Challenge: Establish the scientific basis for modern low-dose radiation regulation.
How: Establish the scientific basis and guidelines for the health effects of low-dose radiation and replace the current Linear-No-Threshold approach with a modern, science-backed model for nuclear radiation safety.
Background: The Linear-No-Threshold (LNT) model is based on high dose rate nuclear weapons data. Its application to nuclear reactor, medial, and irradiation applications is tenuous at best. New evidence in radiation and chemical toxicity fields is suggesting that LNT models are likely overly conservative, and the way in which they are used makes this conservatism inordinately expensive. While LNT is very straightforward to regulate, scientific evidence from the past several decades has indicated that low doses of radiation do not pose risk of cancer in a linear fashion, as is well-established among higher doses of radiation.
Today, the principle of As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) has in many cases lost the "reasonable" aspect, as nuclear power plants micromanage every milliroentgen (mR) of worker dose in order to meet metrics of dose reduction. Unnecessary fear of low doses of radiation has adversely impacted safety and enabled cumulative costs to build up within the U.S. nuclear energy industry such that building and maintaining plants is now overly cumbersome and expensive.
If the LNT model can be replaced with a modern, scientifically defensible model, underpinned by the latest microbiology research methods (genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, etc.), we can achieve both higher levels of safety while reducing unnecessary operations and waste disposal costs. One approach may be to establish a generally-accepted common measure of risk and a de minimis “threshold of regulatory concern,” socialized, and incorporated into relevant standards and regulation. Ultimately, this effort could enable broader, more cost-effective application of nuclear technologies, which in turn would provide significant additional benefits in cleaner air, less carbon, and more lives saved from deadly diseases.