ANS Winter Meeting in New Orleans - November 2003
Some notes taken by Dr. Klaus Becker at the ANS Winter Meeting

"As a solution to the current potential hazards of radiation terrorism, J. Walsh of Harvard University suggests:
- education of the public and the media about true radiation effects,
- to abandon LNT in the official (NRC, DOE, EPA, etc.) philosophy, and
- to change current standards for "artificial" radiation sources."

2003 American/European Nuclear Societies International Winter Meeting.
This meeting took place with about 1400 participants in New Orleans Nov. 17-20. It was devoted to the 50th anniversary of Eisenhowerıs Atoms for Peace initiative (the June 2004 Meeting in Pittsburgh will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American Nuclear Society).

After a plenary opening meeting, six to nine parallel sessions in various rooms made it, unfortunately, impossible to attend all the sessions of interest, many of them - unlike in the annual meetings of the German Nuclear Society - related to radiation protection, biological and medical issues.

To give just a few examples, there were sessions dealing with medical applications of nuclear techniques; two sessions on measurements of very low concentration elements in biological samples, neutron detection and dosimetry, atmospheric transport and emergency response, two sessions on identification and protection of radioactive materials in the international arena, environmental monitoring of nuclear facilities, general aspects of environmental sciences, isotope production for medical and environmental purposes, nuclear cleanup in the former Soviet Union, dose modelling and final status survey for decommissioning, and two sessions on radiological terrorism.

Of particular interest was the session on a topic which had already been repeatedly treated in previous ANS meetings, namely on Low-Level Radiation Effects, organized by J. Muckerheide. Unfortunately, the first speaker S.-Z. Liu et al. from China was prevented from presenting his invited paper "Bystander effects induced X irradiation in the immune system" due to visa problems (as already noticed in the previous Tehran Congress, visa problems apparently are beginning again to hamper scientific exchange). Therefore, M. Pollycove gave the first paper on the response of the organism to ionising radiation, in which he summarized his and the work of L. Feinendegen on this subject. Just a minor critical remark: Slightly confusing for the European listener to such contributions is the mixed use of units including rem, r, and centiGy. It would, as in other areas of metrology in the U.S., be desirable to switch to the metric SI system.

Pollycove explained how 1 billion free radicals which are produced per day in every cell due to metabolism lead to "only" 1 million DNA alterations/day because of the effect of antioxidants, 100 remain after repair, and one mutation/d after the immune system acted. The radiation-stimulated removal of damaged cells leads, for example, to a 30 % breast cancer reduction for external doses around 150 mGy according to a Canadian fluoroscopy study, and the work of K. Sakamoto et al. in Japan showed that part- and full-body external low-LET irradiation cured non-Hodgkin lymphoma in about 84 % of the cases.

K. Becker presented a review on a century of radon therapy, primarily of rheumatic/arthritic painful joint diseases and Morbus Bechterew, with emphasis on more recent clinical doubleblind studies clearly demonstrating the pain-reducing effect of radon treatments lasting at least for six months (the paper is in press in Internat. J. Low Dose).

The next paper by J. Muckerheide "Biology precludes the LNT: Low dose radiation stimulates immunity , and DNA damage is not relevant" summarized recent work showing a hormetic effect around 0.1 mGy, and the prevention or curing of infections and inflammatory diseases, even the curing of some types of cancer, with low-dose irradiation. Much of the earlier literature in this field has been "forgotten" or suppressed.

Two other papers in this session by T. W. Botting et al. on an electron microbeam for sell culture studies, and by A. G. Lipson et al. on the structural deformation of DNA foils in very weak thermal neutron fields did not contribute to the issue of this session. Incidentally, during the 2004 Pacific Basin Nuclear Conference in Honolulu March 21-25, no less than three out of a total of 41 sessions will be devoted to "Adaptive Responses Following Low-Dose Radiation Exposure". Honolulu seems to be an even more attractive location for low dose researchers than New Orleans. Another related conference, the "6th International Conference on High Levels of Natural Radiation and Radon Areas: Radiation Dose and Health Effects" will take place in Osaka Sept. 6-10, 2004.

Radioactivity Dispersing Devices (RDD, vulgo "Dirty Bombs")
For obvious reasons, the discussion about nuclear terrorism has a much higher priority in USA than in Europe. The definition of terrorism is not easy, as it reaches from actions which whole nations or large groups of a society may consider resistance, guerrilla, or liberation movements, and as "the poor manıs answer" to the overwhelming, more or less justified use of economic and military power by a few rich countries - all the way to the acts of individual psychopaths and criminals from within a society. In any case, optimum use of media attention, creating a very high public attention, remains a central factor in terrorism. As H. T. Hawkins pointed out during one of the about five sessions devoted in the New Orleans ANS/ENS Meeting to such matters, the attacks on Sept. 11, 2002, which caused about 2400 casualties, has to be compared with 42.000 people killed annually in the USA by car accidents, 20.000 by influenza, and 15.000 by "normal" homicide.

There is, however, essentially no disagreement about several facts, e.g.:
1. Both in developing and developed countries, there is no lack of not properly registered and controlled sources of radioactive material. They are usually called "orphan sources". According to a recent EU study (V. Friedrich), of the ca. 500.000 "significant" sources produced in Western Europe during the past 50 y, only about 110.000 are still in use, and up to 70 went "out of control" just last year. Many developing countries imported sources (including once very valuable Ra-226 sources for medical use) long before national regulation and control systems existed, and have problems with the transfer of sources into safe storage and/or disposal sites. In the former Soviet Union, for example, there is an unknown number of abandoned military or civilian thermoelectric generators containing about 40.000 Ci of Sr-90 each, and many large "Gamma Kolos" irradiation units with 3.500 Ci Cs-137 mounted on trucks.
2. Among the large sources, of highest potential interest to terrorism (W. Rhodes) are large sources such as Co-60 teletherapy units, metallic Ir-192, Cs-137 chloride, Ni-59, Am/Be sources, Sr-90 titanate or ceramic, and Ra-226. There have been theoretical and experimental studies, e.g. in the Sandia Laboratories with actual explosive devices in a large half-dome containment, to study such factors as the dispersion mechanism and the production of the "desirable" size distribution of aerosols. The transport of radioactive sources, in particular if they are alpha emitters and the carrier does not mind some long-term harm, is not particularly difficult within a country, as well as, using the standard drug smuggling techniques, across international borders.
3. Although conventional explosives surrounded by the radioactive material are considered to be the most likely use because of the optimal media attention, other distribution mechanisms such as public water supplies, the food chain, spraying from airplanes, or exotic methods such as distribution by mail could be even more effective. There is a wide spectrum of possible targets such as large accumulations of persons (sport events) and the disruption of important services (governmental buildings, communication and health care centers, etc. - in the discussion, even the IAEA Headquarter in Vienna was suggested).
4. There is general agreement that, besides casualties caused by the conventional explosion, very few radiological deaths would have to be expected, but there would likely be many non-radiation-attributable health effects related to stress, panic, anxiety, and so on. As J. Walsh said: "Dirty bombs cause panic and costs, but no or little casualties. Radiophobia is the key problem." The emotional character of radiation, carefully nurtured over decades by the media, green activists et al., created a persistent radiation myth, which would be supported by ill-informed media (they need quick information, but specialists require some time for assessment and evaluation), NGOs, confusion among various governmental agencies which are involved, antinuclear activists, and industry interests such as large-scale cleanup services.
5. What we have at hand is the problem of dealing with self-inflicted radiophobic fears. T. Rockwell recently (Washington Post, Sept. 16, 2003) pointed this out very clearly in an article about a relevant drill in Washington, D.C.: "It is well documented by all our official agencies that the radioactivity in dirty bombs is unlikely to seriously hurt anyone. People not injured by the conventional explosion could walk awayŠremove their clothes and take a showerŠ If your aim would be to remove a public health hazard, you would flush any residual radioactivity down the drain and be done withŠ It would add insignificantly to the Chesapeake Bayıs overall natural radioactivity. Expensive instrumentation might detect it for a while, but it would not create a public health hazard".
As a solution to the current potential hazards of radiation terrorism, J. Walsh of Harvard University suggests:
- education of the public and the media about true radiation effects,
- to abandon LNT in the official (NRC, DOE, EPA, etc.) philosophy, and
- to change current standards for "artificial" radiation sources.

One wonders how such highly advisable measures can be brought in adequate harmony with other relevant activities, for example the recent ICRP efforts to extend the current 1 mSv/y public exposure limit also to other, known or yet unknown, animal and plant species, as described before in a recent SSP conference report from Taormina by K. Becker, and again in the last issue of SSP by A. Hefner and H. Völkle (Brauchen wir einen Strahlenschutz für die lebende Umwelt?)

Klaus Becker, Boothstr. 27, D-12207 Berlin
Email: Prof.Dr.Klaus.Becker@t-online.de

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