Sir: The French government, along with the French nuclear establishment, have long argued that there is no risk from underground nuclear testing in the South Pacific, but this position can only be maintained if one believes that there is a threshold below which ionising radiation is harmless. None of the three international committees that publish advice on which governments base radiation standards has adopted this position.
The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (Unscear), and the US Biological Effects of Ionising Radiation Committee (BEIR) have all adopted a non-threshold model when assessing radiation risks to the population, as has the National Radiological Protection Board in this country.
Almost alone amongst members of the European Community, the French government has refused to accept this position and in evidence to Unscear in 1990 the French Academy again argued in favour of a threshold model.
This position is no longer tenable. Not only has recent experimental data strongly reinforced the concept of radiation effects at very low dose, ICRP has revised its estimate for cancer risk from 1.2 per cent per Sievert to 5 per cent per Sievert for the general population, a fourfold increase. Underground nuclear tests were sanctioned at a time when the information available on cancer risk estimates in humans was strictly limited.
The French can only justify their present position by flying in the face of the scientific evidence and by ignoring the advice of regulatory authorities worldwide.
Robin Russell Jones
14 JulyReuse content