The average annual equivalent dose from natural background radiation in the United States is about 3 mSv (a measurement of radiation). A person might accumulate an equivalent dose from natural background radiation of about 50 mSv in the first 17 years of life and about 250 mSv during an average 80-year lifetime. The ‘m’ stands for milli- which means it is very minute.
Personally, I am probably closing in on 212 mSv myself because I lived at sea level most of my life. Those that live in higher elevation were exposed to more natural radiation over their life time and those with careers in commercial aviation were exposed the most. Nuclear power plants, nuclear fuel manufacturing facilities or nuclear waste disposal sites workers are probably exposed the least because they are constantly monitored and removed if necessary. This is one area where regulation has really paid off.
My most recent research has surprised me in what has already been done to feed the world, but even more so on what is being done to create unlimited energy. Is there such a thing as unlimited energy? Even the sun and wind are not unlimited sources. Why? First of all, you have to capture the sun and wind to make either useful as a practical energy solution. The products you use to capture the energy are made from finite minerals on the surface of the earth, which also makes them non-renewable. All the elements of the Periodic Table are finite to one degree or another. For example, it has always been thought that uranium ore was limited. It actually was in the early days of the atomic age because we didn’t look for it yet, but new sources have been discovered ever since.
The latest source of uranium has been the discovery of how to extract it from the ocean water. America, Japan and China are racing to be the first nation to make nuclear energy completely renewable. The hurdle is making it economic to extract uranium from seawater, because the amount of uranium in seawater is truly inexhaustible. Will it be renewable – probably not, but sustainable – absolutely.
New technological breakthroughs from DOE’s Pacific Northwest (PNNL) and Oak Ridge (ORNL) national laboratories have made removing uranium from seawater within economic reach and the only question is: when will uranium for our nuclear power plants change from mined ore to seawater extraction? For me it seems like a lot of extra chemistry processing to extract uranium from seawater when you can do the same thing from thorium so much simpler and cheaper. Thorium is very plentiful and accessible right on the surface of the earth’s crust on every continent. There doesn’t need to be any wars over access to thorium.
Whether uranium is extracted from seawater or transmuted (decay) from thorium, society still has to get over their perceived fear of all things nuclear. After 60 plus years, radioactivity has finally been re-classified based on real data and not base on the assumption of one scientist who used flawed data to set the wrong base line.
What was amazing to me was that no other scientist challenged that standard, known as Linear-no-threshold (LNT), which means all radiation is bad radiation. One of the reasons was that it was used to leverage the termination of above ground nuclear bomb testing. Unfortunately its use was continued as part of the nuclear regulatory policy for nuclear energy causing the fear of just the word nuclear to be exaggerated.
However, it has been proven that is not the case and there are many examples of why. I will provide just one source of radiation usage that everyone should understand and that is in our hospitals – MRI, CT-Scan and X-Rays.
It has been determine that a new standard will be set at a conservative 100mSv for any one dose at any one time period. This is considered low dose radiation. Let me make it perfectly clear that there is also a very deadly high dose of radiation too. That threshold has been determined to be above 500mSv per dosage. The last time we saw humans exposed to that dosage and higher were the thousands at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and several dozen workers at Chernobyl.
When discussing the pros and cons of radiation, you have to take into perspective the toxins that surround our everyday activity. Plastic is what comes to mine over all others. The genius and hubris of plastic has been absorbed by most living things. Plastics do breakdown into very minute particles, but they never go away. Cancers caused by the chemicals used to make plastics and pesticides have been documented in many studies. But if you think about it, life causes cancer, so I won’t worry about it until I have to.
My point about plastics is not to criticize it but to justify that both nuclear energy and plastics both come with risk, but both are very beneficial to a healthy lifestyle. I say healthy because energy and chemicals have both been very instrumental in doubling the average life span of newborns in the last 100 years. I suspect GMO’s will be the next healthy extension of humanity even with anti-GMO advocates.