LNT: Gregory Meyerson on “no safe dose” and theoretical corpses

I think the LNT hypothesis is wrong. But developing a compelling statistical refutation of LNT requires a hugely expensive study — for which there is no funding (who would be motivated to fund?) In another informed comment on the Mark Lynas site, reliable BNC discussant Gregory Meyerson wrote the following:

The LNT (no safe dose) view assigns in one version of it .04 statistical deaths per sievert of radiation. Such a statistic does not discern any hormetic effects accompanying low dose radiation (DNA repair mechanisms) despite massive scientific evidence of its existence and it does not distinguish between a high dose to one person and a tiny dose to many that would add up to the high dose. so it does not distinguish between one person getting a dose of 1 million millirem from one million people getting a dose of one millirem.

Now: the difference between global average background radiation and U.S. average (620 mrem due to nuclear medicine and testing) is about 260 mrem. The way no safe dose works is that you can calculate the statistical deaths of this excess 260 mrems (which most people think saves many lives) by multiplying 300 million (pop. of U.S.) by .0026 (in Sieverts. One sievert equals 100,000 mrem).

If you do the calculation, you get 780,000 Sieverts, which you then multiply by .04 to get 31,200 excess deaths annually.

Those who doubt no safe dose thus tend to think that people employing it are crying wolf. Even as both sides agree that beyond a certain threshold, there is a correlation between increasing dose (dose rate obviously matters a lot) and increased cancer incidence.

To complicate matters, the reality of the rhetorical situation is that on average, liberals and leftists oppose nuclear power and assume no safe dose. Among right wingers who know a little about this stuff, they are attracted to nuclear power, despite often being climate denialists, because they’re technocrats/because liberals hate it–very mature behavior etc. and they are attracted (often without exercising due care) to the theory of radiation hormesis for similar reasons.

So, on the one side, if you are anti nuclear, you can generate what one author (a libertarian) on hormesis called theoretical corpses. Think about the statistical deaths that can be produced by taking the difference between high and low radiation areas and multiplying by respective populations (to get deaths per 100,000 people for example per unit of time). Just take the difference between denver and new orleans (5-600 mrem), multiply by your .04, multiply by 50 years and see lots of statistical deaths, deaths THAT IN REALITY NEVER APPEAR as Denver’s cancer incidence is significantly lower than New Orleans, in contradiction to LNT.

On the other side, you have people like Ann Coulter, who defends the idea of radiation hormesis in order to accuse the liberals of paranoia and exaggeration–with the purpose of whitewashing general corporate criminality.

Anyhow, I think LNT is wrong, however convenient it may be as a standard (the alternative would involve huge amounts of government research to determine with some precision the hormetic zone in terms of dose rates for different cancers: very complicated and open to dispute). So I don’t buy the excess deaths per year generated by the LNT coefficient. I don’t think it’s at all analogous to the 440,000 deaths per year from smoking in the U.S. Or the several million we can lay at the door of fossil fuels (not including deaths from global warming, which pro integral fast reactor people could gin up in monumental numbers to lay at the doorstep of renewables proponents, however unethical this might be).

Blue Dog [sic], three years ago I was the usual leftist anti nuclear person. I’d read just enough books to have this view reinforced. The more I learned, the more I changed my mind. And if nuclear is not part of the answer, powerdown here we come, which I hope will not be another word for Die Off.

Your post where you try to shame environmentalists like Lynas and Goodall is typical of anti nuclear rhetoric. You act like you’re actually a superior human being to them because you have a disagreement on LNT. Is it possible for you to avoid questioning people’s basic decency and integrity due to a complex disagreement? You treat them like they’re the worst of corporate criminals.

You come across as really self righteous. I think.

For “Blue Dog” I think Gregory had in mind the anonymous commenter identified by “BlueRock”.