Cancer Causes (XVIII)

On Health Effects (Cancer Risk) of Small Doses of Ionizing Radiation

"Introductory note: The population of the USA is just over 290 million people. Multiplying the 100,000 figure quoted in the below-mentioned study by 2,900 [10 times 290] and the 410 fatal cases of solid cancers [leukemia is excluded here for some reason- WHY?] in men and 610 fatal solid solid cancers in women we come up with 1,189,000 male cancer deaths just from solid cancers. Again, no data for whatever reason[s] on non-solid cancers. For women, 610 fatal solid cancers times 2,900 is 1,769,000 fatal solid cancers. This presumably is for "just" one year. This is just in the USA.
Adding 1,769,000 to the aforementioned 1,189,000 solid male cancers this totals 2,958,000 male and female fatal solid cancers.
Again, how many more people are killed by radiation of non-solid cancers?"

With New Data, a Debate on Low-Level Radiation

by MATTHEW L. WALD in The New York Times

Published: July 19, 2005

WASHINGTON, July 18 - A report on the health effects of small doses of radiation has renewed a debate on the way exposure is regulated and how the public should regard such doses.

The report, issued by the National Academy of Sciences, incorporates nearly 15 years of new data on atomic bomb survivors in Japan.[1]

It makes only small changes in estimates of the number of fatal cancers that can be expected from a given radiation dose, but it reinforces the idea, opposed by some experts, that even tiny doses may add slightly to risk. The report also gives more detail on cancer cases, concluding that women are more likely than men to contract the disease, given equal doses.

The study estimates that if 100,000 people are exposed to a given dose, it will create 410 fatal cases of solid cancers in men and 610 in women (see introduction).

While the report does not discuss explicitly why women seem to be more vulnerable, the data tables show a high incidence of cancer in female organs and in the breast.

That finding raises the question of whether radiation protection regulations should be rewritten with women in mind, said Arjun Makhijani, a nuclear physicist who runs a foundation that is highly critical of some government nuclear programs.

For example, he said, nuclear power plant workers are limited to a dose of 5 rems per year, a measurement that counts the amount of radiation energy absorbed by flesh, adjusted for different types of radiation. Perhaps, Dr. Makhijani suggested, it should be 3.5, to reflect the idea that women are one-third more sensitive.

But most power plant workers absorb far less than that amount, experts say. At the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Donald A. Cool, a senior adviser to the commission on radiation safety, said that the committee's new report would be considered, along with others that are being prepared, but that the exposure standards were already "prudent."

He noted that those standards were stated two ways, with absolute numbers and with a separate requirement that exposures be "as low as reasonably achievable."

Even though radiation has been intensively studied since the atomic bombings in Japan 60 years ago next month, the effects of low doses are still much in dispute.

The study chairman, Dr. Richard R. Monson of the Harvard School of Public Health, said that while this study varied slightly from the last one, in 1990, the actual rates could be two or three times as high or half as great as the values given, so they were essentially equal.

A medical radiation expert not involved in the study, Robert J. Barish of New York, said the problem was that the association between radiation and cancer was "very weak" at low doses.

"You're measuring a small effect and that could be confounded by all kinds of things," he said.The report, issued late last month, makes clear that the main sources of radiation exposure are natural, not manufactured; for example, it points out that average annual radiation dose in the United States is about three millisieverts, units used for measuring biological damage.

But there is wide variation. People living at sea level, for example, are better shielded from cosmic rays. Some people absorb doses from naturally occurring radiation in rocks and minerals. As a result Florida residents may receive about 2 millisieverts a year, and people in northeastern Washington State, 17 millisieverts.

About 82 percent of radiation exposure is from natural sources, and of the human-generated part, 58 percent comes from medical X-rays and another 21 percent is therapeutic exposures, the report points out.

Consumer products account for 16 percent; occupational exposure and fallout are 2 percent each, and aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle are 1 percent.

The report recommends, among other steps, following the health of people given whole-body scans, which give off doses of radiation much larger than X-rays, to learn about the effects of small doses.

But opponents of nuclear power seized on the decision of the report's authors to continue to support the idea that no dose is without risk. The report said that its observations were consistent with an explanation of the relationship of dose to cancer called "linear no-threshold."

In that model, used to explain the effect of doses that are too small to cause immediate sickness, each time the dose is cut in half, the cancer risk is cut in half, with no lower limit. This is in contrast to other hazards, like some chemicals, in which small exposures appear to have no effect but larger ones can be fatal.

The report was a disappointment for some in the nuclear industry who have argued that no excess deaths are observed for small doses.

"It just didn't look at reams and reams and reams of the most relevant data," said Theodore Rockwell, a veteran of the World War II project to build the first nuclear bombs and later the first nuclear submarines.

He pointed out that the French counterpart of the National Academy of Sciences recently backed away from the idea that small doses were meaningful, concluding instead that radiation damage occurs when the doses become large enough to overwhelm the body's defenses.

Other nuclear professionals took some comfort in some of the findings, though. Peter F. Caracappa, who is the radiation safety officer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, said the report "makes very clear that the risks from low doses are very small."

"I'd say vanishingly small, for the kinds of doses that are typically incurred from operating nuclear power plants," he said.

Dr. Makhijani, though, said the report showed that human-generated doses were very important, even if they were far smaller than the natural ones, simply because they were imposed involuntarily.

"From your neighbor, you're not willing to be punched in the nose," he said, drawing a parallel to industrial activities that cause radiation exposure, "even though God may do very much worse to you."

Footnotes

1 The atomic bomb studies apparently are not based on truth. "The Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists" has exposed this, see thebulletin.org .

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