Danger of long-term effects from Fukushima disaster

According the the Global Language Monitor's NarrativeTracker there have been only two references to the controversy in the past week in the major global media, or even to the fact that the analysis of the health impact of the escaped radiation could be far off base. An article in the Malaysian Star was the most insightful. Even on the web news side, NarrativeTracker picked up fewer that half a dozen references to the controversy in the last week.

On the Internet and in Social Media, there were some 10,000 references to the controversy, which pales in comparison to news about, say Charlie Sheen (who has hundreds of million citations). In addition, there were about three million references to the 'harmless' effects of the Fukushima fallout, with about 7,000,000 references to its 'dangers'.

Therefore, the prevailing and accepted view of the National Academy of Sciences, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and, for that matter, the US Congress has been overlooked in the global media discussion. This is the view that holds sway in legislation ranging from the regulation of cigarettes, CT scans and the Hanford Reservation cleanup. In addition to the risk to human life, billions of dollars in government funding are at stake.

The controversy concerns the Linear No Threshold (LNT) methodology used to calculate risk from exposure to radioactive elements. The LNT dose-response relationship is used to describe the relationship between radiation dose and the occurrence of cancer. This dose-response model suggests that any increase in dose, no matter how small, results in an incremental increase in risk. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) accepts the LNT hypothesis as a conservative model for estimating radiation risk.

There are two competing theories here.

1. There is no lower-level threshold to the threat from radioactive exposure. Basically this means that even a small exposure to radioactivity will increase the chance of cancer occurring in a corresponding small percentage of the population. The smaller the exposure, the smaller the risk, but the risk never falls to zero. 

2. There is a lower-level threshold to the threat from radioactive exposure. This is the model that the media has adopted in claims that the fallout is 'harmless' while still recognizing that it is harmful in large doses. Some scientists adhere to the radiation hormesis model that radiation might even be beneficial in very low doses.

The LNT model is generally accepted by most governments and scientific agencies and predicts higher risks than the threshold model. Because the current data is inconclusive, scientists disagree on which methodology should be used.

However, the fact that there has been little or no discussion of the topic in the media is cause for concern.

Paul JJ Payack is the President and Chief Word Analyst of The Global Language Monitor.