Both the great Truths and the great Falsehoods of the twentieth century lie hidden in the arcane, widely inaccessible, and seemingly mundane domain of the radiation sciences

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What follows is the continuation, in serial form, of a central chapter from my book A Primer in the Art of Deception: The Cult of Nuclearists, Uranium Weapons and Fraudulent Science.


In Exhibits A through D, we have examined glaring shortcomings in the current approach to radiation safety as it applies to low doses of internal emitters. We have pinpointed major flaws in the reigning paradigm of how radiation interacts with living cellular structure, the way dosage is calculated, the research used to justify and perpetuate these errors, and the biological effects that the current system cannot adequately address. With this groundwork prepared, we can carry a torch into the heart of darkness of the nuclear age. Egregious malfeasance crouches silently within the answer to a single question: Why do radiation protection agencies continue to uphold an antiquated model of how internal emitters interact with living systems when assessing the hazards to health of ionizing radiation?

In their book Radiation Protection Dosimetry: A Radical Reappraisal [1], Jack Simmons and David Watt are very generous in their assessment of the current state of affairs within the radiation protection community. They liken the continued reliance on “absorbed dose” for assessing low-level radiation effects to the planetary system developed by Ptolemy that perpetuated the false notion for 1,400 years that the Earth was the center of the universe. In the Almagest, published in the middle of the 2nd century A.D., Ptolemy presented a mathematical theory for the motions of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets. According to the theory he proposed, the Earth was suspended in the center of the universe. The stars were fixed points of light on the inside of the celestial sphere. The alternation of the day and the night resulted from the rotation of the entire celestial system around the Earth. To account for the motion of the Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, Ptolemy proposed that the planets moved on small circular paths, the epicycles. The centers of these epicycles, the imaginary points around which the planets circled, in turn orbited the Earth along great circular paths called deferents. To fully account for the ongoing accumulation of astronomical measurements, including the peculiar retrograde motion of some of the planets, a number of correction factors were periodically introduced into the system that compounded its complexity. Although unwieldy, the model was adhered to for fourteen centuries for its apparent accuracy in explaining observations and its ability to forecast future movements of the planets across the heavens. However, as the centuries passed, astronomical measurements accumulated that produced increasing discrepancies between observation and theory. By about 1500, many investigators doubted the correctness of the Ptolemaic system. This growing lack of confidence in established doctrine provided fertile ground for the conceptual revolution introduced by Copernicus. To account for all available observations, Copernicus inaugurated a paradigm shift, proclaiming that the Sun was the center of the universe, and the Earth, spinning on its axis, circled the Sun along with the other planets.

Simmons and Watt argue that the current system for calculating dosages of radiation and relating these dosages to observed biological effects is analogous to the Ptolemaic system. Over the last half century, an enormous amount of data has accumulated on the biological effects of radiation. This expanded knowledge base has forced the introduction of multiple correction factors into the models for calculating dosage and dose effects developed during and after the Manhattan Project in order to rescue these models from obsolescence and irrelevance. At this point, according to Simmons and Watt, the current methodology is unwieldy and incapable of accounting for the full range of confirmed observations. The time has arrived for a paradigm shift to bring theory more into line with observed phenomena.

This explanation for the continued embrace of an outdated model of radiation effects is naive. It fails to acknowledge and address the political interests that are so faithfully served by the perpetuation of the timeworn model that the radiation protection agencies insist on clinging to. Given that the current system for determining dosages of radiation and calculating biological effects does such an excellent job of protecting government and commercial nuclear programs from liability and criticism by the public, it is legitimate to ask whether another explanation exists as to why faulty models, out of sync with modern research, are allowed to dictate radiation safety.


[1] Simmons J.A., Watt D.E. Radiation Protection Dosimetry: A Radical Reappraisal. Madison, Wisconsin: Medical Physics Publishing; 1999.