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How To Weigh Fairly the Health Risks of Nuclear Energy?

by May 5, 2011

Photo credit, Sakucae

In her recent op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Unsafe at Any Dose,” physician Helen Caldicott presents a compelling health-based argument against nuclear energy. Specifically, she argues that the long-term consequences of nuclear plant disasters, like at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, are often understated. She argues that medical doctors should be consulted more frequently about cancer risks, rather than policymakers and others relying on evidence provided by physicists. She feels this is particularly true in relation to the risk of cancer from radioactive material that is ingested, such as would happen when foods are contaminated.

As I pointed out in this earlier post (Having A Rational Discussion in the Wake of the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster), weighing the costs and benefits of nuclear energy will obviously have to take into account health risks from radiation following inevitable malfunctions. Caldicott’s piece certainly gives me pause, because of the challenge to get our arms around some of the long-term risks that she cites.

The tension that Caldicott highlights between those with a deep understanding of the cancer risks of radiation exposure and the physicists who promote the use of nuclear energy is a perfect example of the divide we at Dialogue Earth intend to bridge (see more on our strategy in this post on how we are building a trustworthy brand). It will not be easy, nor will we construct a meaningful bridge rapidly. Yet, the more we can all understand the basic risks and benefits of energy sources like nuclear, I believe the better our decisions will be about personal and societal energy choices.

Want to know a bit more about how nuclear fits into the energy mix in the U.S.? Here’s a video produced by Dialogue Earth with the help of a fantastic storyteller from the “crowd,” Henry Reich (see this related post that shows how well Reich did in getting the numbers correct in his creative piece).

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