Chernobyl in perspective: A footnote

In the post below I cite former Reagan speechwriter Josh Gilder’s illuminating column “Chernobyl in perspective.” I wrote Gilder on Thursday to ask if he had anything he might want to add to what he had to say in the column. He kindly responded:

First, Obama’s extraordinary performance, of lack of it, on the Japanese tsunami disaster, and the complete lack of proportion in his remarks yesterday. Personally, I would have thought such a devastating disaster to one of our most important allies would have merited an oval office speech, or something major, and it shouldn’t have taken almost a week before he addressed the issue. But more to the point, the major thrust of his remarks yesterday was on the nuclear crisis and the exaggerated fears of nuclear contamination in this country — which his remarks did little dispel and which his surgeon general has been needlessly and ignorantly stoking.
The other thing is the lack of knowledge, and fear-mongering, on the part of the press in general when it comes to radiation. To a great extent, they’re not to blame. Official policy in this country is based on a scientifically untenable theory — linear no-threshold theory, or LNT — that any exposure to radiation is bad, will build up over time in the individual, and is statistically relevant in the population at large no matter how low the dose level. It’s a theory that is designed to spread fear, not rational risk assessment. It’s been compared to saying, because a forty foot fall will kill you, if enough people jump four inches, one of them will die.
This isn’t to say that high radiation exposure is not dangerous. It is. The Fukishima 50 are real heroes. But as we saw in Chernobyl, even many of the rescue workers who were exposed to high levels of radiation in the first few days had not developed cancer 20 years later. At the risk of sounding too clinical, I very much hope someone is recording the exact times and levels of exposure of these heroic people so we can get a more accurate picture of what levels are dangerous and how dangerous they are.

I highly recommend Gilder’s column along with the footnote to it above.


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