Nuclear power: Are we too anxious about the risks of radiation?


Following U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recent restatement of the United Kingdom’s commitment to nuclear power, BBC News chief environment correspondent, Justin Rowlatt, wrote an article aimed at separating fact from fiction regarding the safety and benefits of nuclear energy.

Among his points, Rowlatt defended the use of nuclear power to combat climate change, examined the data behind deaths from radiation exposure directly caused by the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents, and explained that exposure to low levels of radiation is not a major health risk.

Feature Article

Harnessing the promise of radiation: The art of reasonableness

Radiation has benefited mankind in many ways, including its use as an energy source and an indispensable tool in medicine. Since the turn of the 20th century, society has sought ways to harness its potential, while at the same time recognizing that radiological exposures need to be carefully controlled. Out of these efforts, and the work of many dedicated professionals, the principles of justification, optimization, and limitation have emerged as guiding concepts.

Justification means that the use of radiation, from any radiation source, must do more good than harm. The concept of optimization calls for the use of radiation at a level that is as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA). Dose constraints, or limitation, are meant to assist in reaching optimization and protection against harm by setting recommended numerical levels of radiation exposure from a particular source or sources. Together, these three principles form the bedrock of the international radiation protection system that drives decision-­making and supports societal confidence that radiation is being used in a responsible manner.

Letter from the CEO

Low-dose radiation has found its analogue

Craig Piercy

Originally published in the September 2020 issue of Nuclear News.

This issue of Nuclear News is dedicated to highlighting advancements in health physics and radiation protection as well as the contributions of the men and women who serve in these fields. It comes at a time when COVID-19 is providing the entire world with an immersive primer on the science of epidemiology and the importance of risk-informed, performance-based behavior to contain an invisible—yet deadly—antagonist.

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Piercy discusses wide-ranging topics on Titans of Nuclear podcast

ANS Executive Director/CEO Craig Piercy was a recent guest on the Titans of Nuclear podcast, hosted by Bret Kugelmass. The podcasts feature interviews with experts throughout the nuclear community, covering advanced technology, economics, policy, industry, and more.

The wide-ranging discussion with Piercy tackled diverse subjects—from his Washington, D.C., policymaking background, to ANS’s role in addressing challenging nuclear issues, to waste management and climate change.

Elettra designated an IAEA collaborating center

A collaborating center agreement was signed by Elettra Sincrotrone Trieste and the International Atomic Energy Agency in May. The agreement focuses on advanced light sources and will support countries in research, development, and capacity building in the application of advanced and innovative radiation technologies.

Fact-checking Amazon's new season of Bosch

The latest season of Amazon’s detective series Bosch premiered recently on its streaming service, Prime. The season opens with the murder of a medical physicist and the theft of radioactive cesium, with plenty of drama following as the protagonist tries to solve the murder and end the “catastrophic threat to Los Angeles.” The show is a work of fiction, but let’s take a closer look at the depiction of radiation to sort out the scientific facts.

The setup: The series stars Titus Welliver as Los Angeles Police Department detective Harry Bosch and Jamie Hector as his partner, Jerry Edgar. The first episode of the sixth and latest season begins late in the evening at a Los Angeles hospital. We are shown a nervous-looking medical physicist as he walks into a laboratory, the camera dramatically focusing on the radiation sign on the door. No one else is around as the medical physicist clears out the lab’s inventory of what we find out later is cesium. The physicist then walks the material out of the hospital without anyone giving him a second look.

How HBO Got It Wrong On Chernobyl

I just knew it! I was hoping I'd be wrong, that HBO would have the courage and integrity to do their homework and consult even one actual nuclear scientist or radiobiologist. Or even just read the United Nations Chernobyl Forum Report, the best source of information on the disaster for non-nuclear people.

RadioNuclear 22: HBO’s Chernobyl: A Setback or Opportunity?

Episode 22 of RadioNuclear is now available. In this episode, we discuss the recent miniseries "Chernobyl", which recently concluded on HBO. We debunk some of the more egregious articles written in the wake of the show (see links to these articles below). We also discuss good ways to engage with individuals who are captivated with the show, and not necessarily familiar with nuclear technology.

Anniversary Observations

The seismic event was huge and was felt all over the world.  With a moment magnitude of over 9.0, the earthquake and was the fourth largest ever in the more than 100 years of recorded history.  Huge land masses shifted as much as 2.4 meters, and the rotation of the earth was changed so that days were suddenly just a little (but measurable) bit shorter.  It had sped up the world.

EBR-1 in Photos

December 20, 1951 marks an important date in the history of nuclear power; it's the date on which the first useful electric power was generated by atomic fission.  While the now-famous event at that time only powered four light bulbs, the somewhat stunt-like nature of the day obscured the fact that the plant was actually set up to generate considerably more power, and did so.  Let's take a look at this fact and, at the same time, the facility through illustrations from my collection and from photographs that I took myself while touring EBR-1 earlier this year.

Listen: ANS Member Dr. Christopher Morrison on Space Radiation & More

TheSpaceShowANS member Dr. Christopher Morrison was a recent guest on The Space Show. Dr. Morrison covered space radiation, lifetime radiation limitations, legal limits, rodent GCR and radiation experimentation, terrestrial radiation simulations, space nuclear power & propulsion, super-cooling conductivity.

The Mother of Radiation: Marie Curie

Marie CurieThe start of Marie Curie's story isn't like most of the other scientists that  had made a name for themselves throughout history, mostly because she was a grown woman by the start of the 20th century. But she was the first woman to do a lot of things, including getting a Ph.D. from a university in France, and winning a Nobel Prize. She was also the first person ever to win a Nobel Prize in two different fields of science. To say she pushed the societal and scientific boundaries of her era is an understatement.

Nuclear Medicine Radiates Hope For Patients

As a fourth year nursing student working in Chicago area hospitals, I deal with nuclear medicine quite often. The term "nuclear medicine" can sound disconcerting, but when you are familiar with it, I assure you, it's not. Just think of it as a bunch of necessary medical tools with a little radiation thrown in. I know what you are thinking. Radiation? What? Relax. It's fine. You already know it, and either you, or someone you know, has been exposed to this specific area of medicine via certain procedures.

National Nuclear Science Week 2018 Kicks Off

Navigating Nuclear with Bob Fine and Dr. Eric Loewen

Proposed Revisions to Nuclear Plant Release/Public Exposure Regulations: ANS Response to EPA

DC PerspectivesIn January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) concerning 40 CFR 190-the regulations that govern public exposure and release of radioactive materials resulting from normal nuclear power plant operations (it does not pertain to nuclear accidents). The public comment period for the proposed rulemaking ended on August 3.

Nuclear professionals: Establish standing now to improve operational radiation limits

On August 3, 2014, the window will close on a rare opportunity to use the political process to strongly support the use of science to establish radiation protection regulations. Though it is not terribly difficult for existing light water reactors and fuel cycle facilities to meet the existing limits from 40 CFR 190 regarding doses to the general public and annual release rate limits for specific isotopes, there is no scientific basis for the current limits. If they are maintained, it would hinder the deployment of many potentially valuable technologies that could help humanity achieve a growing level of prosperity while achieving substantial reductions in air pollution and persistent greenhouse gases like CO2.

Accepting the Science of Biological Effects of Low Level Radiation

A group of past presidents and fellows of the American Nuclear Society has composed an important open letter to ANS on a topic that has been the subject of controversy since before I first joined the society in 1994. The subject line of that letter is "Resolving the issue of the science of biological effects of low level radiation." The letter is currently the only item on a new web site that has been created in memory of Ted Rockwell, one of the pioneers of ANS and the namesake of its award for lifetime achievement.

Food Irradiation Can Save Thousands of Lives Each Year

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 6 people get food poisoning each year in the United States and that 3000 die from foodborne illness. Food irradiation can drastically decrease these numbers by killing harmful bacteria such as E. coli and Salmonella in meat and produce. The U.S. government endorses the use of food irradiation, but does not educate the public about its benefits. Food irradiation has not caught on in the United States because consumers fear that radiation will mutate the food. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires a label (pictured below) for any food that has been irradiated.