The 2,124th Meeting of the Society

December 8, 2000 at 8:00 PM

Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club

Who Will Speak for the Truth?

The Case of Nuclear Radiation

Theodore Rockwell

Engineer in Private Practice

About the Lecture

Science is often equated, in the public mind, with Truth. But scientific truth can be ignored, misinterpreted, distorted, suppressed and defunded. And a simple statement of scientific truth, without context, or in the wrong context, can be as misleading as a flat lie. The case of nuclear radiation will be used to illustrate and explore these difficulties.

We have chosen to characterize nuclear radiation as an unnatural phenomenon, presenting an unprecedented and terrifying threat to humanity and to the future of the planet. This picture has been painted as scientific truth, but in fact it is flatly contradicted by scientific evidence. Life evolved on this planet bathed in radiation from the earth, the seas and the galaxies beyond. Deprived of this radiation, living organisms die. Virtually all threats to organisms—disease germs, heavy metals, solvents, neurotoxins, physical exertion—which can kill in large doses, create just the opposite effect in tolerable doses. They stimulate the body’s defenses, leaving the system stronger and healthier. We use this principal in nutrition supplements, vaccination, exercise therapy—and radiation is no exception. Biological evidence at all levels—theoretical, molecular, cellular, small organisms, and human clinical data and epidemiological studies—all show that moderate doses of nuclear radiation are beneficial.

We will explore the reasons that advocates of nuclear technologies have been reluctant to proclaim these truths, and instead cling to the message that present policy is “conservative.” What this means in practice is that people are being scared away from life-saving medical procedures, smoke detectors, food irradiation, and pollution-free electricity generation, all because they involve radiation. We will explore why this situation continues, and some of the bizarre measures people have taken to convince themselves and others that Truth is not ravished by their doing so.

About the Speaker

Theodore Rockwell is a founding officer of the engineering firm MPR Associates, Inc., and a founding director of Radiation, Science, and Health, Inc., an international organization of independent radiation experts committed to bringing radiation policy into line with the best scientific theory and data. He received the first ANS Lifetime Contribution Award, now known as the Rockwell Award, and received Distinguished Service Medals from both the Navy and the Atomic Energy Commission. He is author of several books, technical papers, and articles on radiation and nuclear power. He was Technical Director of Admiral Hyman Rickover’s program to build the nuclear Navy and the world’s first commercial atomic power station at Shippingport, Pennsylvania.
He has several patents, including one listed in “a selection of [27] landmark US atomic energy patents from all the patents issued to date.” He was the only non-medical member of the Advisory Group on the National Artificial Heart Program (1966) and a member of the Advisory Council, Princeton University Department of Chemical Engineering (1966-72). From 1965 to 1968, he was a Research Associate with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (in connection with nuclear proliferation research). He was Chairman of the Atomic Industrial Forum’s Reactor Safety Task Force (1966-72) and Consultant to the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy (1967). He was co-founder of the Princeton Engineer in 1941 and is listed in: Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, World Who’s Who in Science from Antiquity to Present, International Who’s Who in Engineering, American Men and Women of Science, The Blue Book, World Who’s Who of Authors, Who’s Who in Theology and Science, Contemporary Authors, etc.


President Spargo called the 2124th meeting to order at 8:20 pm on December 8, 2000. The minutes of the 2123rd meeting were read and approved.

The speaker for the evening was Ted Rockwell on the topic “Who will speak the Truth? The case of nuclear radiation”.

Mr. Rockwell explained that the title should be “who can speak for the truth?” Science is often equated, in the public mind, with Truth, but scientific truth can be ignored, misinterpreted, distorted, suppressed and defunded. A simple statement of scientific truth, without context, or in the wrong context, can be as misleading as a lie. Professionals who make public pronouncements should strive to speak the full truth.

Nuclear radiation is popularly perceived as an unnatural phenomenon that presents an unprecedented and terrifying threat to humanity and to the future of the planet. How did this come about? Where does radiation come from? How dangerous is it? Radiation is natural and everywhere. Heat from natural radioactive decay keeps the iron core of the earth molten and the biosphere livably warm, with an assist from the thermonuclear powered sun. Life evolved when the world was ten times more radioactive than today, and it continues to thrive despite bombardment by cosmic rays from outer space, and from some 60 different radioactive isotopes in the soil, water, air; and within the body itself. There is evidence that life may, in fact, depend on ionizing radiation for its very existence.

In World War II, we saw that we could produce very large amounts of lethal radiation, as demonstrated in the awesome explosions that incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fear was a natural reaction to these cataclysmic events. Since then, we have been making and using large amounts of specific radioisotopes, while at the same time, we have been making ever more sensitive instruments for measuring that radioactivity, which has the effect of magnifying our fears.

As pointed out by Zbigniew Jaworowski, former Chairman of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, all the nuclear weapons in the world, at the cold war peak of 13,000 megatons of TNT, equaled only 30 times the megatonnage that already been previously released in atmospheric testing. Based on the measured radiation levels caused by those tests, we know that the average radiation dose that would result from the fallout of all these nuclear weapons, would be below 10 rem or 0.1 Sievert, where no deleterious effects of radiation can be seen. The combined radiation dose from Chernobyl and atomic testing for the average American is less than 0.01 rem. The average dose from medical diagnostics is about 0.04 rem. The natural background radiation dose is about 100 mSv, and some locales have a natural background of about 700 mSv.

Paracelsus in 1540 said “Nothing is poison, but the dose makes it so.” It is meaningless to say that a substance is a food, a poison or a medicine without reference to how it is administered. In toxicology, the word “hormesis” is used for the effect of a substance that is stimulatory in small doses but inhibitory or toxic in larger doses. Virtually all threats to organisms – disease germs, heavy metals, solvents, neurotoxins, physical exertion – which can kill in large doses, are capable of producing the opposite effect in small, tolerable doses. They may stimulate the body's defenses, leaving the system stronger and healthier. This is the principal behind nutrition supplements, vaccination, exercise therapy – and radiation may be no exception.

Biological evidence of many types, theoretical, molecular, cellular, small organisms, human clinical data, and epidemiological studies, indicates that moderate doses of nuclear radiation might be beneficial in some circumstances. The epidemiological studies include nuclear shipyard worker exposure compared with non-radioactivity exposed workers in the same locale, breast tissue and TB fluoroscopy exposure studies, and studies of radon exposure in homes versus lung cancer incidence.

Despite the evidence of these studies, the linear no-threshold model (LNT) is assumed for risk versus dose fraction in radiation exposure. Many people may be unnecessarily scared away from life-saving medical procedures, smoke detectors, food irradiation, and pollution-free electricity generation, all because they involve radiation.

Radiation, Science & Health, Inc., is an international non-profit organization of radiation and policy experts that assembles and evaluates information about the positive effects of low level radiation and makes it available to the scientific community and the public. The RSH has also taken direct action, filing formal, documented comments with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its proposed rules for radioactivity in drinking water. These rules, based on the LNT hypothesis, set 4 millirem per year as the upper limit for radioactivity in water sources, and this would be applied equally to locations where the natural background is less than 100 millirem per year and to others where it is more than 800 millirem.

Mr. Rockwell kindly answered questions from the floor. President Spargo thanked Mr. Rockwell for the Society and welcomed him to membership. The President made the announcements about the next meeting, parking, and refreshments, and adjourned the 2124th meeting to the 180th Annual Business Meeting at 9:36 p.m.

Attendance: 55
Temperature: 4.3°C
Weather: cloudy

Respectfully submitted,

John S. Garavelli
Recording Secretary