With the terrible earthquake and resulting tsunami that have devastated Japan, the only good news is that anyone exposed to excess radiation from the nuclear power plants is now probably much less likely to get cancer.
This only seems counterintuitive because of media hysteria for the past 20 years trying to convince Americans that radiation at any dose is bad. There is, however, burgeoning evidence that excess radiation operates as a sort of cancer vaccine.
As The New York Times science section reported in 2001, an increasing number of scientists believe that at some level -- much higher than the minimums set by the U.S. government -- radiation is good for you. "They theorize," the Times said, that "these doses protect against cancer by activating cells' natural defense mechanisms."
It makes sense. A small dose of radiation - which is all anyone not standing in front of melting fuel rods would likely receive - would likely work in a similar fashion to the common flu shot: Activating the cells to fight back against a potential winter flu by giving them a small dose of the very same virus. Ann gives some examples:
A $10 million Department of Energy study from 1991 examined 10 years of epidemiological research by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health on 700,000 shipyard workers, some of whom had been exposed to 10 times more radiation than the others from their work on the ships' nuclear reactors. The workers exposed to excess radiation had a 24 percent lower death rate and a 25 percent lower cancer mortality than the non-irradiated workers.
In 1983, a series of apartment buildings in Taiwan were accidentally constructed with massive amounts of cobalt 60, a radioactive substance. After 16 years, the buildings' 10,000 occupants developed only five cases of cancer. The cancer rate for the same age group in the general Taiwanese population over that time period predicted 170 cancers.
Read it all, Ann has more....and in doing a little research myself, I discovered that a lot of the fault for the current "radiation hysteria" can be laid at the feet of... the US Government, of course. From a FOX News article in 2005:
A federal research panel last week concluded that there is no safe exposure to radiation. It’s a conclusion based on assumptions about cancer that may be all wrong — and in very costly ways.
Other than the atomic bomb survivor data, in fact, no data support the idea that typical exposures to radiation are dangerous. So how did the NAS panel reach the conclusion that any exposure to radiation is risky?
For the sake of being able to somehow characterize low-level radiation exposures as a risk, the panel simply assumed that because high-level exposures to radiation increase risk of health effects — like the slightly elevated cancer risk observed in the atomic bomb survivors — then any level of radiation exposure is a cancer risk.
The panel employs this assumption even if the radiation is naturally occurring — that is from the ground or universe. This assumption is called the “no-threshold” model of cancer development, meaning the only radiation exposure with zero risk is absolutely no exposure — a state that is obviously impossible to achieve.
Such assumptions often result in stringent regulation that is very costly, but that may not provide any, much less commensurate, health benefits. The regulations limiting human exposure to low-level radiation are not known to have prevented a single health effect in anyone despite decades of use. But they have cost more than $1 trillion in the U.S. alone...
...and have likely killed more people than they have saved.
So when you here the warnings that the radiation plume is heading to your town, give a big middle-finger to the government and mainstream media and put on your shades, go outside, and bask in it.
UPDATE 3-18: 11 years of nuclear testing in Nevada (1951-1962), gave us the following dispersal spread (click to enlarge):
Via Charlie Martin at the PJ Tatler, who adds "It just struck me that I was born and grew up during this time, in one of the pinkest of the pink areas. That area also has a notoriously low cancer rate."
As I was saying...
UPDATE II: More info in the comments, and a great radiation chart here, giving you some reference points, the next time some loser TV anchor wails about receiving a dose of radiation equal to that of a chest X-ray...