This video criticizes Scott Pruit's EPA's proposed 10-fold increase of the maximum allowed radiation dose in water. It also claims scientists agree "no level of radiation is safe"; apparently, this phrase appeared in a 2007 EPA report.

In technical terms, this amounts to claiming there's a scientific consensus against radiation hormesis. In other words, the science says Curve D is incorrect.

enter image description here -Wikipedia

A former colleague of mine, Wade Allison, has in recent years critiqued historic radiation risk estimates that were based on either Curve A or B, and B (the linear no-threshold model) is controversial. However, is it at least true that scientists agree hormesis is wrong? Wikipedia notes neither NASEM nor the NCRP nor UNSCEAR accept it; but is there any more direct evidence of the scientific consensus on this, e.g. surveys of radiologists?

Note: this is not the same as this question, which concerned whether hormesis is real; indeed, the answers primarily discussed evidence of it (such as there is some) and how low the beneificial levels have to be if it is. My question concerns whether the rejection of hormesis enjoys a consensus among scientists. This is part of why I chose the medical-science tag rather than, say, a biology or physiology tag.


No! There is no scientific consensus that sufficiently low doses of ionising radiation are unsafe.

First, you have two different claims here.

  1. "Scientists agree that Linear No Threshold (LNT) is valid at all doses"
  2. "Scientists agree that Radiation Hormesis is wrong"

The Radiation Hormesis hypothesis states that low doses of ionising radiation can be beneficial, while a model where below a certain level ionising radiation simply has no discernible influence is something else.

But we can cut the Gordian Knot here by simply answering:

No, there is not consensus that LNT can be used to estimate an actual physical effect of ionising radiation at low dosages. The Wikipedia article you linked to describes the "controversy" about this. There are those that oppose using LNT as a tool for judging damage made by low dose radiation:

  • The French Academy of Sciences (Académie des Sciences) and the National Academy of Medicine (Académie Nationale de Médecine) published a report in 2005 that rejected the Linear no-threshold model in favor of a threshold dose response and a significantly reduced risk at low radiation exposure Reference. Reference.

    In conclusion, this report raises doubts on the validity of using LNT for evaluating the carcinogenic risk of low doses (< 100 mSv) and even more for very low doses (< 10 mSv). The LNT concept can be a useful pragmatic tool for assessing rules in radioprotection for doses above 10 mSv; however since it is not based on biological concepts of our current knowledge, it should not be used without precaution for assessing by extrapolation the risks associated with low and even more so, with very low doses (< 10 mSv), especially for benefit-risk assessments imposed on radiologists by the European directive 97-43.

  • The Health Physics Society 's position statement first adopted in January 1996, as revised in July 2010, states:

    In accordance with current knowledge of radiation health risks, the Health Physics Society recommends against quantitative estimation of health risks below an individual dose of 5 rem (50 mSv) in one year or a lifetime dose of 10 rem (100 mSv) above that received from natural sources. Doses from natural background radiation in the United States average about 0.3 rem (3 mSv) per year. A dose of 5 rem (50 mSv) will be accumulated in the first 17 years of life and about 25 rem (250 mSv) in a lifetime of 80 years. Estimation of health risk associated with radiation doses that are of similar magnitude as those received from natural sources should be strictly qualitative and encompass a range of hypothetical health outcomes, including the possibility of no adverse health effects at such low levels.

  • The American Nuclear Society recommended further research on the Linear No Threshold Hypothesis before making adjustments to current radiation protection guidelines, concurring with the Health Physics Society's position that:

    There is substantial and convincing scientific evidence for health risks at high dose. Below 10 rem or 100 mSv (which includes occupational and environmental exposures) risks of health effects are either too small to be observed or are non-existent.


No there is not consensus, there are those that claim LNT is valid for low doses, and those that say it is not.


This does not mean that there is consensus that Radiation Hormesis is correct either, but that is a separate discussion.

The reason there is this debate is because — once the radiation dose drops low enough — other carcinogenic factors glare out the effects of ionising radiation, and cause the latter to get lost in statistical noise. It is like trying to hear a whisper in a crowd when everyone else is shouting.

While we cannot say for certain that LNT reflects reality at low doses, it may still be used a tool for determining policy. But even in that role it is contested since determining policy after minuscule doses may cause radiophobia and/or unnecessary bureaucratic hassle, but that is another discussion.

  • Down-voters do well to tell what they found objectionable about the post. – MichaelK Aug 17 '18 at 11:31
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    I think you could delete the last four parapgraphs without affecting the answer; it doesn't seem to illuminate it. The justification for the debate is speculation. The justification for determining policy seems to be opinion. The anecdote doesn't seem to illuminate the answer. – Oddthinking Aug 17 '18 at 13:45
  • @Oddthinking I did reference why LNT as a policy making tool is also contested. In any case... I think those paragraphs are connected to the topic even if not required to give an answer. So I have sectioned them as such; as commentary. – MichaelK Aug 17 '18 at 13:50
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    I'm still not a fan of the anecdote - it gives an example of how the rules are actually fine, even in the face of a contrived hypothetical, but that is presented as an example of how the rules might be silly, if people followed LNT for policy, where you argue it has a place. I found it confusing. – Oddthinking Aug 17 '18 at 13:53
  • @Oddthinking What do you find confusing about the anecdote? I might try to improve it if there are things that are unclear. – MichaelK Aug 17 '18 at 13:54

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