Get smarter, faster. Subscribe to our daily newsletter.
Does Living Near a Nuclear Plant Increase Cancer Risk? The NRC Was Right to Cancel a Study to Find Out.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has dropped a study on whether living near a nuclear plant increases the risk of cancer. Criticism of this decision is predictable, but unwarranted. The study would only have found what other research has shown. There is no link
As a reporter for a TV station in Boston I reported on a study suggesting an association between elevated leukemia rates and proximity to the Pilgrim Nuclear Power plant. I was proud to have broken such news, but subsequent investigation found no connection.
Had I known then what I have come to know about the actual health effects of nuclear radiation I never would have reported the first story. And if critics of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision to end a new study on whether living near a nuke raises cancer risk were aware of this information, it’s likely they wouldn’t be as critical. Canceling it makes sense. Calling for the study in the first place didn’t
The science on radiation risk is clear. The risk is stunningly lower than commonly assumed, certainly far lower than I assumed when I reported on nuclear power issues. Even at the frighteningly high doses received by the hibakusha, the survivors of the atomic bombs in Japan who were within 3 miles of ground zero and were exposed not just in that one instant but for weeks and months and longer, the excess cancer risk is tiny. The chance of dying from radiation-induced cancer for the atomic bomb survivors was 2/3 of 1%! At more moderate doses (below 100 milliseiverts), the 70 year-long and still-running Life Span Study of the hibakusha and their offspring (under the aegis of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation) has shown no rates of any radiogenic disease elevated above the normal rates in the non-exposed population. No multi-generational genetic damage either. (Even low doses cause birth defects if pregnant mothers are exposed.)
This all goes so dramatically against what is commonly assumed, and what I just took for granted in my reporting days. But it is hard evidence from one of the longest and most in-depth and independent epidemiological studies ever done.
Neighbors of nuclear plants – if they receive any radiation exposure at all…and most don’t - receive FAR lower doses than that, microscopically small compared a CAT scan or many other common medical radiological procedures. So even with new advanced research techniques for doing more insightful research to investigate a possible link between nuclear plants and cancer in those living near such plants, the NRC study was almost certain to find nothing more than all previous research has found, which was no link. Even if there is exposure, the doses are way too low to cause detectable harm.
The new study - now cancelled – was a response to fear of radiation, a widely assumed fear with deep Ban the Bomb historic roots that has been a bedrock of the modern environmentalism I grew up devoted to (Rachel Carson writes about chemicals as being ‘like radiation’ in Silent Spring), a fear that made sense before we knew what we have come to know from the study of the hibakusha, but a fear we now know is simply not supported by the evidence. That fear fuels opposition to a form of zero carbon emissions energy that could be helping us solve the immense threat of climate change, an inordinantly greater threat. Nuclear energy could also help reduce particulate pollution, the microscopic bits from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuel that get deep into the lungs and contribute to cardiovascular problems. Particulate air pollution is estimated by the World Health Organization to cause “about 16% of lung cancer deaths, 11% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease deaths, and more than 20% of ischemic heart disease and stroke”, worldwide each year.
My dramatic but in retrospect ill-informed reporting on the dangers of some of New England’s nuclear power plants - Pilgrim (which certainly was badly contaminated for a long period with radiation inside the plant in lots of places it didn't belong) Seabrook (the controversy was about whether their evacuation plan could work in the summer with nearby beaches full) and Yankee Rowe (now disassembled and gone because of valid questions about the integrity of the core vessel) - certainly fueled this nuke-o-noia. So do all the nuclear opponents and NRC critics, including Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, who question the motives of the agency for having cancelled this study. Such criticism fuels mistrust in the regulator, which amps up the fear of nuclear energy, and that does the public much more harm than good.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.