Nuclear Power's Next Big Event

Nuclear power will be cheaper, ample, and less feared if regulators issue fact-based limits instead of conceding to protesters...

In Georgia, two AP1400 reactors are now operational. Several ventures are also developing reactors of a new generation. The future of nuclear power looks bright. Will there be a future failure which leaks radioactive materials out? It is true that perfection is impossible.

Will a similar radiation event be as deadly to nuclear power as the Three Mile Island accident, which was a harmless incident?

If we're guided by fearless assumptions, then yes. The regulators claim that any exposure to radiation is harmful, and set unreasonable limits. The media scares people with headlines about radiation leaks of any size. This article compares the current regulatory limits to published protective measures to prevent harm to the public following a radiation leak from a nuclear accident.

Ionizing radiation damages cells by dislodging electrons and breaking molecular bonding. The energy is measured by Sieverts (Sv), or Grays. These are wattseconds per kilogram. A 10 Sv dose can be fatal, a 1 Sv dose causes acute radiation sickness and a dose above 0.1 Sv increases future cancer risk.

The U.S. limits the annual radiation exposure of public to nuclear power at 0.001 Sv. This limit is 1000X lower than a short, intense dose that could cause cancer and 100X less than a dose requiring medical attention. The limit was reduced to try and reassure people who were afraid, but the result was that most people viewed 0.001 Sv (or a fraction of a Sv) as dangerous. The ALARA rule (as little as reasonably possible) is a way regulators increase fear by claiming that even low exposures can cause cancer.

The regulators' limit of 0.001 Sv does not only count a single dose but also all radiation that is absorbed in a year. This makes it appear as if there was no biological repair, and the damage were cumulative. Repair occurs at the DNA, tissue, and cellular levels over a period of hours or days. After exposure, DNA repair can begin within seconds or minutes. Cellular repair can start within hours. How long will it take for your finger to heal after a cut?

The radiation from the triple Fukushima reactor meltdown did not kill any public citizens. However, Japan's government caused over 1,600 deaths by evacuating people without reason. International Atomic Energy Agency published the document Actions to Protect Public in an Emergency Due to Severe Condition at a Light Water Reactor. This publication was designed to prevent future mistakes and protect the public against physical radiation harm. The IAEA has published a document that is intended for accident site responders who are working to protect the lives and health of people, regardless of any radiation limits set by bureaucrats.

The chart 1 is a guide for the public and accident response teams. The IAEA’s green SAFE for EVERYONE dose rate, over a year, is 25 microSv/hour. This dose rate of radiation over an entire year is 0.2 Sv. That's 200X higher than the limit set by regulators, which is 0.001 Sv/year. However, it is still safe, because the body can repair damage faster than the 25 microSv/hour.

Jack Devanney’s article on substack tabulates observed harms, radiation doses and actual people's in many studies. He notes that doses under 0.01 Sv/day do not cause statistically significant harm. Radiation damage is not as high as the body's inherent repair rate. He suggests a safety limit of 0.001 Sv/day using a safety margin of 10:1. This is close to the IAEA SAFE for EVERYONE rate, which is 25 microSv/hour.

Chernobyl was a deadly accident. 30 workers who received doses of over 2 Sv per day died. Workers exposed to up to 0.3 Sv and more were slightly more likely than others to develop cancer. The radiation rates in Chernobyl's exclusion zone have now dropped to under 10 microSv/hour. This is not harmful for the 1,000 stubborn Babushkas or others who live there.

Radiation peaked at 10,000 nanoSv/hour within the Fukushima plant, and dropped 90% in 10 hours. IAEA measured peak radiation outside the plant at 170 microSv/hour, 30 km north of the site. Chart 1 shows that radiation levels dropped to less 91 microSv/hour in all areas by the end of the month. This is considered safe, except for those spots where they may still have exceeded 25 microSv/hour. It was not necessary to evacuate 164,000 residents, resulting in the death of more than 1,600 people.

THREE MILE ISLAND The cumulative dose around the Three Mile Island reactor was only 15 microSv on average (probably under 25 microSv/hour in all places), so no one needed to be evacuated. The accident did have an impact on the decision to stop building nuclear power plants in the U.S.

RADIATION NATURAL. On the back of Chart 1, it is stated that, on average, natural radiation sources can cause a dose rate of 0.2 microSv/hour. However, in some places this rate can reach up to 15 microSv/hour.

The dose rate is important, not the dose. When dose rate exceeds the repair rate, harm results. Radiation harm is overstated by regulators and the multi-billion dollar radiation protection industry.

100X: Regulated limit of 0.001 Sv/year vs. observed cancer threshold of 0.1 Sv. 52X: Biological repair over a year as per regulatory assumption and typical healing time. ALARA: Unknown whim.

The ALARA rule should be dropped. Instead, regulators should set dose rate limitations that are consistent with biological repair time. ALARA should be scrapped. What should the limit be?

IAEA Chart 1 shows that the dose rate is limited to 25 microSv/hour. Jack Devanney suggested 40 microSv/hour in his article. The NCRP (National Commission on Radiation Protection), in 1934, recommended 40 microSv/hour. Nearly fifty years later, NCRP's founder Lauriston TAYLOR wrote that "Noone has been identifiably hurt by radiation when working within the first numerical standard set by the NCRP & ICRP in 1935."

The nuclear power industry will cease to exist with the next release of radiation unless we change regulators for people who are able to observe and understand facts and their consequences. The nearly century-long concessions that changed the radiation limits of 1934 from 40 microSv/hour down to 0.001 Sv/year have not lessened harm, but instead increased public fears because these more restrictive limits are unsupported by evidence. The fear of nuclear power killed more people than radiation.

Nuclear power will be more affordable, plentiful, and less feared, if regulators set limits based on facts, rather than giving in to protesters.

Dr. Hargraves is the co-founder and professor of energy policy at Dartmouth University's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. He also teaches nuclear engineering.