University of New Hampshire Law Review


[Excerpt] "INTRODUCTION The public generally accepts the premise that exposure to radiation can have an undesirable effect. Furthermore, it believes that as the radiation dose increases, the magnitude of the effect will increase. On the other hand, while the background radiation dose varies from a few hundred millirem/ year (a few millisieverts/yr) in some places to a few thousand millirem/ yr (tens of millisieverts/yr) in others, researchers have been unable to find a correlation between the level of background radiation and incidence of cancer or other maladies attributable to radiation. No one is sure of the exact relationship between a low dose of radiation and its effect on living things. Several relationships have been proposed and three have been investigated and discussed at some length. They are referred to as the linear-nonthreshold (LNT), threshold, and hormetic models. The LNT relationship is the one that has been adopted by national and international regulatory bodies for use in developing radiation protection guidelines and regulations.1 It is the most conservative of the three and is based on the assumption that exposure to any radiation above zero dose will have some effect. The threshold relationship was developed on the assumption that the human body can tolerate some amount of radiation without negative effects. More accurately, the assumption is that cells are able to repair damage done by radiation as long as the damage is limited. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses a threshold model to predict health effects resulting from exposure to hazardous chemicals. Under the assumptions in the hormetic relationship, small amounts of radiation are thought to be healthful, perhaps as a result of the radiation stimulating the cell’s repair mechanisms, which then repair damage done by radiation and other agents. Some examples of substances that are thought to have healthful effects at low doses and negative effects at higher ones include selenium and red wine. Effects of radiation on living things are obviously independent of the model that human beings use to predict those effects. However, the model selected is important. It becomes the basis for regulations that dictate what dose members of the public may receive. The smaller that dose must be, the more expensive operation of any facility using radioactive material becomes. Wall thickness must be greater, more backup systems to minimize releases of radioactive material must be incorporated into the facility design, and at contaminated sites, more earth must be moved to ensure that the site is clean enough to meet standards. Some question whether it is efficient or even ethical to spend billions of dollars to reduce radiation doses to very low levels to prevent one or two postulated deaths when those dollars could be used to save many thousands of lives through immunizations, better sanitation, wider distribution of existing medicines, medical research, and so on.2 Because there is considerable controversy about the relationship between radiation dose and its effects, i.e., the shape of the curve, and because use of the LNT model does lead to standards that can be expensive to meet, national and international organizations periodically review the evidence related to the shape of the curve and issue recommendations on the shape that regulatory agencies should use. The National Council on Radiation Protection (NCRP) released its latest review in June 2001.3 In its report, the NCRP concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to justify changing from the LNT model to another. The target release date for a report by the National Academy of Sciences on the biological effects of ionizing radiation (BEIR-VII) is October 2003.4 The papers in this issue of Pierce Law Review explore the potential impact of the shape of the dose-response curve, if any, on society. This paper focuses on the impact dose response curves have on public acceptance, including nuclear energy. Use of nuclear technology, as is true of almost all technologies, offers benefits to society and presents some problems. Whether society chooses to take advantage of the benefits and deal with the problems or chooses to ban the technology often depends, in large measure, on public acceptance of that technology."

Repository Citation

Audeen W. Fentiman, Effects of the Shape of the Radiation Dose-Response Curve on Public Acceptance of Radiation and Nuclear Energy, 1 PIERCE L. REV. 31 (2002). Available at http://scholars.unh.edu/unh_lr/vol1/iss1/6