold (LNT) theory currently in use world-wide for assessing nuclear risks there is no lower limit to the level at which radioactivity kills (hence the term "no threshold") & this, inhabited for a decade & a half before the radioactivity was traced & measured, should be the site of a truly massive cancer death rate.

It isn't.

A thorough & methodical tracing of all the 4,000 families by a team led by W. L Chen of Taiwan's Director of Medical Radiation Technology of Taiwan's National Yang-Ming University (the full report is available in English on ) has resulted in an unequivocal & spectacular result. Cancer rates in that highly radioactive building are down to 3.6% of prevailing Taiwanese rates.

For many years there has been an unfashionable alternative to the LNT theory called hormesis. This is an effect, long observed in plants & cultures, whereby intermediate level radioactivity actually stimulates life & improves health. There has been significant evidence for this (the deaths at Hiroshima did not appear to fit the LNT pattern, there are places in India & Iran with background radiation of 15mSv or higher with no observed increase in cancer & numerous studies of radon in homes have found a reverse correlation between radon levels & cancer). Nonetheless, such has been our fear of all things nuclear that the LNT theory has been absolutely accepted despite the fact that there has NEVER been any actual evidence for it.

This study, however, is so detailed, has such well-defined boundary conditions & in proving a reduction in cancers of 96.4% has such a clear result that there can no longer be any intellectual doubt whatsoever. Radioactivity, up to 50mSv, is good for us.

This is reminiscent of the time when Galileo turned his telescope to the skies & for all time disproved the, then politically correct though scientifically shaky, theory that the Sun revolved around the Earth. True the Pope of the time forced him to recant or be dealt with as heretics then were. True it took a long time to bury. However from the time of Galileo's observations the official theory was dead. Unlike normal life, in science the truth always wins in the end though sometimes the end can be a long time coming & much pain may be caused in the interim. This is because while opinions change repeatable science results remain the same - that is the nature of the universe.

The effect of this proof on our nuclear power industries can hardly be underestimated since with the collapse of the theory go most of the fears that have so crippled it. The effect on medicine however cannot even begin to be estimated as the way is now open for serious research on how hormesis works & how it can be used to serve mankind. It is interesting to note that the healing water from the world's great spas has always been mildly radioactive & medicine has heretofore been unable to find out why - I wonder what the future holds for such places.

Yours Sincerely Neil Craig

Thank you for a cogent summary. More on this can be found at. for those interested.

For many years the NRDC and other "pro-environment" groups have insisted that all radiation is dangerous no matter what the level, and cumulative as well, so that the only safe action is to eliminate radiation. Of course there is natural radiation, which varies from place to place; sealing one's house allows radon to accumulate, raising the radiation in the house, sometimes to surprising levels; and going to higher altitudes always results in higher exposures, so much so that airline crews get quite a lot of radiation exposure, enough to be of concern.

The NRDC hasn't quite said that we must evacuate Denver and Colorado Springs as dangerous radiation hazards, but such a policy would be logical, given their "scientific" assumptions.

The alternative theories of radiation are the ancient pharmaceutical doctrine "The dose makes the poison," (i.e. that a some low enough level radiation is irrelevant), and "hormesis", which combines the "dose makes the poison" doctrine with the not entirely intuitive discovery that at low enough levels, radiation is actually good for you.

The hormesis hypothesis has been confirmed many times. One study was by the Swedish Army, which accumulated data on conscripts (Sweden has universal manhood conscription) from areas of known high radiation and compared their health statistics to recruits from areas matched in other characteristics. The conclusion was very much in favor of the hormesis theory. One participant in the study was Claes-Gustav Nordquist, the Surgeon Colonel of the Lifeguards Regiment who was until his retirement one of the leading oncologists in Sweden. There have been many others, but Claes is an old friend so I learned a good bit about the details of that study.

Despite the plethora of data confirming hormesis, the "environmental" movement continues to insist on the LNT (Linear, No Threshold) theory and this is one of their reasons for opposition to nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels.

This is a reprint from Jerry Pournelle's back in May 2004 & is also on the first entry on this blog which is a composite of various items I had previously put on my AOL homepage.

Back then I thought I had made a great discovery the effect of which "can hardly be underestimated" which shows how naive I was. At the time I thought that sending out letters to the world's press on this would get noticed but in fact, apart from Jerry's & subsequent reproduction on New Scientist online (I had to blackmail them into even that much) & a very much later letter in the Scottish Daily Mail media censorship has been virtually total.

Recently Radio Scotland had a silly news item about radon gas which said that Radon was the 2nd greatest cause of lung cancer & though I emailed them to say that the evidence says the opposite they continued to broadcast the same "news" item with this lie. The propaganda position is well, typically, put in this wikipedia article on the subject which relies heavily on saying what the "consensus reports" & relegating the experimental evidence to the end together with a bit of statistical obfuscation. By comparison the article on the LNT theory relies entirely on describing the "consensus", making no mention of experimental evidence (there is none supporting LNT) & describing hormesis as "extreme" without explanation. By comparison honest articles are here & here & with the graph here.

I stand by my comparison of hormesis/LNT as being comparable to Galileo's contention that the Earth goes round the Sun V the consensus that the Sun orbited the Earth except that in the latter case most observational evidence fitted the consensus equally well. Copernicus' book was published in 1543 & Galileo died, convicted of believing the Earth orbits the Sun, in 1642 so western science can't yet be said, with certainty, to be more under political control than during the 17thC Inquisition. When Galileo died the mantle of scientific leadership, rightly & inevitably, passed to Protestant northern Europe.

My various articles containing the word hormesis are here. I have reprinted this here to make it it more accessible & because I expect to have a Big Engineering item related to it shortly. I am also sending the original letter back out - we will see if things have changed.


Thanks, Neil, for your information on radiation hormesis.
Patricia Lewis
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Always read the citing papers for followups. Here are two that fill in some of the missing demographic information -- the info that the author of that first paper said was needed to determine whether the effect he suspected is real.
Both of these look to me like a data dredge - you take all the data and fit it to as many subgroups as possible until one of them shows the trend desired. Random chance being what it is it is inevitable that something will have such a trend.

The first link shows a longer than average time to pregnancy, among women alone - not more still births or anything for which there might be a credible linking mechanism.

The 2nd finds an increased cancer rate but only among under 30s. Cancer in under 30s is very rare and this increase must be in only a handful of people if that, which is not a statistical population. It is not mentioned whether there is any possible age range above 30 where there is a smaller than average number of cancers but simple chance should have produced such a result.

In which case this is more consistent with a determination to "prove" LNT than an impartial examination.
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