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A blow to one of the greens’ favourite lies

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A FEW weeks ago, we at the Global Warming Policy Forum published a paper by Ed Calabrese and Mikko Paunio about the linear no-threshold (LNT) model as applied to the harms caused by nuclear radiation. The LNT model encapsulates the idea that there is no safe level of radiation exposure, no threshold below which exposure is not a problem. It is therefore the cause of all the extraordinary levels of bureaucracy and safety measures that have all but killed off the nuclear industry in much of the western world.

As our paper showed, however, the post-war science that led to the LNT model’s acceptance was at best plain wrong and potentially even fraudulent. For those who haven’t read the paper, it’s well worth taking a look, but those who have may well be interested in Ed Calabrese’s new paper, which is another nail in the coffin of the LNT hypothesis.

‘The Muller-Neel dispute and the fate of cancer risk assessment’ is a review of the correspondence between members of the so-called BEAR I panel, which was tasked by the US government with assessing radiation risk during the 1950s. It subsequently concluded that the LNT model should be adopted, with fateful consequences for civil nuclear energy ever since. Calabrese was trying to understand how the panel had reached this conclusion despite the existence of the report of the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC), a major study commissioned by the US National Academy of Sciences which found that the children of atomic bomb survivors seemed to have suffered no ill-effects, at least not in the shape of genetic damage. This seemed to indicate that prolonged exposure to low levels of radiation was harmless.

Why had the BEAR panel reached the opposite conclusion? Calabrese’s review shows that it not only did not take the ABCC study into account in reporting its findings, it didn’t even look at it, instead concentrating solely on studies that extrapolated from animal subjects to human ones. These could be used to argue in favour of the LNT model.

Why would this be? The panel’s correspondence shows that its members’ minds were made up before they started work, and that they had ‘a strongly unified belief in the LNT model’. Worse still, many of its members were involved in animal studies, and were unhappy that studies on humans were giving a different answer. Essentially the ABCC work had shown that the whole approach of extrapolating from animals to humans was flawed. Groupthink and the self-interest of the panel members put paid to any truth-seeking tendencies they might have had.

As Calabrese puts it: ‘This history should represent a profound embarrassment to the US NAS, regulatory agencies worldwide, and especially the US EPA, and the risk-assessment community whose founding principles were so ideologically determined and accepted with little if any critical reflection.’

The evidence that the LNT model is hopelessly wrong, and that we have been lied to for nearly a century, is now overwhelming. It is surely time for the government to commission a complete review of the question of radiation safety.

This article first appeared on the Global Warming Policy Forum on July 30, 2020, and is republished by kind permission. GWPF does not accept funding from energy companies or anyone with a significant interest in an energy company.

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Andrew Montford
Andrew Montford
Andrew Montford is Deputy Director of the Global Warming Policy Forum GWPF does not accept funding from energy companies or anyone with a significant interest in an energy company.

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