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Background radiation?

  1. Oct 19, 2003 #1
    From a technical or statistical perspective I know nothing about the issue.

    But from a laymans point of view I have concerns about how the overall global back ground radiation energy levels may have been effected by the use of Nuclear energys both in the form of explosions, power plants and most especially nuclear fall out from failed reactors such as the one in eastern Europe at *Chenobyle* (spellings).

    Could some one tell me if they know what the effect is?

    Also if some one knows what the current status is of "Chenobyle" reactor I would greatly appreciate it. maybe there is a url link i can use?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 19, 2003 #2


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    Chernobyl caused radiation and fallout problems in Russia, Ukraine (where Chernobyl is located) and in Europe. It was the most serious nuclear release since the atomic bombs of World War II.

    The atmospheric tests of the 1950s cause a rise in the cancer causing isotopes of Strontium and Cesium. Fear of this real danger caused the nuclear powers of that time to abandon atmospheric testing.

    Normal operation of Nuclear plants does not endanger people nearby. The risk of them comes from the danger of accidents and the radioactive waste they produce. The danger of accidents has been greatly reduced by improved operations and training. In almost a quarter century since Three Mile Island, there has been no serious release of radioactive materials at a US nuclear power plant.

    Radioactive waste is a real problem. Present day reactor designs produce waste that will be dangerous for thousands of years. There is a program to store the country's nuclear waste at a site at Yucca Flats, Nevada. But questions keep being raised about the safety of this site.
    But nuclear waste is not a problem if you don't live near it. The problem people worry about is not radiation in the air but radiation getting into the nearby water supplies.

    Advanced reactor designs could solve the waste problem, but the current political climate is against research in nuclear power, so it's anybody's guess if or when they would be built.

    About ten years ago there was a todo about Radon. Many rocks used in construction have traces of radoactive elements in them. When these elemnts decay, they release radioactive Radon gas. It was feared that Radon could accumulate in people's basements and produce a radiation risk. After q lot of fuss and the sale of do-it-yourself Geiger counters, it turned out that in most parts of the country, there just wasn't any problem. IIRC, there are a few places in the western and mountain US where it's worth while to test before you buy a house.
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2003
  4. Oct 19, 2003 #3
    Radiation dose is measured in units of rem. Not to get some kind of perspective:

    0.3-0.4 rem = background radiation

    65 rem = point at which there is an established statistical increase in long term effects

    500 rem = 1/2 lethality

    800-1000 rem = fatal

    It is estimated that weapons testing and nuclear power (minus Chernobyl) has contributed about 0.001 rem to our radiation exposure.

    Chernobyl effects have been mainly local and overall have not impacted the global amount of radiation exposure. According to the recent UN report, the only cancer (or any other health effect) locally that has shown above normal statistical effects which would have occurred anyway is thyroid cancer (about 2000 cases which could increase to 10000). This would have been easily preventable had the Soviet government placed a ban on drinking milk and distributed Potassium Iodide tablets. Today people actually still live in Chernobyl and have quite normal lives.
  5. Oct 19, 2003 #4


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    Thank you for that clear and meaningful analysis. Do you have anything about Chernobyl effects in Europe? I know it is still brought up in the European press from time to time.
  6. Oct 19, 2003 #5
    thanks for your discussions on this topic.

    I am just exploring the idea that we may be wrong in our idea of how much background radiation increase we as a human body can with stand with out long term effects.

    It could be possible for instance that a mere .001 rize in th rem could generate an increase globally in sickness, especially the likes of cancers etc. The proximity of the source of rem increase may be less relevant than we think.

    Long term exposure to =>0.001 increased rem overall may be actually be quite profound. This is my line of thinking at the moment.


    Can any one add to the discussion about the Stability of the Chernobyl site. I heard that the concrete plug was/is failing a while ago and haven't heard anything since.
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  7. Oct 19, 2003 #6


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    But the background is .3 to .4 rems. That's 300 to 400 times the amount from man made radioactivity. A rem is a rem, how can we be in danger from .001 rem when we evolved to live our lives under .3 to .4 rem?
  8. Oct 20, 2003 #7


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    Well, you'd better not take any long distance flights! There is a measurable increase in radiation exposure due to height, as there's less air to shield you from cosmic rays. Same is true if you live at high altitude. Smaller overall effect, IIRC, than variations in local radiation environment.
  9. Oct 20, 2003 #8

    and the stability of Chernobyl reactor?
  10. Oct 20, 2003 #9
  11. Oct 21, 2003 #10
    I'm glad to see your "comprehensive" list of radiation websites comprises ALL sides of the issue rather than one, conspiracy theory and all radiation is unequivically bad for you sites. Sarcasm implied.

    Might I suggest a more neutral link by an accountable source:


    This is what the National Institute of Health has posted and contains lots of good information covering guidelines and effects of radiation exposure.

    Is all radiation harmful? The jury is still out on this issue. There are biological reasons to believe it should be, radiation breaks up DNA molecules so it seems logical. This is called the linear-no threshold model and assumes that any dose is detrimental. However, like everything in the real world, things are often not as clear cut.

    If you look at statistical studies done on areas with higher background radiation than others, there is an interesting trend that people living in regions with slightly elevated regions of natural background radioactivity (even by as much as a few rem per year due to natural Uranium or Thorium deposits). What is interesting is that rates of cancer are lower and people overall are healthier in areas with elevated background radiation.

    Even more confusing is a study done on naval dock workers. The study looked at two groups of people: one that had come into contact with the spent fuel of the naval reactors and another group that did not. The interesting correlation is that cancer rates and overall death rate was statistically lower in the group that handled the waste than the other group to the point where it could not be just attributed to random chance.

    Some biologists have even proposed a model of the cell where higher levels of ionizing radiation causes certain repair mechanisms in the cell to activate and fix up the DNA that would have otherwise have remained unrepaired due to carcinogens and natural errors in copying of the DNA. This theory is called radiation hormeosis and seems to be gaining some ground among the medical community. Picture it in terms of getting your required exercise to stay healthy.

    I will point out that radiation hormeosis is not really a fully established theory yet and still needs a lot more study to show whether or not it works. There is still a bit of evidence on both sides of the coin with no clear winner at this point.

    Regulatory agencies use the linear-no threshold hypothesis to assess risk because it gives a theoretical maximum of how many cases are possible even though they are often grossly overstated. For instance, if a million people receive one millionth of a lethal dose, then one person will die. Now logic and common sense says that if any person receives a millionth of anything at a lethal level they will not die. However, the LNT hypothesis calculates the maximum. So even still there is some common sense to the approach of LNT.

    I'll get back to you Chernobyl. I do not have time right now to right a full out piece.
  12. Oct 21, 2003 #11


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    I would suspect that the difference in the Naval workers was due to the fact that the ones who worked with the spent fuel were checked, educated, wore badges and had weekly or monthly checkups. Possibly they had fewer dental x-rays and such out of concern for their radiation exposure, since their consciousnesses had been raised.

    Certainly causal chains like this should be explored and at least ruled out before jumping to a conclusion.
  13. Oct 21, 2003 #12
    I agree, it's correlation and not necesarily causation. However, it is also evidence for radiation hormeosis, albeit not proof. More research into such populations needs to be done to establish a better correlation.

    Note the group of workers studied was a while ago (1970s I believe) and it looked at the overall health after the exposure for long term effects. They have received much more than normal amounts (back in those days you could get a lot more than 5 rem per year) of radiation as their badges would indicate so missing dental x-rays would not be an issue as they would not contribute much at all. According to the study, they were just normal dock workers without additional education. The only distinguishing feature found in the study was the handling of waste.

    Of course, this is one incident, so it is not proof of anything.
  14. Oct 22, 2003 #13


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    I do know that individuals vary greatly in their resistance to radiation effects. There was the case of a nuclear scientist who was in some kind of accident and received what should have been many times a lethal dose. But he survived.

    I want to go back and pick up something you said about projecting the linear dose/response assumption down to very low levels. I know this was under scientific attack thirty years ago, but have lost touch since. Is there anything new on this front?
  15. Oct 23, 2003 #14
    it is possible to explain the apparent contradiction of one man dosing on radiation and surviving whilst others may not.


    The body responds strongly to an ovious threat such as high dose radiation but doesn't respond as effectively to slow poisoning with low level radiation doses.

    The low level radiation increase may be like a cancer in our atmosphere slowing destroying everything that is alive with in that atmosphere.

    Just a hypothetical answer to the apparent contradiction.
  16. Oct 29, 2003 #15


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    One conclusion that may be reached from solid studies into low-level radiation is that it is good for at least some of us humans. It's certainly a stretch to go from the studies which show that a low level of some pollutants and bacteria may have a net positive effect on health, especially in terms of the immune systems, to a similar conclusion re radiation.

    However, I think we need to be prepared to accept that zero-tolerance re radiation may, on balance, be harmful rather than helpful. After all, there is now solid support for the hypothesis that moderate intake of alcohol is better for you than none! (Of course, heavy consumption is clearly bad for you).
  17. Nov 21, 2003 #16
  18. Nov 21, 2003 #17


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    Why DU?

    why not cigarettes?

    adult onset diabetes (obesity a major contributor; your tax dollars at work too)?

    AIDS ('just say no'; more tax dollars at work)?

    TB (widespread use of broadspectrum antibiotics a major contributor; your tax dollars at work in agriculture)?

    asthma (same as TB)?

    What is the calculus of tax-dollars-induced suffering?
  19. Nov 24, 2003 #18


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    AKA "healthy worker syndrome." Its an inherrent flaw in such studies that appears all the time. Always interesting when it pops up though.
    Doesn't make sense to me either, Nereid. By all available evidence, nuclear power is actually relatively benign. Its far safer and cleaner than the other major sources of power. But its the big whipping boy. The fear/ignorance cycle is all I can think of that causes this.
  20. Nov 24, 2003 #19


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    theroyprocess's posts on DU

    theroyprocess posted a link to a site which claims that tax dollars are being used for purposes which result in a number of deaths and birth deformities (tho' it's not clear how direct the link actually is), particularly through the use of depleted uranium in weapons.

    You may be right about nuclear power being rather benign (personally, I'm worried about long term storage of radioactive waste, but more or less OK with the rest).

    However, I'd like to see some data from theroyprocess, in the context of suffering caused by DU weapons (and pedestrian nuclear power) compared with suffering caused by other deliberate government programs. Even more importantly, how does she weigh one suffering against another?

    As I see from other threads, several folk have drawn attention to other shortcomings in theroyprocess' analyses.
  21. Nov 25, 2003 #20
    More DU Deformed Babies

    WARNING: Extremely graphic pictures of deformed babies.


    Ionizing radiation is of special concern because it is invisable,
    oderless and without initial sensation...until cancer and other
    diseases emerge. It is the longest lived toxic threat to health
    and deserves priority over all else. These sycophants and paid
    spin doctors of the nuke industry can not defend their position
    and when the body count gets unmanageable, like with agent orange,
    the truth will out.
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