An error on the side of conservatism in estimating a danger can be, at worst, a delaying nuisance for the promoters of the technology. An error on the side of optimism, leading to some underestimation of the true hazard, can be extremely costly to the human species. We can always later allow more exposure to a poison, such as radioactivity, if we learn that it can be tolerated. We cannot undo genetic and chromosomal damage from overdoses of poison already consumed.
For nuclear electricity generation, the by-product poison is radioactivity (or radiation itself). Any of the hundreds of radioactive substances produced in the course of all phases of nuclear electricity generation can be harmful to man, from uranium mining through to disposal of astronomical quantities of radioactive wastes. It doesn't matter whether the radiation is external to the body or provided by one or more radioactive compounds that have gained access to the body through air, food, or water. What counts, for any particular organ, is the total absorption of radiation energy, which is measured in rads or millirads (1000 millirads = 1 rad).
The only possible way to set a truly safe standard -- a definite number of rads or millirads assigned to a particular tissue or organ -- would be to know beyond any reasonable doubt that within that amount no biological effect will occur. We can state unequivocally, and without fear of contradiction, that no one has ever produced evidence that any specific amount of radiation will be without harm. Indeed, quite the opposite appears to be the case.
All the evidence, both from experimental animals and from humans, leads us to expect that even the smallest quantities of ionizing radiation produce harm, both to this generation of humans and future generations. Furthermore, it appears that progressively greater harm accrues in direct proportion to the amount of radiation received by the various body tissues and organs.
It came as a great shock to us, in the course of our study of radiation hazards to man, that nuclear electricity generation has been developed under the false illusion that there exists some safe amount of radiation. This unsupportable concept is surely one of the gravest condemnations of nuclear electricity generation. Obviously any engineering development proceeding under an illusion of a wide margin of safety is fraught with serious danger.
What is more, the false illusion of a safe amount of radiation has pervaded all the highest circles concerned with the development and promotion of nuclear electric power. The Congress, the nuclear manufacturing industry, and the electric utility industry have all been led to believe that some safe amount of radiation does indeed exist. They were hoping to develop this industry with exposures below this limit -- a limit we now know is anything but safe.
Before describing the widely pervasive nature of this serious misunderstanding of the radiation hazard problem at such top levels in industry and government, it is important to establish carefully that we put the integrity, sincerity, and motives of no one into question. Undoubtedly, the scientists, the engineers, and the power executives involved, as well as the Congressmen, were simply misled in their belief that some safe amount of radiation truly exists. It was the result of some inadequate observations involving persons exposed to radium salts industrially. Numerous reputable scientists had long discounted these inadequate observations. All of the national and international standard-setting bodies had also refused to accept this inadequate evidence of a supposedly safe amount of radiation.
This just the opening to a good article from ratical.org.
It is just way too long to post in its entirety but you can access the full thing on the topic heading above. Includes sections on:
" ... We were assigned to evaluate the hazards of atomic radiation by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1963. It was our job to assess the cost in human disease and death for all sorts of proposed and on-going nuclear energy programs, including nuclear electricity. "
..."Suppose there were 1,000 persons in an auditorium and suddenly the lights were extinguished. During the period of ensuing darkness in the auditorium, suppose a man is stabbed to death. When the lights go on again, it is perfectly appropriate (in Dr. Thompson's framework ) to state that no murder was observed ("no event observed"). Yet there is a result for certain -- in the form of a murdered man!
What does this analogy teach us? Simply if we do not look, or if it is too dark to see, then no event can be observed -- no matter what disastrous result has occurred. We have every right to be shocked that such devious, non-reasoning pronouncements are typical of nuclear electricity promoters. "
Such a disaster can be introduced easily and unobtrusively because of two fundamental errors in public health thinking:
- We tend to look for "immediate" effects of poisons.
- We forget what careful studies are required to show that 1 out of 600 die per year of a disease.
No amount of ionizing radiation is safe!
- Quoted in "Nuclear Hazard In Santa Cruz" by Harold Gilliam, San Francisco Chronicle, Sunday, June 28, 1970.
- Reference: "Radiation Exposure of Uranium Miners." Hearings of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, 90th Congress 1st Session. May-August, 1967. Part 1.
- Reference: Power Technology and The Future by Commissioner These Thompson (USAEC). Presented at "Briefing Conference for State and Local Government officials on Nuclear Development," Columbia, South Carolina, May 21, 1970.
- Reference: Dr. Paul Tompkins, quoting directly from 1954 NCRP Statement. In "Environmental Effects of Producing Electric Power." Hearings before the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy," 91st Congress, 1st Session, October-November, 1969. Part 1.