A government document called NCRP-136 took a closer look at permissible radiation limits.
The data seemed to indicate that most people who received a small dose of ionizing radiation never had any negative effects associated with it. In fact, the data suggested that nuclear radiation actually had some positive influence on those exposed to it in small dose.
Nevertheless, the final conclusion was not that people would benefit by taking in a stronger dose of radiation. It instead recommended that regulations should simply be based on the idea that all doses of radiation are harmful to some degree. The authors of NCRP-136 went so far as to insinuate that these recommendations should be based on prudence rather than good science.
Scaring people with strong words and regulations certainly isn’t a very prudent act when the actual science claims otherwise. Only three uncontrolled releases of radioisotopes from civilian power facilities have ever occurred. The incidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi caused more fear than actual injuries.
Announcing that no amount of radiation is safe cultivated a public fear of radiation that wasn’t justified when you look at the hard numbers.
Part of this has to do with how the media has a tendency to confuse nuclear weapons and atomic power facilities. The media would like us to believe that the incident at Fukushima Daiichi was far worse than it actually was because it involved the emission of particles that release radioisotope decay products.
Professor Wade Allison recently suggested in a lecture in Japan that we set the permissible radiation limit the same way that we set every other type of safety limit. Rather than asking how little radiation we can expose people to, Allison says we should set a baseline not to exceed.
No one suggests that we should lower the safety margin, but Allison illustrated that the annual permissible level could actually be nearly 1,000 times the current figure without causing significant DNA damage.