Unless you are a specialist on radiation, a lot can be left to the imagination, and as we cannot sense radioactivity, our fear comes from the unknown.
From some careful reading around the subject, the collective agreement as to what makes a ‘safe’ level of radiation, are somewhat biased; recent research into the cell biology and the ability to withstand radiation from such as radiation therapy used in cancer has shown that we are able to tolerate levels of radiation much higher than previously thought, and benefit from low doses – e.g. sunlight and radon therapy, which are beneficial as long as exposure time is managed.
Currently, the ICRP (International Commission for Radiological Protection) dose-response safe radiation limits are based on a straight line graph called a hypothetical ‘linear no threshold’ ‘LNT’ model.
This assumes that no cancer risk means absolutely no exposure to any sort of radiation.
The truth is that low level radiation is not only unavoidable, but can also be beneficial, e.g. sunlight exposure to produce vitamins vital for healthy growth. However, this LNT model doesn’t account for this so it could be argued quite strongly that real life dose-response relationships are not linear and this is an out-dated model.
In addition, the nuclear industry in the UK has adopted a principle called ‘ALARA – As low as reasonably achievable’ to minimise radiation levels, whatever the cost, even though in reality the safe levels are orders of magnitude above that required to be adhered to. This means that a radiological ‘breach’ or ‘leak’, most likely harmless, going to happen frequently, and make the nuclear industry look careless and neglectful.
Nothing is without risk but there needs to be some perspective here, to realign some truths about the levels of what should be deemed (un)acceptable into the decision making process to prevent further loss of lives. For example, it was the fear and stress of evacuation and relocation of people from Fukushima that caused premature deaths. Not one person died as a result of radiation exposure.
Huge amounts of money go into proving, by way of nuclear safety reports on regulated sites, that they are fail-safe and a miniscule chance of death can result to anyone near or far. Such expenses make the nuclear option prohibitive, whereas in fact, the nuclear industry has one of the safest records per TWh energy production.
It is time to re-evaluate if we are to continue to feed our voracious consumer appetites for energy as the alternative to fossil fuels.