Is Radiation Necessary For Life?

It seems so. Recent studies on the biological effects of radiation carried out under radiation levels from natural background to essentially zero radiation, demonstrate that the absence of radiation is not good for organisms (Castillo et al., 2015).

Following experiments with microbes and human lung cells that showed similar results, these new experiments, led by researchers at New Mexico State University, with different bacterial species show that growth was inhibited by the lack of radiation, contradicting the predictions of traditional hypotheses concerning the biological effects of radiation.

There has been an 80-year discussion about the health effects of radiation on humans and other biological organisms. High levels, or doses, obviously have adverse effects, and really high doses can kill.

But low doses, those less than 10 rem (0.1 Sv) per year, have been extremely difficult to evaluate because their effects are so minor that it’s impossible to see any effects in a general population where other every-day adverse health effects overwhelm anything from the radiation. Also, at low doses, all organisms have cellular repair and response mechanisms that can keep adverse health effects from occurring, something that evolved as life evolved (PNAS 2011).

In the 1950s, it was decided, in the absence of data at low doses, that low doses were bad, and that there was no threshold below which radiation did not result in adverse health effects. This hypothesis, called the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) dose hypothesis, was adopted throughout the world as the most conservative regulatory response to the rising use of radiation, the threat of atomic weapons, and the newly-emerging nuclear industry.

LNT states that any amount of radiation increases the risk of organisms to accumulate negative health effects. According to LNT, no radiation would be the best state for any organism, and the world adopted the As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) approach to all issues involving radiation (see figure above).

This is not just an academic issue. In practice, ALARA became As Low As Technologically Achievable, and brought about extreme costs and unanticipated side-effects that have cost the world almost a trillion dollars over the last 60 years protecting against low levels of radiation with no demonstrable benefits.

But the unwarranted fear of low doses of radiation has killed thousands, and destroyed millions of lives following WWII, the Chernobyl disaster and the Fukushima accident through over-reaction, unnecessary forced evacuations, and the creation of large refugee communities (Japan Times).

Recent studies show that even nuclear disasters do not increase radiation levels in surrounding areas much above these low background levels at most distances away from the source (WNN, NYTimes), as we’ve seen at Fukushima and Chernobyl.

Many studies since 1950 have attempted to study the effects of low levels of radiation on organisms, especially humans. But the results have been difficult to interpret because it has been difficult to separate radiation effects from non-radiation effects.

Therefore, if LNT is correct and no radiation is the best state for any organism, the obvious experiment would be to grow organisms in an environment that has almost no radiation and observe how they respond compared to the same organisms grown in background or higher levels of radiation (1, 2, 3).

A group of scientists designed and carried out a study to do just that – approach the problem from the other side of background, from as low a radiation environment as is possible to achieve on Earth (Castillo et al., 2015; Smith et al., 2011).

Original Article Posted on Forbes by James Conca , CONTRIBUTOR



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