Energy

Scientists Tell Regulators Nuclear Energy Isn’t As Dangerous As They Once Thought

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is considering if new scientific research supports lowering costly radiation standards for nuclear plants in the U.S., according to a Wall Street Journal opinion piece.

In June, the NRC began soliciting comments on revising safety standards to include the scientific research. If the NRC regulations change, the costs of building new nuclear power plants would significantly decline and could even become cheaper than coal power.

Recent studies have shown that the radiation risks of nuclear power were massively overestimated. Predictions of thousands of cancer deaths from nuclear incidents like Chernobyl or Fukushima have consistently failed to be borne out. Current regulations assume that any dose of radiation, no matter how small, causes some harm.

These regulations have no “scientifically valid support,” wrote Dr. Carol S. Marcus, a professor of nuclear medicine at UCLA, in a statement to the Wall Street Journal. Other scientists have shown that radiation is far less dangerous than current regulations assume.

There were no immediate deaths due to radiation exposure during the Fukushima incident and only 6 workers exceeded the legal limits for radiation. The number of additional cancer cases from Fukushima will likely be undetectably low. However, the evacuation ordered Japanese authorities is estimated to have caused 1,600 premature deaths.

Most residents around the Fukushima plant would have received only 4 millisieverts of radiation from the accident, but the average annual exposure is 2.4 millisieverts according to New York Times. Exposure to 1000 millisiverts of radiation will cause fatal cancers in about 5 percent of the exposed.

Some studies have even shown that small doses of radiation actually modestly reduce cancer risks. A study of radon gas by a Johns Hopkins scientist suggested that people living with higher concentrations of the radioactive gas actually have lower rates of lung cancer than the general population.

Coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste according to Scientific American. The particulates and heavy metals associated with coal plants emit are estimated to cause 13,200 deaths a year, according to the American Lung Association.

Of the 59 new nuclear reactors under construction worldwide to help meet increasing demand for electricity, only 4 of them are being built in the United States, largely due to the increased regulatory expense of ensuring nuclear plants emit essentially no radiation.

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