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Nuclear Energy's Critical Illness

Continue With Failed Treatments or Pursue the Cure?

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2017
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Nuclear energy produces reliable electricity using a very compact, centralized design, with low fuel cost and throughput at a competitive price, stunningly low pollution, and demonstrated safety superiority compared to other technologies. Yet, it has remained competitively disadvantaged for decades, despite recent but now-failed hopes of a nuclear renaissance.

Many supporters of nuclear technology have tried to correct significant challenges on assorted issues from the public, the media, and the scientific, regulatory and political sectors.

But these efforts failed, owing to significant lack of understanding by scientists, educators, and regulators about the real problem. That is, they could not acknowledge the true illness and pursue the cure. The nuclear industry understood the problem, but lacked the science to pursue the cure.

" Low carbon emissions are not enough to persuade many of nuclear energy’s desirability." – Charles Pennington

This discussion focuses on what nuclear energy's critical illness is, how the industry has treated that illness, the cure for that illness, and one way to achieve a new political and regulatory environment that can save the patient. A partnership of the nuclear and medical communities is vital for assuring that desired outcome.

Background: The Illness

Nuclear energy has suffered from the illness of public and political fear of ionizing radiation. Regulators, government agencies and science advisors have supported the belief that it produces latent cancer from normal, accident, and waste-disposal conditions. This has created and sustained the global fear of nuclear energy. Societal fear of anything deemed a known cause of cancer at any dose by putative experts will always produce public opposition.

The nuclear industry has known this for more than four decades. There are numerous authors whose writings show this, but in a recent, insightful discussion, Kidd states that public fear of nuclear energy's radiation could be terminal: ''So nuclear gradually withers away from a viable technology to one that made a brief appearance in the twentieth century." 1

The assertion of low-dose radiation harm is the foothold for fear. It arises from an erroneous, seventy-year-old assumption about radiation exposure from the nuclear energy and medical imaging businesses that is not settled science.

That assertion is known as the linear no-threshold model or LNT. It claims that all acute radiation exposures produce increased cancer incidence proportionally, down to zero dose; and that this effect is cumulative over a lifetime, regardless of the dose rate . Threshold means a dose/dose rate below which increased cancer incidence is zero.

No studies scientifically support low-dose/dose-rate radiation carcinogenesis (< ~200 milligray, or mGy, acute or chronic exposures), which are much higher than those likely resulting from nuclear power plant or radiological imaging doses. Nevertheless, all scientific advisory bodies and all

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