Junk science

GAO Wants Radiation Guidelines for Terrorism in U.S. Cities

Because of obsolete radiation guidelines, the greatest threat from terrorism is what Washington, in reaction to an attack, does to America.


Japan's panicked Fukushima evacuation of some 130,000 persons was unnecessary, but it serves as a great warning for us. For most of the evacuees, their first year exposure was about 2 REMs of radiation, fifty times below where it causes illness. Some were exposed to 22 REMs, still far below the sickness level of 100 REMs. Yet the Japanese were basically following American civil defense guidelines. Irrational fear of radiation permeates Washington's civil defense and nuclear regulatory guidelines. There is an argument that virtually any radiation might eventually cause cancer in some people. The Wall Street Journal link above calculates a possible 194 excess cancers among the Fukushima population, however 1,600 persons died from the forced evacuation.

Fortunately, the GAO recently published a relevant report in September: NUCLEAR TERRORISM RESPONSE PLANS: Major Cities Could Benefit from Federal Guidance on Responding to Nuclear and Radiological Attacks. It details dangerous ignorance by most cities' officials which "could lead to a disjointed and untimely response that might increase the consequences of attack." The "GAO found that federal guidance on the type and timing of such assistance is not readily available or understood by all emergency managers" and that "cities may not have the information they need to adequately prepare for and respond to them. This could lead to complications that result in greater loss of life and economic impacts."

The report's conclusion, What GAO Found, urges "that FEMA develop guidance to clarify the early response capabilities needed by cities for RDD (radiological dispersal device) and IND (improvised nuclear device) attacks. FEMA did not concur with this recommendation. GAO believes that gaps in early response abilities warrant federal attention and has clarified its recommendation."

These concerns may have come about because of more and more reports that the forced evacuation in Fukushima was not necessary. The panicked Japanese authorities were apparently following old American guidelines under the ALARA policy. ALARA means As Low as Reasonably Achievable which, in practice, has been interpreted as meaning that any radiation is dangerous. The threshold was established after World War II and then used by the EPA to set a 15 millirem limit as the danger exposure level for nearly everything from civil defense to reactors and nuclear waste disposal sites. Actual threats to health starts at 100 REM. The EPA is now considering a 50 REM threat level. In Japan not a single person died from radiation, and hardly any got ill, even among the emergency nuclear workers at the reactor.

The fact that FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) did not agree with the GAO's call for clarified guidance may not just be government inertia. It could also be because of strong resistance from extreme environmentalists who oppose any modification of old rules about what radiation levels are actually dangerous. EPA is working on new guidelines for exposure risk from terrorist attacks. Its formal 90 day public comment period expired on July 15 (since extended to Sept 15th) and the report has still not been issued. Extreme environmentalists are already opposing any modifications.

If the EPA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (which incidentally contributed to the panic in Japan by urging Americans up to 50 miles away to flee the whole area) propose substantial changes in limits, it could bring into question the whole excessive fear level about the use of nuclear energy and nuclear waste disposal. Furthermore it could challenge other far-out EPA limits on dust, mercury, lead, and all sorts of other chemicals and minerals based on the theory of "linear no threshold theory." Their cost to the American economy in lost jobs, shut down factories and mines is stupendous. EPA models are largely based on this theory, namely that even the tiniest exposure—e.g. parts per billion—will eventually produce illness, mainly cancers, in some people. An article in Forbes explains why the theory is fallacious. The costs of EPA enforcement of its old models are in the hundreds of billions—the Wall Street Journal reports that the cost for cleaning up 130 contaminated nuclear sites is $350 billion.

For more details on measuring radiation, civil defense and consequences of the linear no threshold theory, please see my earlier article "Terrorism and Radiation, Understanding the Real Threat to Our Cities."

Ignorance in the national media is equally pervasive. Witness the recent reports that radioactive water was leaking into the ocean from Fukushima. Almost nowhere did one see any explanation or questioning of the amounts of radiation, whether they were dangerous or simply negligible. Finally the Washington Post published some details explaining the perceived dangers, but still using the old radiation limits. The Japan Times has published some realistic information about fish and radiation. The New York Times recently published an op-ed, Taming Radiation Fears, calling for less panic and better understanding.

In 2004 I wrote "Thoughts on Terrorist Targets" arguing that Bin Laden would not waste his resources on small targets, that his objectives were major ports, infrastructure or symbolic ones. However, with his death and now the proliferation of little Al Qaeda cells with angry young men, humiliated and enraged by what they see as America's unjust killing of Muslims, the threat has changed. Since Boston's attack we now know that just a few can launch terrorism inside America. The Boston bombing was done by two men, the recent Kenya shopping mall attack, by half a dozen or a few more. A nuclear device or "dirty bomb" is beyond the capability of most, but one day there will surely be such an attack.

The greatest threat from terrorism is what Washington, in reaction, does to America. We were spared in Boston, but need to pay attention now. Thankfully the GAO report is a good start.

NEXT: Kerry and Foreign Ministers Join Iran Nuke Talks

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. If the gov can close Boston down completely (except the donut shops of course) because some guys were driving around lighting pipe bombs, imagine what they’ll do when someone has radioactive pipe bombs?

    1. my classmate’s step-sister makes $83/hr on the computer. She has been fired for nine months but last month her payment was $14664 just working on the computer for a few hours. go…..W?W?W.D?U?B?3?0.C?O?M

    2. Allegedly were driving around lighting pipe bombs.

  2. It is inhumane what the Japanese are doing to the Fukushima residence. Most all of the evacuees could have been returned home 2 years ago. The evacuation has probably caused more death than if nobody evacuated at all.

    Rad phobia is in most cases more dangerous than the radiation itself. Our natural DNA repair mechanisms deal with constant DNA damage much worse than what anything below 100 REMs/year causes.

  3. Another thing, at the time of the Fukushima accident, the Chairman of the NRC was Gregory Jaczko. He pushed hard for the irrational evacuation response to the accident. He was installed in that position during the Bush years due to Harry Reid holding up Bush’s nominations until he installed Jaczko as chairman. Jaczko has a PhD in physics, which may sound relevant to someone not familiar with nuclear energy, but his education has absolutely nothing to do with nuclear physics. He was installed as political tool to end Yucca Mountain by Reid and continue to slow down any nuclear progress in the US.

    Jaczko has come out recently basically confessing that he is a devoted anit-nuke. He is pure political scum.

    1. That’s too bad. The first time I ever heard someone talk about the nuclear in a rational manner along with the hazards of nuclear vs fossil fuels was physics teacher in college. Prior to that it was all Jane Fonda nuke is evil propaganda.

      1. Im making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do,… http://www.jump85.com

    2. Recycled older post as I recall, but check it out… See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pm…..MC2477708/ , from Government Almighty itself! Even Guv-Mint Almighty admits that lose-dose radiation is actually GOOD for you! So much for all the ridiculous over-reactions around all but the innermost cores or areas that have had nuclear accidents! Japan’s recent over-reaction doubtlessly harmed and killed more people? Some evacuees committed suicide due to the stresses of forced re-locations? Than would have been harmed by far less over-reactions. The link I have cited here, shows low-level radiation (in an “accidental human experiment” if you will, in Taiwan) actually reduced cancers to a mere 3% of that of the general population there! This is “radiation hormesis” and media and Government Almighty need to do more to publicize this!

    3. But Reid assured us that only Republicans obstruct judicial appointments for no good reason. It’s what Bo knows too.

    4. I think what he said was a bit misrepresented here.

      Looking at the context of what he is talking about here I don’t see how he is “anti-nuclear” by what he said.

      He simply stated that the plants we have are currently unsafe. All of these plants in question are at least 40 years old and use designs that are 60 years old.

      These plants leave a lot to be desired in terms of safety.

      Yes components can be replaced, but from a design standpoint these plants are obsolete and should be replaced with newer designs.

      1. These plants being 40 years old means what exactly? If you can show me any data that is evidence that these plants are unsafe, please do. The safety record of these plants is second to none in any energy industry.

        Do some research on Jaczko, he is an obvious anti-nuke. He advocates the shuttering of all US plants to be replaced by renewables. If this is not anti-nuclear, I would like you to explain to me what exactly anti-nuclear is.

        1. the main two dangers of 40 year designs are inadequate seismic safety in places the safe shutdown earthquake are underestimated and when indefinite extensions applied to their life cycle the potential for embrittlement and cracking at startup. Little is known about the effects on grain structure and ductility at the sort of flux they’d see over 40 years but there is a theory of late blooming phases causing extra embrittlement.

  4. my classmate’s step-sister makes $83/hr on the computer. She has been fired for nine months but last month her payment was $14664 just working on the computer for a few hours. goW?W?W.D?U?B?3?0.C?O?M

  5. My monkey’s uncle wastes $56/hr on the computer. He was dead for six months but last month his loss was $12455 just chasing stupid get-rich-quick schemes for a few hours. go http://www.stupidAss69.com

  6. my friend’s half-sister makes $64 an hour on the internet. She has been laid off for five months but last month her pay check was $13540 just working on the internet for a few hours. browse around this web-site ……………………………..

  7. my sister’s half-friend makes $4723398 an hour on th einternet. she has been laid off for elevet11ty jllion months, but last month her pay check was $q34234uye974v justwroking on the internet for a few hours. web site has details.


  8. Since Boston’s attack we now know that just a few can launch terrorism inside America.

    You just figured that out last year?

  9. There should clearly be a differentiation between “radiation absorbed” and “radioactive particles inhaled and lodged in tissue/bones” (and the likelihood of that happening). The fact that both listed under the same “radioactivity” heading helps no-one. While an alpha emitter on your skin is nothing to be concerned of, an alpha emitter in your lungs will cause bad things to happen. So the neighborhood of the Fukushima plant is safe for hiking (and they should really rebuild the train line along the coast). Unless you absorb too much cesium-retaining dust.

    Obligatory radiation dose chart by XKCD (all caveats apply):


  10. Sammy SosoMia is not going to liek that.


  11. The author, and commenters on this post, are fools, laughing in spite of a potential disaster. If you feel so strongly that an evacuation was unnecessary, why don’t you vacation there for a month or so and report back to us?

    1. The author, and commenters on this post, are fools, laughing in spite of a potential disaster. If you feel so strongly that an evacuation was unnecessary, why don’t you vacation there for a month or so and report back to us?

      Send me the money to cover the travel and lodging and I’ll gladly go.

      1. Big point being missed here? If three molecules of poisonous radioactive cooties per billion cubic yards of earth are released in my neighborhood (by “terrorists” who terrorize me with things other than taxes and LEGAL coercion and force and violence), I am not looking for travel expenses and lodging to prove that I am brave, to continue to live here? I just want the Government Almighty to BACK THE FUCK OFF and allow me permission to live on own God-damned property, OK?!?! And if Government Almighty is too much of a pussy to bother to deliver the mail to me, and provide police protection to me, then I want to be able to do those things for myself, and NOT be taxed by the parasites! That is too much to ask of, from Government Almighty, yes, I know?

  12. Scienfoology Song? GAWD = Government Almighty’s Wrath Delivers

    Government loves me, This I know,
    For the Government tells me so,
    Little ones to GAWD belong,
    We are weak, but GAWD is strong!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    My Nannies tell me so!

    GAWD does love me, yes indeed,
    Keeps me safe, and gives me feed,
    Shelters me from bad drugs and weed,
    And gives me all that I might need!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    My Nannies tell me so!

    DEA, CIA, KGB,
    Our protectors, they will be,
    FBI, TSA, and FDA,
    With us, astride us, in every way!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    Yes, Guv-Mint loves me!
    My Nannies tell me so!

  13. This article is wrong because Gia, childruns, polar bears, and Boosh

  14. Utley’s piece spread serious misinformation on the dangers of radiation. He states that “Actual threats to health starts at 100 REM.” This is scientifically incorrect. It long has been established that there is zero safe dose of ionizing radiation as the lowest does will increase the risk of cancer and incur other destructive effects (see “The Mammogram Myth: The Independent Investigation Of Mammography The Medical Profession Doesn’t Want You To Know About” by Rolf Hefti). The dominant industrialized nations, dedicated to nuclear armory and/or nuclear energy production, all have been whitewashing the true toxicity of ionizing radiation. A failure of knowing this is either based on ignorance or politics.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.