The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is considering a move to eliminate the "Linear No-Threshold" (LNT) basis of radiation protection that the U.S. has used for decades and replace it with the "radiation hormesis" theory--which holds that low doses of radioactivity are good for people.
The change is being pushed by "a group of pro-nuclear fanatics--there is really no other way to describe them," charges the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) based near Washington, D.C.
"If implemented, the hormesis model would result in needless death and misery," says Michael Mariotte, NIRS president. The current U.S. requirement that nuclear plant operators reduce exposures to the public to "as low as reasonably achievable" would be "tossed out the window. Emergency planning zones would be significantly reduced or abolished entirely. Instead of being forced to spend money to limit radiation releases, nuclear utilities could pocket greater profits. In addition, adoption of the radiation model by the NRC would throw the entire government's radiation protection rules into disarray, since other agencies, like the EPA, also rely on the LNT model."
"If anything," says Mariotte, "the NRC radiation standards need to be strengthened."
The NRC has a set a deadline of November 19 for people to comment on the proposed change. The public can send comments to the U.S. government's "regulations" website at www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NRC-2015-0057
Comments can also be sent by regular mail to: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001, Attention:Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff. Docket ID. Needed to be noted on any letter is the code NRC-2015-0057.
If the NRC agrees to the switch, "This would be the most significant and alarming change to U.S. federal policy on nuclear radiation," reports the online publication Nuclear-News
"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission may decide that exposure to ionizing radiation is beneficial--from nuclear bombs, nuclear power plants, depleted uranium, x-rays and Fukushima," notes Nuclear-News. "No protective measures or public safety warnings would be considered necessary. Clean-up measures could be sharply reduced"In a sense, this would legalize what the government is already doing--failing to protect the public and promoting nuclear radiation."
In the wake of the Manhattan Project, the U.S. crash program during World War II to build atomic bombs and the spin-offs of that program--led by nuclear power plants, there was a belief, for a time, that there was a certain "threshold" below which radioactivity wasn't dangerous.
But as the years went by it became clear there was no threshold--that any amount of radiation could injure and kill, that there was no "safe" dose.
Low levels of radioactivity didn't cause people to immediately sicken or die. But, it was found, after a "latency" or "incubation" period of several years, the exposure could then result in illness and death.
Thus, starting in the 1950s, the "Linear No-Threshold" standard was adopted by the governments of the U.S. and other countries and international agencies.
It holds that radioactivity causes health damage--in particular cancer--directly proportional to dose, and that there is no "threshold." Moreover, because the effects of radiation are cumulative, the sum of several small exposures are considered to have the same effect as one larger exposure, something called "response linearity."
The LNT standard has presented a major problem for those involved in developing nuclear technology notably at the national nuclear laboratories established for the Manhattan Project--Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Argonne national laboratories--and those later set up as the Manhattan Project was turned into the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.