Leading Epidemiologist: Instead of Trying to Avoid Japanese Radiation, Put Your Energy Into Demanding a Saner Energy Policy → Washingtons Blog
Leading Epidemiologist: Instead of Trying to Avoid Japanese Radiation, Put Your Energy Into Demanding a Saner Energy Policy - Washingtons Blog

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Leading Epidemiologist: Instead of Trying to Avoid Japanese Radiation, Put Your Energy Into Demanding a Saner Energy Policy

Steven Wing is a PhD epidemiologist, and an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. ("Epidemiology" means the study of disease on the population level).

Dr. Wing has spoken out against nuclear power, and has spoken out against the cancer risks from the Three Mile Island accident. He's not, by any definition, a nuclear industry shill.

So I listened with interest to an interview of Wing by outspoken nuclear critic Arnie Gundersen about the health risks from the Fukushima fallout

Wing said:
  • The generally accepted thinking is that there is no safe dose of radiation with regards to cancer or genetic mutation. There is a linear relationship between radiation dose and the likelihood of getting cancer. As the dose goes down, the risk goes down ... but it never disappears
  • When the news media says there is no threat to health, that flies in the face of all of the standard models and all of the studies that have been done over a long period of time regarding radiation cancer
  • When the radiation clouds move around the world, the radiation doses are spread out. But spreading out a given amount of radiation among among more people, it reduces each person's radiation risks, but it doesn't reduce the number of cancers which result from that amount of radiation. So having millions and millions of people exposed to a small dose could cause as much cancer as a hundred or a thousand people exposed to the same amount of radiation
  • A lot of people are asking should they take iodine, should they avoid certain foods, should they move? No. There is almost nothing that Americans - or indeed, anyone outside of Japan - can do to reduce their exposure to Fukushima radiation. Wherever you go and whatever you do, you will be exposed to at least a small amount of radiation from Fukushima [Note: If you are not satisfied with his advice, see this. And a French non-profit group is giving different advice. Finally, Dr. Wing's advice might change if a higher level of radiation reached the U.S.]
  • Fukushima will cause some cancers. But instead of trying to avoid radiation from Fukushima, we should put our energy into pressuring our elected representatives to implement a sane energy policy which won't lead to these types of fiascos in the future. We should get involved in collective action to put pressure on people in government and the energy industry to come up with a policy which minimizes harm. [For background, see this, this and this]

Note: For a much scarier take on the Fukushima fallout, see this short talk by physician Helen Caldicott.


  1. I was very disappointed! Even Gunderson seemed surprised.

    Yes there will be increased rates of cancer but people can make choices that will reduce their risks, as you have pointed out.

    Countless other bloggers and sites have also identified risk-reduction strategies ranging from avoiding rain to filtering drinking water.

    I believe we as parents have a moral responsibility to find ways for reducing our kids' risks and we must demand that our schools adopt plans for identifying and reducing risks as well.

  2. Like the man said, the way to reduce the risk is to resist the source of the problem rather than run like rats each time a new problem is thrown at us.

  3. It's amazing to me that he doesn't realize the sheer absurdity of advising us to 'put pressure' on government and industry. Those two are in a lockstep that excludes our concerns. What we want to happen, we have to make happen.

  4. Why are you subjecting my comments to approval? Your guidelines do not mention this.


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