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Nuclear is for Life: a cultural revolution

By Tom Quirk - posted Monday, 8 February 2016

The South Australian Royal Commissioners looking into nuclear energy and politicians both state and federal should read Nuclear is for Life by Wade Allison. It is a "tour d'horizon" of the scientific understanding of radiation and the human body. It should also be read by all the NGO and green activists who assembled in Paris last November in the City of (nuclear) Lights.

The simple central message of this book is that we have been mistaken about the hazards of nuclear power. Some of this has been willful and some well intentioned.

Fukushima, Chenobyl, Three Mile Island, weapons tests and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are all discussed. The subsequent histories of those exposed to radiation are followed and in some cases compared to those who were present but not exposed. For nuclear power stations only Chenobyl stands out with the death of those who actually fought the fire at the reactor and the children who got thyroid cancer from radioactive iodine in cows' milk. The latter was due to the inaction of Soviet authorities to a well known radiation danger. The biggest health hazard for both Chenobyl and Fukushima was the extraordinary mental stress placed on those who were moved from their farms and houses. This problem was identified at Chenobyl but the action was repeated at Fukushima.


Wade Allison draws some comparisons with the radiation treatment of cancers where doses are enough to kill the cancerous cells but the surrounding tissues with lesser doses recover. Another interesting comparison is our attitude to skin cancer, melanoma, and UV light. More deaths arise from the UV radiation than the estimated risk let alone the occurrence of cancers from nuclear radiation. We don't stay in the dark but rather try to take sensible precautions during our summers but the risk of cancer remains.

Our living cells are a result of over two billion years of surviving and evolving to give reproductive protection for cell division and for us animals an immune system to police the behaviour of cells. All this has occurred in an environment where radiation was ever present. This leads to an assessment of the present regulatory limits set for safe radiation exposure. In brief, for living tissues, the present regulatory approach is wrong. Living tissue repairs itself.

The Precautionary Principle is dealt with and then dismissed. This follows Lord Kelvin's advice that nothing was worth discussing until reduced to numbers.

Finally "the Great and the Good" are put in their place. There is a splendid example of Linus Pauling writing to President Kennedy with a catalogue of radiation-induced abnormalities amongst new born babies. It is now clear that Linus Pauling was wrong. It is unfortunately not remarkable as Silent Spring – DDT mosquitoes and the environment (think Zika virus), the Club of Rome – resource limits, The Population Bomb- food shortages and riots, The Cooling - a new ice age and now innumerable books and reports on climate change have all been supported by groups wanting to do good who frequently knew nothing of the actual scientific or technical issues but took the opinion of experts. Over time this has demonstrated one of Richard Feynman's rules that the business of science is proving the experts wrong.

Australiadoes not escape the reach of this book. Neither Nevil Shute's On the Beach nor Helen Caldicott get a favourable review.

This is a thorough and excellent work that should be widely read and discussed.

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This is a review of Nuclear is for Life by Professor Wade Allison. It can be purchased online.

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About the Author

Tom Quirk is a director of Sementis Limited a privately owned biotechnology company. He has been Chairman of the Victorian Rail Track Corporation, Deputy Chairman of Victorian Energy Networks and Peptech Limited as well as a director of Biota Holdings Limited He worked in CRA Ltd setting up new businesses and also for James D. Wolfensohn in a New York based venture capital fund. He spent 15 years as an experimental research physicist, university lecturer and Oxford don.

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