The risks associated with radioactivity, seen through the prism of the Hiroshima trauma and the media coverage of accidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima, continue to be exaggeratedly perceived. The underlying fears are ultimately based on the idea that radiation, no matter how small, can cause cancer, and even affect generations to come. This irrational fear stems from the scientifically mistaken concept of “ Linear Non Threshold” relationship. As a consequence, the maintenance of this unfounded fear in the population generates a lot of discomfort, and gives rise to unjustified policies and societal decisions. Both of these are most of the time very costly and may have disastrous effects in entire sectors of the economy: closure of nuclear reactors, yet providers of clean and extremely efficient electricity, hindrance of radioactive waste management projects. This is all because of a suspected health risk that the relevant specialists, including myself, say does not exist.
This politics of absurd is illustrated by one of the consequences of Council Directive 2013/59 / Euratom of 5 December 2013 setting the basic standards relating to health protection “against the dangers resulting from exposure to ionizing radiation… ”, which sets the conditions for granting exemptions to the treatment of “VLA” waste for “Very Low Activity”, in order to authorize their recovery. Remember that “VLA” waste comes, during the dismantling of a power plant, from non-sensitive parts, far from the reactor (enclosure walls, logistics infrastructure), and which have never been in contact with radioactivity.
The intention is laudable since, if the exemption is granted, the substances resulting from the recovery operation are no longer considered to be radioactive substances and do not justify radiation protection control. But things get tough because it is also provided that, in the event that the substances resulting from the recovery operation contain at least one radionuclide whose limit value is not regulated as such in a text, the effective dose added that may be received by a member of the public resulting from any use of the substances resulting from the recovery operation must not exceed 10 microsieverts per year.
But very concretely what does this correspond to? It’s quite simple … In Europe, NATURAL irradiation is on average 3.5 mSv per year. Let us take for ease the value of 3.65 mSv, that is to say 3650 microsieverts, which for a year gives 10 microsieverts per day! The decree therefore demands that individuals be spared ONE ADDITIONAL DAY of natural radiation!
Such a radiation protection measure for the public suggests, to say the least, that we are more than very well protected from radiation-induced cancers, but is this really reasonable?
Indeed, questions remain: what will be the industrial cost to reach such standards, assuming that we are able to control such a low threshold? Isotopic separation methods are being considered, what is the real interest in manufacturing metal ingots intended for making rails or any other foundry part? And do we have any idea of the dose rates generated by the natural radioactivity of metals from the “normal” process?
All this, at the end, to avoid radiation-induced cancers which, at these dose rates, simply do not exist, in terms of detectable excess incidence, taking into account all the other factors causing cancer, starting with age.
All that leads to this final question, suggested in the title: do leap years, in themselves responsible for an additional day of natural irradiation, represent a danger, that Council Directive 2013/59 / Euratom of 5 December 2013 would have neglected, but who urgently calls for an appropriate decree?
And if you barely exaggerate, you come to think that every extra day is inflicting on us those dreaded extra 10 microSv. This implies, ultimately, that the less we live, the less we run the risk of dying from radiation-induced cancer … and that people who live beyond the age of 90 put themselves in great danger from ionizing radiation.