How closely should radiation be regulated?
People are constantly exposed to radiation from natural sources. But government regulators typically act as if every bit of exposure to man-made sources of radiation such as from nuclear power plants is potentially hazardous. On average, Americans are exposed to 350 millirems a year in so-called background radiation.
So the question arises as to how much radiation exposure is harmless and at what level does it become harmful?
The sources of this natural radiation range from cosmic radiation and radon seeping out of the earth to substances in soil, water, food and even potassium in the human body itself.
In a report last year, the U.S. General Accounting Office said: The standards administered by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to protect the public from low-level radiation exposure do not have a conclusive scientific basis, despite decades of research.
The Environmental Protection Agency advocates a standard for all radiation exposure from a single source or site at 15 millirems a year, with no more than 4 coming from ground water while the Nuclear Regulatory Commission advocates 25 millirems a year from any one source.
A standard chest x-ray, by comparison, gives about 10 millirems to the chest which is equivalent to 1 or 2 to the whole body.
At various spots on the earth's surface, human exposure to cosmic radiation can range from roughly 100 to 200 millirems a year and natural variations in radiation exposure are many times the amounts that are being disputed by regulatory agencies.
Source: Gina Kolata, For Radiation, How Much Is Too Much?. New York Times, November 27, 2001.
For text http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/27/science/physical/27RADA.html?searchpv=past 7days
For more on Human Health Risks http://www.ncpa.org/iss/env
FMF Policy Bulletin\4 December 2001
Publish date: 11 December 2001
The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.