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Q: IS BACKGROUND RADIATION REALLY SAFE?
Karl Grossman says: “Yes, there is naturally occurring “background radiation” of various sorts—and that causes a level of cancer. As the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (www.nirs.org) states: ‘Even exposure to background radiation causes some cancers. Additional exposures cause additional risks.’ Cited is a 700-page 2005 National Academy of Sciences report, ‘Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation,’ that concluded that: ‘There is no safe level or threshold of ionizing radiation exposure.’ There have been numerous similar reports.
Fukushima Nuclear Disaster at One Month: The Explosion of Nukespeak by Karl Grossman http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/04/11-2
As I’ve cited previously in my blog, the research I found using the scientific index, Science Direct, confirms the assertion that no level of ionizing radiation is safe. However, measuring risk is tricky because of individual differences and because the thresholds that most of us are exposed to cause no immediate, discernable harms but rather increase our long term risks for cancer, heart disease, and other conditions.
Q: ARE IODINE AND CESIUM IN MILK REALLY A THREAT, EVEN AT LOW LEVELS
Ask how much and for how long?
Also, your response depends upon your approach to risk management.
If you adopt the precautionary principle, the answer is that increased ionizing radiation in milk poses small but detectable long-term risks and thus should be avoided to prevent any level of future harm.
If you take a cost benefit analysis, the answer depends on what you see as the costs for avoiding milk relative to the benefit of the definite but really miniscule threat posed by low levels of radioactive contamination in milk.
A good blog that has discussed the issue of milk safety is Jeff McMahon’s at Forbes. The article is “Why Does the FDA Tolerate More Radiation Than EPA” available at the link here. Read the comment section as well. The comments are very informative.
Q: HOW DO I KNOW WHAT IS TRUE GIVEN SUCH DIVERGENT OPINIONS AND ADVICE?
I think that you should start with what is clearly established.
No level of ionizing radiation is considered safe but we are also exposed to radiation throughout our lives.
Increased amounts of radiation not normally found in our environments such as Iodine and Cesium should cause us to take notice but not panic. It does make sense thought to monitor the situation to assess how long the increased radiation exposure will last and how much of an increase in radioactive nucleotides we are being exposed to.
Radiation that is inhaled or ingested is more dangerous than radiation we are exposed to externally. So it makes sense to monitor carefully radiation in our food and water and to evaluate our consumption of those products using either a precautionary approach or a cost-benefit analysis approach.
The EPA makes this information available, although their data are not always current.
Q: HOW DO WE KNOW WHOSE ADVICE TO TRUST?
I think it makes sense to evaluate the motives and potential conflicts of interest of the sources of our information.
Nuclear physicists who have PhDs but have worked for the nuclear industry and/or have received grants or other funding from the nuclear industry may have conflicts of interests that skew their judgments or advice.
Also, I’ve noticed that many people working directly with advanced technology believe in the infallibility of their technology and/or have faith in their own ability to monitor and manage any problems with technology. I think Fukushima has demonstrated the folly of that point of view. Fat tails, or extreme events, do happen.
People who are seeking to sell us products to “protect” us from lurking or imminent dangers should also be regarded with some skepticism.
Q: WHERE DO I GET MY INFORMATION?
I try and get information from a variety of sources, including the EPA, scientific journals, and through the internet.
When I read something posted in a blog that makes a declarative statement—e.g., “there is no safe level of radiation” I try and test the claim by searching out evidence that would confirm or disconfirm the claim.
Since I’m an academic I like to look at academic research but I’m also increasingly sensitive to the biases that can inflect research that is paid for by industry or some other agent with particular agendas.
I have to come to my own conclusions based on testing the credibility of the sources and be open to new interpretations when I find new, relevant information.
For news updates I like the following
The EPA’s radnet (down now so I cannot get the link)
For interpretation and opinion I like among other sources