Printed on: April 22, 2014

Teaching men to fish


Ms. Thatcher, you made your point. Radiation -- both natural and generated -- poses risks to humans. My concern is that your argument, if carried to the extreme you seem to espouse, namely elimination of nuclear energy and technologies, threatens the quality of life and indeed the very lives of millions of human being -- thousands more than those at risk from the transient radiation event at Fukushima.

Whether that risk is 100- or 1,000-fold greater than estimated by ICRP models is irrelevant to the 1,607 people who died from the tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake, the 1,656 additional people who died from stress-related illnesses and other mala-dies as a result of the tsunami, and the 1,313 people in adjoining prefectures who died from indirect causes of the tsunami.

Whether that risk is 100- or 1,000-fold greater than estimated by ICRP models is irrelevant to an estimated 1.3 billion people, or 18 percent of the world population, that did not have access to electricity in 2011 and 2.6 billion people who were without clean cooking facilities. More than 95 percent of these people are either in sub-Saharan Africa or developing Asia and 84 percent are in rural areas.

This "energy poverty" is a serious hindrance to economic and social development. Access to modern energy, including nuclear power, is essential for the provision of clean water, sanitation and healthcare and for the provision of reliable and efficient lighting, heating, cooking, mechanical power and transport and telecommunications services.

Whether that risk is a 100- or 1,000-

fold greater than estimated by ICRP models is irrelevant to the more than 2.6 billion people, or 38 percent of the global population, who relied on the traditional use of biomass for cooking in 2011. New research finds that there are 3.5 million premature deaths each year world-wide as a result of household air pollution from using solid fuels, e.g., biomass.

Whether that risk is a 100- or 1,000-fold greater than estimated by ICRP models is irrelevant to the approximately 35 million cancer patients worldwide who have benefited from radiation treatments from Cobalt-60 in the last 60 years. It is irrelevant to hundreds of thousands of persons whose lives are saved each year by the use of radiation in medicine.

To suggest that the world "eliminate" nuclear energy and technologies condemns 1.3 billion people to economic poverty, 3.5 million people to die prematurely each year from indoor pollution and hundreds of thousands of patients to death. To what end? To qualm the irrational fear of an infinitesimal risk of dying from exposure to a transient radiation event?

You made your point. Rational fear is healthy and necessary for the safety of our nuclear workforce. But now it's time to teach men to fish rather than to fear drowning. Move on.

Snyder retired in 2009 as a commercialization manager at the Idaho National Laboratory.