Low level radiation and LNT examined at Chicago ANS meeting

by George Stanford

At the ANS Annual Meeting in Chicago held June 24–28, I attended the “President’s Special Session on Low Level Radiation and Its Implications for Fukushima Recovery,” and also the follow-on panel “Health Effects of Low-Level Radiation.” The two sessions together could well have been subtitled “The Tragedy of LNT.” In case you’ve forgotten, LNT stands for “Linear No Threshold”—the popular misconception that radiation risk is proportional to dose all the way down to zero.

(Note: The units of radiation exposure are confusing even to professionals in the field. In this discussion, I will assume that all the radiation is low-LET, so that 1 cSv = 1 cGy = 1 rad = 1 rem. If you don’t already know what LET means, you don’t need to. For orientation, the average American gets about 0.3 cGy every year, background plus medical exposure. Some people in other countries get a lot more.)

The roster of speakers at the two sessions was impressive, and they seemed unanimous in the belief that basing policy and regulations on LNT has no empirical justification, and moreover has turned out to be a very costly blunder. They backed up their conclusions with data from a gamut of disciplines. Below is a brief synopsis. Some of the speakers participated in both sessions; in those cases I have lumped the two together.

Kazuaki Matsui, BSc, MSc[1] observed that the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, left 25,000 dead, injured, or missing. In contrast, there was “probably minimal or no health effect” from radiation from the damaged reactors at Fukushima. However, the ensuing evacuation disrupted more than 150,000 lives and has led to 13 suicides, along with 50 deaths of elderly evacuees [actually, 50 deaths seems to be a serious underestimate, since at least one Japanese newspaper is reporting 573 stress-related deaths]. The prevalent widespread radiophobia has led to grotesque overreactions.

Kiyohiko Sakamoto, MD, PhD [2], discussed his work both with cancerous mice and with ~200 human cancer patients, reporting impressive rates of cure and metastasis-prevention using various combinations of low-dose-rate, whole-body or half-body radiation—say 150 cGy (rem) spread over 5 weeks—and high-dose shots directed at the tumor. He concluded, among other things, that

  • Low doses of radiation stimulate immunity to cancer and biological defences against DNA damage.
  • The dose or dose rate at which radiation starts to become harmful is known.
  • There is no basis to fear low level radiation. “Based on my experience in treating many patients,” he says, “the radiation level near Fukushima is not a cancer risk.”

Ron Mitchell, PhD [3] after examining data from A-bomb survivors and from experiments with mice, concluded that, “At low doses, all the basic LNT assumptions are WRONG!… A new approach to radiation protection at low doses is needed.”

Douglas R. Boreham, PhD [4] looked for evidence that chronic low-level radiation (12 cGy over 75 weeks) causes genetic damage to mice—and found none. Interestingly, however, he reports that “Cellular response to low-level environmental stress . . . confers resistance to subsequent higher stress”—the “stress” in this case being irradiation. Subsequent speakers reported similar conclusions.

Jerry M. Cuttler, DSc, PEng [5] summarized the results of a number of careful investigations and reached the following conclusions:

  • Organisms have powerful defenses developed to survive.
  • Low radiation doses stimulate defenses.
  • High doses inhibit defenses.
  • Fukushima radiation level is comparable to high natural background areas.
  • Radiation protection standard in 1920s was a safe tolerance dose: 680 mSv/yr [68 cGy/yr].
  • Based on human data:
    ~ A single whole body dose of 15 cGy is safe.
    ~ Continuous exposure of 70 cGy is safe.
    ~ Both of those exposure rates are also beneficial.
  • Radioiodine is not a significant cause of cancer.
  • Total body low dose radiation therapy can prevent cancers and eliminate metastases.
  • Spontaneous DNA damage rate is more than 6 million times higher than 1 mSv/y DNA damage rate.

After looking at an impressive volume of evidence, Cuttler makes the following recommendations (among others):

  • Stop calculating nuclear safety cancer risk.
  • Stop regulating harmless radiation sources.
  • Develop public communication programs and inform every person.
  • Raise radiation level for evacuation from 2 to 100 cGy/year.

Wade Allison, D Phil [6] presented a talk with a nicely concise title: “A Tragedy of Misunderstanding: There Was No Major Radiation Disaster at Fukushima.” He examined data from radon studies, UK radiation workers, Chernobyl mortality, Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors, and watch-dial painters, concluding that the current standards for permissible exposure are seriously unrealistic. “Conservative limits set As High As Relatively Safe (AHARS),” he says, “would be a relaxation by about 1000 times over current As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) limits… Fukushima has shown that safety kills easily but radiation does not.”

Jim Welsh, MD [7] described work that he has been doing along the lines of Kiyohiko Sakamoto’s clinical investigations (see above)—with similar results.

Myron Pollycove, MD, BSc [8] addressed the question, “What is safe?” In visiting Ramsar, Iran—a city where part of the population has been living for many generations with a natural background dose rate that is “30–70 times normal” [ranging up to 26 cGy/yr and more, according to Wikipedia]—he was impressed by the fact that public health and longevity is greater in the high-radiation parts of the city. He pointed out that the DNA in our cells is constantly being destroyed and reconstituted, and it is becoming apparent that low doses stimulate the reconstitution process.

Pollycove’s conclusion, which also nicely summarizes both of those LNT sessions: “We don’t have to worry about chronic radiation.”

[1] Executive Director, The Institute of Applied Energy, Japan
[2] Chairman, Board of Directors, Tohoku Radiological Science Center, and Professor Emeritus, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan
[3] Radiological Research and Instrumentation Branch, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, Chalk River Laboratories
[4] Professor, Department of Medical Physics and Applied Radiation Sciences, McMaster University
[5] Cuttler & Associates Inc., Mississauga, Ontario
[6] Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of Oxford, UK
[7] Fermilab and private practice
[8] University of California, retired



George Stanford is a nuclear reactor  physicist, part of the team that developed the Integral Fast Reactor. He  is now retired from Argonne National Laboratory after a career of  experimental work pertaining to power-reactor safety. He is the  co-author of Nuclear Shadowboxing: Contemporary Threats  from Cold War Weaponry.

35 thoughts on “Low level radiation and LNT examined at Chicago ANS meeting

  1. Bruce Behrhorst

    “Such a man must obey accepted laws of radiation protection.”
    No, the individual must have the ultimate right to weigh all evidence to make his or her decision to evacuate or not to evacuate or return. If the support & procedures for choice by the State correctly offered more people might of been saved.

  2. Brian Mays

    But it’s the only thing that Bob has.

    Have some pity for the intellectually challenged. Accusing people of being cultists or psychics is all they’ve got. Do you think that Bob is qualified to discuss any of the actual research that was presented?

  3. DV82XL

    Pointing out that Ted Rockwell is or was a member of the Parapsychological Association (true or not) is not in and of itself ad hominem reasoning, however doing so to imply that everything that was submitted at this meeting is invalid because he might be, is. At best this is a simple personal attack which fails to address substance and which does little to advance the debate.

  4. Gregory Meyerson



    Bob’s claim that LNT is to Health Physics what Evolution is to biology is false. Unless he wants to claim that these two articles, among many, including those cited here, are the equivalent of Discovery Institute creations.

    Yanch, lead author of first article, also has an interesting article on low level radiation and Fukushima (can be found at MIT website). She argues effects, if any, will be minimal. I believe this paper was written before the study cited above so she may now be less hesitant about LNT, but in the Fukushima paper, she claims that LNT, Threshold, and Hormesis are HYPOTHESES. That said, the linked paper is completely inconsistent with the LNT hypothesis.

    The lead author of the first article in a peer reviewed piece on Fukushima and low level radiation, which can be accessed from the MIT website, notes that

  5. Ludwik Dobrzynski

    The discussion published so far is showing that some people may not understand how science is progressing. Accusations of people that they represent a “cult” instead of trying to show what is wrong in their papers, reasoning or methodology is not acceptable. After all, we do not understand so-called wave-particle dualism, and this does not hinder us from using great quantum mechanics. Why the fact that we do not understand very basic mechanisms appearing at low doses and dose-rates should lead to rejection of any observations? The problem is what is general and what is incidental (if research is conducted according to the rules). Let me recall that in physics a change of the theory is required if even a single experiment shows inappropriateness of the theory. Now we face a lot of data that contradict LNT. This means that LNT is, at most, approximate representation of what happens in organisms. How much approximate and when it can be used is the essence of the scientific problem.
    The problem of evacuation of Fukushima’s people strictly follows from accepted concepts and not from a man who undertakes decision. Such a man must obey accepted laws of radiation protection. Otherwise the consequences for his/her fate qould be quite drammatic.

  6. Bruce Behrhorst

    “Initial results from June 2010 show … the growth of ‘radiation starved’ cells are (sic) inhibited compared to cells grown in the presence of background radiation levels,”

    Oh! Gee. So if these cells are stressed long enough the organism could develop cancer from RADIATION STARVATION ?
    But I’m only speculating I’ll wait for the science studies to be reviewed and publish before I pronounce real science.

  7. Bob Applebaum

    I have sent an email to the ANS Governance which I copied here but it is in moderation due to the number of links. Ted Rockwell is or was a member of the Parapsychological Association. It is not an ad hominem to describe someone based on his membership to an organization he chose to join. There’s also a YouTube video of him professing to be a psychic.

  8. Joel Riddle

    -Cough!- -Cough!-
    -COUGH!- -COUGH!!-

    Is the air a little dusty here?

  9. Bob Applebaum

    “I find it hard to think cell function or organism function would be normal”

    It may not be, that has nothing to do with human cancer risk from radiation on the Earth’s surface.

    Or the cell cultures may do just fine.

  10. Bob Applebaum

    Typos…should read…”The people involved (in this meeting) are not against other people..they are members of a cult against the science of health physics.”

  11. Bob Applebaum

    No, you are misinterpreting. I was saying “anti-health physics” and “members”, not “anti-health physics members”. The people involved were against other people, they members of a cult against the science of health physics. But you likely know this and just want to distract.

  12. Bruce Behrhorst

    Although study is still in its infancy some results.

    The Health Physics article was submitted by Smith, Yair Grof (Soreq Nuclear Research Center), Adrianne Navarrette (Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center) and Raymond Guilmette (Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute). The two experiments seek to test the Linear No-Threshold model of radiation dose-response, which assumes that a single ionizing radiation interaction with a cell is dangerous.
    Results so far, as reported in the Health Physics article, indicate that the cell growth of the bacteria in the WIPP underground, exposed to less background radiation than the control group, is hampered.
    “Initial results from June 2010 show … the growth of ‘radiation starved’ cells are (sic) inhibited compared to cells grown in the presence of background radiation levels,” the researchers reported.


  13. Robin

    So I placed myself in Las Vegas, close to a test site, had me live there from birth in 1950 drinking 4 glasses of cow milk a day and the est accumulated I-131 dose was 26 rad;
        The best estimate of your risk of developing thyroid cancer from today forward is 2 chances in 1,000. Therefore, you have about 998 chances in 1,000 of not developing thyroid cancer.

    In a report by the National Cancer Institute, released in 1997, it was determined that the nearly ninety atmospheric tests at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) left high levels of radioactive iodine-131 (5.5 exabecquerels) across a large area of the continental United States, especially in the years 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1957. The National Cancer Institute report estimates that doses received in these years are estimated to be large enough to produce 10,000 to 75,000 additional cases of thyroid cancer in the U.S.[7] Another report, published by the Scientific Research Society, estimates that about 22,000 additional radiation-related cancers and 2,000 additional deaths from radiation-related leukemia are expected to occur in the United States because of external and internal radiation from both NTS and global fallout.[5]

  14. Rod Adams


    I think you have forgotten a necessary part of the unit in the following statement:

    “Continuous exposure of 70 cGy is safe.”

    That you be continuous exposure of 70 cGy/year is safe.

    Continuous exposure needs to be measured in a dose rate, not a dose measurement.

  15. Paul Lindsey

    I am regular weekly guest on the News New Mexico radio show, addressing nuclear power and energy issues. The host is a “downwinder” (from Carrizozo, NM) and thyroid cancer survivor. How do these presentations regarding a threshold limit jive with the doses received by downwinders?

  16. Brian Mays

    I didn’t say anyone was “anti-health physics members” …

    Liar. Those were your exact words. Anyone reading this has to merely glance up the page to verify that.

    Perhaps you should read the position statement by the Health Physics Society titled “Radiation Risk in Perspective.” Or is the Health Physics Society “anti-health physics” too?

  17. Brian Mays

    “If …” and “I don’t know …”?

    Wow, Bob, you stand on such solid ground as you accuse others of being members of a “cult.”

  18. Jerry Cuttler

    Congratulation to George Stanford for writing an accurate summary of the messages communicated in presentations to the attendees at the ANS President’s Special Session.
    “We should not waste a serious crisis.”

  19. Bruce Behrhorst

    Mr. Applebaum seems inconsistent but I’ll drive LNT & an exaggerated No Radiation (NR-AULARA) policy to extreme for sake of argument.
    What would be the effect on cells and organism subjected to absolutely NO RADIATION to remove all trace of Potassium-40 from the food of laboratory animals? Researchers in the US studied cell cultures protected from radiation in a steel chamber 650 meters underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico and researchers in Europe reported the effects of almost no-radiation on mouse cells. Since organisms like humans have existed along side radiation and need radiation to promote life I find it hard to think cell function or organism function would be normal.
    It’s just sad self-limiting anti-human dictates are not promoting pro-human aspirations and advancement all they offer is anti-science in order to limit human population and advancement.

  20. Bob Applebaum

    Another cult-like point on the Matsui study (possbily). If it preceded the other talks then it was explaining that the consequences of LNT are bad, without first proving it wrong. That is a fallacy called an argument from consequences. That fallacy is often employed by cults to psychologically induce “priming”. It dampens skepticism and primes the audience to accept the later-to-come arguments. I don’t know if that truly happened here or not, but if so, I’m not surprised.

  21. Bob Applebaum

    I don’t know the details of the evacuation or the doses. A haphazard evacuation will likely have more negative health effects than the expected radiation doses. As the management improves, the safety of the evacuation improves. However, many of the people demanded more restricted radiation levels (for evacuation) than the government set. So the decision maker (who would like to keep his job) is stuck in a tight spot. There will always be some number of people who prefer evacuation based on irrational fear or a desire to sue someone later.

  22. Bob Applebaum

    I didn’t say anyone was “anti-health physics members” or “anti-health”. I am saying they are anti- the science of “health physics”. Just like the theory of evolution is central in the science of biology, LNT theory is central in the science of health physics. There may one day be evidence to overturn either theory, but there isn’t as of yesterday. It’s a bit ironic that in both sciences it is gene mutation (plus other stuff) which leads to the effect (evolution or cancer).

  23. Joel Riddle

    For the purposes of simplification, Bob, let’s frame it as follows.

    Ignoring the fact that evacuation was somewhat a good idea due to the overall tsunami destruction, infrastructure damage, and especially LACK OF ELECTRICITY within the region, would you guess that the overall health effects resulting from the evacuation (I think I read ~50 deaths directly related to that stress) would be more or less than the health effects that would have resulted from the radiation that people would have been exposed to if they had remained in place. Ignoring the numerous other confounding factors for simplicity, which of the 2 things (forced evacuation -or- low levels of radiation exposure) would have caused the greatest degree of negative health effects, based on the experience that you are quite boldly claiming?

    That is really the issue at hand.

  24. Bob Applebaum


    My original comment was connected to the overall concept of whether or not LNT is valid or not. Whether or not someone decides to evacuate or not has no bearing on whether or not LNT is actually valid. Analogy, if you avoid an alley because you think there is a robber there, has no bearing on whether or not there is a robber there.

    I am not saying the ICRP standards, which are based on LNT, are not implemented in the IAEA standards. They are. And Japan, as part of the U.N. has committed to following IAEA standards (though not legally required to). But the person who decided on the evacuation probably (I can’t prove it) had to consider his legal obligations, his political future, his party’s political future, the reliability of his data, ethical obligation to the populace, and who knows what else in making the decision.

  25. Brian Mays

    You are too immersed for any comments I have to affect you. I understand that.

    Well, Bob, you could have been more polite in your concession, but given what I know of your personality, I’ll take what I can get.

    I’ll just pick the first point: “Wrong. The decision of when and where to evacuate is based on a philosophy that is solidly grounded in the LNT model.” Can you tell me the name of the person who made the decision to evacuate and where he said what his basis was for the evacuation?

    You pick poorly.

    Here, let me turn this back on you. The international standards for radiation protection are based on the following conclusion: “The LNT hypothesis, combined with an uncertain DDREF for extrapolation from high doses, remains a prudent basis for radiation protection at low doses and low dose rates.” (Please see “ICRP Publication 99″ for more explanation.)

    Now, where is your evidence that the evacuation zones were not based on this LNT-based standard? There was no “person”; this decision was made by an international commission.

    Please prove me wrong.

  26. Neil Craig

    Bob since you have said you won’t answer general questions but want a specific one, and have made the remark immediately above may I specifically ask you, in relation to your calling the people here “anti-health physics members”

    Can you tell me the name of the person or persons here who said they were “anti-health” and provide links to them doing so. Doubtless, not being a hypocrit and as committed to polite behaviour as you wish othersw to be you will easily be able to prove your claim.

  27. Bob Applebaum

    You are too immersed for any comments I have to affect you. I understand that.

    I’ll just pick the first point:

    “Wrong. The decision of when and where to evacuate is based on a philosophy that is solidly grounded in the LNT model.”

    Can you tell me the name of the person who made the decision to evacuate and where he said what his basis was for the evacuation?

  28. Brian Mays

    Well, if it isn’t our very own village idiot, back with a new bunch of canards. This should be fun.

    Regarding Matsui, that has nothing to do with LNT.

    Wrong. The decision of when and where to evacuate is based on a philosophy that is solidly grounded in the LNT model.

    Regarding Sakamoto, his mice work is over 30 years old …

    Well, now that we’ve established that Bob can’t do simple arithmetic (much of Dr. Sakamoto’s “mice work” was published in 1987, which is only 25 years ago), I should point out that much of the “mice work” presented by Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Boreham was published within the last decade.

    and we know radiation is genotoxic to cancer, …

    At very high doses, yes. Once again, Bob fails to understand that Dr. Sakamoto is not talking about high, acute doses, but low doses and low dose rates.

    the whole body irradiation wasn’t done by him and even if it was …

    Is Bob really too lazy to determine whether it was or not? Sheesh! Is it too much to ask him to actually read the papers he criticizes?

    Regarding Mitchell, he is not aware that the atomic bomb data shows hypersensitivity at low doses.

    Whether he is aware or is not is irrelevant (although, if I were a betting man, I would bet that he is aware), since Dr. Mitchell was discussing the basic LNT assumptions at low doses. Low-dose hypersensitivity following high, acute doses of low-LET radiation is an entirely different topic.

    Bob implies that this is accepted, unquestionable fact, but this potential phenomenon is not well understood at all. The data in the scientific literature is conflicted, and the mechanisms for such hypersensitivity have not yet been identified. This is why the BEIR VII report, published in 2006, identified this phenomenon as “Research Need 3.”

    Unfortunately, LNT-fundamentalists like Bob here object even to any further research being conducted at all. Like all fundamentalists, his mind is already made up. Thus, the readers here should expect more inane rating and raving from this person about the sins of researchers who dare to question his orthodoxy. To him, they are a “cult” of heretics; to the rest of us, they are merely scientists.

  29. James Greenidge

    Re: Kazuaki Matsui, BSc, MSc “… The prevalent widespread radiophobia has led to grotesque overreactions.”

    Man, how MUCH I’d love to drill the (anti/ignorantly-nuclear) mass media in its major intentional fear-mongering (yes, I said that! — intentional!) hand in this, not to speak of ruthlessly alarmist “green” groups since neither party has the conscience or brass sacs in their pious conceit to admit even a smidgen of responsibility for this!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  30. Bob Applebaum

    Hi Joel:

    First it is very difficult to communicate by comments. Our evolved communication requires eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures, etc. So I certainly can’t adequately communicate a long health physics lesson here. I have several pages on my blog which may help in the technical understanding I properly refer to these folks as being in a cult, well, just look at this post. It’s a bunch of pro-nuclear power people who’ve invited people who disagree with the science of health physics to tell them why the science is wrong. They are biased against the science because it doesn’t fit what they emotionally want the science to say. It is very similiar to a bunch of creationists having a meeting and inviting a bunch of anti-evolutionary biologists to tell them what they want to hear (and those guests will have credentials, too, don’t be fooled by that). And of course, they will walk away more convinced than before the meeting that there is a kabal of biologists who have some motive for attacking their religion (which underlies creationism). Of course they will! That’s what the meeting was intended to do…to build a bubble.

    Too many details of the evacuation are unknown to me, for me to form an opinion. I do have the opinion that’s it’s very easy to criticize others, when it’s not you in those circumstances.

    I can try to address a specific question here, if you have one.

  31. Joel Riddle

    Bob, could you please provide some more specificity of your criticisms beyond simply claiming that all of those guys are “in a cult”?

    Also, please provide your recommendation (not anyone else’s) for how the evacuation/exclusion zones around Fukushima should have been handled. Was the suffering induced by the evacuations a necessary cost of making an optimal decision?

    As a mechanical engineer, this issue is very much out of my realm of expertise. Thanks for your response.

  32. Bob Applebaum

    I see most of the anti-health physics members were assembled. May as well have been in church. Regarding Matsui, that has nothing to do with LNT. Regarding Sakamoto, his mice work is over 30 years old and we know radiation is genotoxic to cancer, the whole body irradiation wasn’t done by him and even if it was it has nothing to do with LNT. Regarding Mitchell, he is not aware that the atomic bomb data shows hypersensitivity at low doses. I could go on and on but I understand that once in a cult it’s hard to make the Gestalt switch out of it. I hope to have done a small part here.

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