Sutherland, John

Submission Reference: Background Paper 1-5 Risk and Uncertainty in Nuclear Waste Management

Response to Kristin Shrader-Frechette by John K. Sutherland.

I found Ms Frechette's article (Risk and Uncertainty in Nuclear Waste Management), disappointing in its generally insinuating, emotional, and misleading polemic, and annoying in its lack of relevant scientific data on either social risks or of the realities and risks of nuclear wastes.

For basic factual information, all of which can be readily verified on these subjects, I refer the reader to my article on this site: Health Aspects Of High-Level Radioactive Wastes. In addition, I attach one of two articles providing factual background on radiation, nuclear wastes, and social risks in general. They were submitted for publication on the Energy Pulse Web site ( The address of the other article is:

In Ms Frechette's article, I was forcefully struck by the absence of three essential components that are required to place her allegations of extreme risk into the realm of the real and present, scientifically-verifiable world:

1. Relevant scientific facts - rather than numerous emotional allegations of extreme risks for millions of years, when society actually sees its entire risk environment, and health, notably improving every decade.

2. Risk perspectives for our advanced society, including those gained by evaluating actual radiation risks in general throughout society for more than the last 100 years of medical radiation use, and the last 60 years of nuclear power uses.

3. Dose perspectives upon actual public radiation exposures throughout society. These show that natural radiation contributes about 75% of each person's dose on average, medical radiation contributes about 25% on average and industrial radiation contributes about 1%. Less than 0.1% is contributed by all of nuclear power (UNSCEAR says less than 0.01%). Much less than 0.01% (1 part in ten thousand), and possibly much less than even 0.001%, is contributed by radioactive waste management and disposal even today. Typical data are readily found in UNSCEAR publications.

Ms Frechette's allegations of harm from the very small volumes of 100% managed nuclear wastes and their likely, very small radiation doses to anyone - if they occur at all - is tantamount to observing a herd of elephants milling around a flattened carcass, and coming to the conclusion that not only do the elephants not exist, but that gnats - also present - were actually responsible for the trampling.

Advanced societies are far healthier today than they have ever been. We live an average of about 80 years, and about 30% of us can expect to die of cancer in old age. Despite what Ms Frechette misleadingly implies about future societal risks and health, future society will likely be more healthy than we are, with less risk impact, living longer on average, and thus also with yet more of us dying of cancer at the end of our longer and healthier lives. It is unlikely that even one of these cancer deaths could honestly be blamed on the minuscule levels of radiation exposure that one might encounter from any managed or disposed nuclear waste.

Similarly, emotionally alleging significant human mutational effects at any time for low dose and low dose rate potential exposures - such as those from stored nuclear wastes, which the public is not exposed to, lacks perspective, and is scientifically dishonest (the gnat-elephant problem again). Even those tens of thousands of individuals exposed to truly massive radiation doses in medicine each year, in diagnostic and therapeutic procedures (such doses are millions of times larger than anyone is likely to get from nuclear wastes), show no such effects. If any of Ms Frechette's allegations could be believed concerning managed nuclear wastes, then we should also much more readily see the much greater effects from the many thousands of times higher doses from natural radiation in all of the world and in our homes, and more especially from widespread, high-dose medical radiation uses over the last 100 years. No such mutational effects in humans have been found though they have been fearfully alleged by some writers for the last 80 years, following Muller's massive-radiation-dose work on fruit flies.

I found her suggestion that some apparently significant risks could be potentially mis-stated by 8 to 12 orders of magnitude, entirely unbelievable.

The 'massive' risk alleged in her first sentence indicates that she understands neither social risks in any society, nor nuclear wastes.

John K. Sutherland.

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