Nuclear power has always had its adversaries. Long before Three Mile Island, anti-nuclear “experts” spewed warnings about two-headed fish and leukemia epidemics. In this post-Fukushima age, there is just so much disinformation about nuclear power floating around, counter-balancing the flow of falsehoods with accurate information can feel like an overwhelming challenge.
But someone’s has got to do it. So here I go.
Energy News is ‘reporting’*:
“Legal Expert: 3 police died of acute leukemia after being sent to Fukushima within 50 kilometers of plant”
And that article links to another article saying the same, which links to a blog that is deleted. So, we are to believe some unsourced, unknown, non-cited pseudo-person says three people died of leukemia so it must have been from Fukushima. (It couldn’t have been any other carcinogen. No, no…) Behold, the internet says it is so, so it must be true.
Dude, that is not science.
The background radiation dose received by humans from naturally occurring sources is 2.4 mSv per year globally, 3.0 mSv in the United States. (FUN TIP: If you want to find your estimated personal annual radiation dose, you can use the interactive Personal Annual Radiation Dose Calculator on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission‘s website.) In comparison, the annual radiation dose limit for radiation workers in the United States is 50 mSv (5 rem). But the dose radiation workers actually receive is substantially smaller than the legal limit. For example, in 2010 the average radiation dose actually received by U.S. radiation workers was 1.7 mSv (0.17 rem). (NUREG-0173, 2012)
In 2006, the National Research Council’s Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) developed risk models for estimating the relationship between exposure to low levels of low -LET (linear energy transfer) ionizing radiation (such as gamma rays) and harmful health effects (ISBN: 0-309-53040-7 ). The committee defined low dose as doses from zero to about 100 mSv. (That’s 10 rem!)
The BEIR risk model predicted that approximately 1 person in 100 would be expected to develop solid cancer or leukemia from a dose of 100 mSv above background (3 mSv), while approximately 42 individuals per 100 would be expected to develop solid cancer or leukemia from other causes.
Per the BEIR model, lower doses would produce proportionally lower risks. For example, the committee predicted that approximately 1 individual per 1000 would develop cancer from an exposure to 10 mSv. In comparison, approximately 1 individual per 100 would be expected to develop cancer from a lifetime exposure to low-LET, natural background radiation (excluding radon, which is high-LET radiation).
So, while there is a correlation between significant (compared to background radiation dose) exposure to ionizing radiation and leukemia risk, there are many other contributing factors that contribute far more to the risk for developing the disease. Workers exposed to certain carcinogenic chemicals over a long period of time, such as benzene, are at much higher risk. Some genetic conditions, like Down’s Syndrome, can increase risk, as well as electromagnetic fields, cancer drugs, and even smoking.
The claim made in that Energy [non]-News – I can’t even call it an article! – blurb are purely hysterical. Any claim that cancer or leukemia was caused by radiation dose by someone not involved in epidemiological studies of the correlation between radiation exposure and cancer should be taken with a very big boulder of salt.
*I can’t even link there because this site is just that bad. If you really want to read it, google can help you out.