First, here's the pertinent statement in BEIR VII
"At doses of 100 mSv or less, statistical limitations make it difficult to evaluate cancer risk in humans. A comprehensive review of available biological and biophysical data led the committee to conclude that the risk would continue in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold and that the smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans." [A typical person in the US receives 3 milliSieverts per year.]
That's a tepid justification for retaining LNT, but compare that with the statement from the National Institutes of Health:
"It is very difficult to detect biologic effects in animals or people who are exposed to small doses of radiation. Based on studies in animals and in people exposed to large doses of radiation such as the atomic bomb survivors, scientists have made conservative estimates of what might be the largest doses that would be reasonably safe for a person over a lifetime. But these calculations are estimates only, based on mathematical models. Low-level exposures received by the general public have shown no link to cancer induction. Even so, the U.S. Government uses these estimates to set the limits on all potential exposures to radiation for workers in jobs that expose them to ionizing radiation. International experts and various scientific committees have, over the years, examined the massive body of knowledge about radiation effects in developing and refining radiation protection standards."
And with the statement from the Health Physics Society"
"There is substantial and convincing scientific evidence for health risks following high-dose exposures. However, below 5–10 rem (which includes occupational and environmental exposures), risks of health effects are either too small to be observed or are nonexistent."
"In view of the above, the Society has concluded that estimates of risk should be limited to individuals receiving a dose of 5 rem in one year or a lifetime dose of 10 rem in addition to natural background." [5 rems would be 50 milliSieverts.]
Professor Bernard Cohen goes on to estimate what would be the health effects of low-level exposures and compares them with other health risks, using the LNT model even though he shows in his analyses that it overstates the adverse effects and probably understates the beneficial (hormesis) effects of low-level radiation.
As an exercise we'll do something simple here. The BEIR report says ten million mSv would cause 1140 deaths. And it says that, on average, 304 million Americans receive 3 mSv per year, so the total would be 912 million mSv. So all of the radiation-induced deaths add up to 104,000 per year. Of that number, according to the report, 0.2% are due to nuclear energy, the rest mainly being due to natural radiation. If the LNT hypothesis is right, 208 deaths per year can be attributed to nuclear energy.
In comparison, every study done shows that tens of thousands of Americans die every year from the pollution generated by coal-fired power plants. The most comprehensive study done so far puts the range between 33,000 and 121,000 per year, just counting adults over 25. In 2006, according to DOE, coal generated 1930 billion KWH of electricity and nuclear generated 787 billion KWH, so if nuclear replaced coal an additional 510 deaths would take place, but at least 50,000 lives would be saved.
And all of the radiation-related deaths depend on a hypothesis that hasn't been proved and which specialized professionals don't believe.
Here's the kicker: Coal plants emit more than ten times as much radioactivity as nuclear power plants. If the LNT hypothesis were true, 5000 of the coal-related deaths would be avoided by converting to nuclear energy just because of reducing radioactive emissions.
If some form of renewable energy could provide full-time power, this might be a harder decision to make. As we saw in an earlier article, though, there aren't any that could.
So those are the two options. We can let over 50,000 Americans die every year from coal or we can switch to nuclear energy and start cleaning up the environment while minimizing the threat of global warming. What to do, what to do.