The radioactive plume from Japan wafting from west to east across the U.S. is absolutely nothing to worry about, writes William J. Broad in a New York Times report today ("Radiation Over U.S. Is Harmless, Officials Say," 3/22/11) about the radiation threats posed by the Japanese nuclear plant disaster. Broad writes:
Health experts said that the plume's radiation had been diluted enormously in its journey of thousands of miles and that–at least for now, with concentrations so low–its presence will have no health consequences in the United States. In a similar way, faint radiation from the Chernobyl disaster spread around the globe and reached the West Coast in 10 days, its levels detectable but minuscule.
There are two things wrong with Broad's report:
One, he doesn't quote or even name any health experts in the piece. When he later elaborates on the claim that radiation from Fukushima will have no health consequences in the United States, he cites the Department of Energy–better known for its promotion of nuclear power than for its health expertise.
Two, in saying that small amounts of radiation are safe, Broad seems to be embracing the industry-favored threshold model of radiation risks. That view holds that below a certain level of radiation exposure, no health danger is posed.
But this is at odds with the National Academy of Sciences and several other science associations that hold there is no such threshold, and that any exposure poses some additional risk of cancer: the greater the exposure, the greater the risk. The linear, no threshold model isn't universally embraced,but is the prevailing view in scientific circles.
At the very least, if Broad is going to cite an industry-favored way of viewing radiation dangers, one that downplays the threat, isn't he obliged to explain that that is what it is, and that it is contradicted by much of the scientific establishment?