Ludwig E. Feinendegen, Specialist in Radiation Medicine, Lindau, Germany

“Low doses of radiation stimulate the body’s defences”

Ludwig E. Feinendegen is a specialist in radiation medicine and has been a member of the Scientific Advisory Board on Civil Defence and Disaster Protection at the German Federal Ministry of the Interior since 1974. Feinendegen is a signatory to an open letter (“An Open Letter to Advisory Bodies Regarding Low Dose Radiation Cancer Risk”), in which 23 scientists from around the world call on international authorities to establish the limit considered harmless for radiation protection.

“Even I was surprised back in 1979 when a doctoral student told me he had determined that cells exposed to low doses of radiation exhibited a change a few hours later that influenced the metabolism in the genetic material. This unexpected behaviour proved in further tests to be a positive reaction, not a negative one. The cells appeared to be stronger in their resistance. Actually, all we were interested was in developing a biological dosimetry so that we could make a statement about the radiation dose based on specific reactions in the cell. But now something emerged that challenged the popular notion about the effects of low doses of radiation. Those results have since been confirmed may times over. Today it’s for me established, scientifically-based knowledge: low doses of radiation act – with individual genetic differences – as a stimulant on the body’s defence system, like a ‘stress reaction’ – and not just for a brief period but over months, even years. This means that at low doses of radiation, the risk of developing cancer is reduced and not increased as conventional wisdom would have us believe and on which all radiation protection limits are based. This can now be seen in numerous epidemiological studies conducted on large groups of people. The authors of a recent study from India report that people in a coastal region, who are exposed to significantly elevated levels of background radiation, have only a slightly increased risk of DNA damage in their youth. After that, they live with a lower risk of radiation damage and therefore a lower expected risk of cancer until old age – just like people in a comparable region with a much lower level of background radiation. The linear no-threshold model assumes that there is a linear correlation between radiation dose and risk of developing cancer that begins with zero, which means that there is no limit between harmful and harmless. This has to be replaced as a matter of priority. It doesn't protect people at all from radiation damage, which doesn't even exist at low levels, but instead causes much more damage: through uncertainty and expensive, unnecessary radiation protection measures. I would like to see a major conference convened that would pioneer new approaches in radiation protection. On the one hand, there exists the legitimate right to be protected from harmful radiation. But conversely there is also the right to permit radiation that is of demonstrable benefit, not harm, to humans. The exclusion zones in Chernobyl and Fukushima would then likely have to be lifted, at least somewhat.”

 

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