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"Low Level
Radiation Health Effects: Compiling  the Data"

Revision 1
March 19, 1998

by Radiation, Science, and Health, Inc.
Edited by J. Muckerheide



Professor Emeritus, and Member of the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), of the Central Laboratory for Radiological Protection, Dr. Zbigniew Jaworowski states (1995b) that:

"The ICRP assumption on linearity was not very realistic. It was ... accepted, however, because it simplified regulatory work by allowing extrapolation ... The original purpose was to regulate ... a relatively small group of occupationally exposed persons and it did not involve exceedingly high costs to society.

"The dose limit for the public was set at 50 mSv over a lifetime ... less than one-third of the global average lifetime dose from background radiation ... and many tens or hundreds of times lower than the lifetime dose in many regions of the world.

"Limiting exposure below the levels of natural radiation at which millions of people have lived since time immemorial is a logical consequence of the ... assumption from 1959: if such dose is detrimental, then one should also attempt decrease the risk of background radiation ... or the risk of man-made radiation even at such trivial levels as 1 mSv/year.

"Yet such reasoning was less than palatable to many scientists ... not only because of the epistemological problem of trespassing beyond the limits of knowledge ... but also because of the absurd practical consequences and the moral aspects.

"As demonstrated by Walinder (1987), on the complementarity principle, the stochastic phenomenon of radiation carcinogenesis cannot be for an open system, such as a human being or a population. It can only be done if the radiation dose is much more powerful than the natural dose, combined with other carcinogenic factors ... A conception that mathematical models adapted for high-dose effects can be limitlessly extrapolated to low doses and still represent a biological reality is epistemologically unacceptable (Walinder 1987). The absurd practical consequences were exposed by the Chernobyl accident.

"Long before that Professor W.V. Mayneord, one of the most notable persons in radiation protection and a former member of the UK delegation to UNSCEAR and of ICRP stated (Mayneord 1964): ‘I have always felt that the argument because at higher values of dose an observed effect is proportional to dose, at very low doses there is necessarily some ‘effect’ of dose, however small, is nonsense.’

"Dr. Lauriston Taylor, former president of the US NCRP, defined applications of the linear, no-threshold dose-effect relationship to such calculations as ‘deeply immoral uses of our scientific heritage’ (Taylor 1980).

"The no-threshold arithmetic ... led to a decision by the Supreme Soviet (but against the advice of the leading Soviet scientists (Ilyin 1993) to evacuate about 116,000 inhabitants of Ukraine and Belarus, causing unspeakable suffering and a loss of many billions of dollars, equivalent to about 1.5% of the GNP of the ... Soviet Union (ICP 1991).

"The intervention level for evacuation was a 70-year lifetime radiation dose of 350 mSv, about twice the world average natural background dose (168 mSv). All families with pregnant women and children less than 12 years of age were relocated from areas ... [where] the Cs-137 body burden in children still living in these areas was ... between 40 and 2250 Bq, which is less than the natural burden of radioactive K-40 (4000 Bq) in adults. Body burdens of several thousand Bq are now common in Northern Canada and were as high as 100,000 Bq during weapons tests in the 1960s (Tracy 1994)."

" might ask why governments ... do not relocate populations in (high natural background) areas ... why isn’t everyone evacuated from Norway, where the average lifetime dose is 365 mSv (Henriksen and Saxebol 1988) and in some districts 1500 mSv? Should not regions of India with >2000 mSv (Sunta 1990) be depopulated?

"What about areas of Iran with >3000 mSv? ... (I)n the city of Ramsar several generations in one household have been receiving average individual lifetime doses of natural radiation of 17,000 mSv, 240 times the current ICRP limit. Yet these individuals show no increased incidence of disease, and some of them have lived to be 110 years of age (Sohrabi 1990)."

"The recognition by UNSCEAR, the most distinguished international scientific body on the matters of ionizing radiation, of the possibility that low doses of radiation may result in changes in cells and organisms which reflect an ability to adapt to the effects of radiation, may inspire the authorities to begin a more realistic approach to problems of estimating and managing the risks of ionizing radiation. The past 4 decades witnessed regulatory activity, stemming from the linearity principle, steadily decreasing radiation standards to an absurd sub-natural level of 1 mSv per year. The time is ripe for renunciation of linearity principle in radiation protection of the public and for considering a practical threshold dose as a basis for radiation standards."


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