Flying: larger radíation risk than nuclear power?

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Flying: larger radíation risk than nuclear power?

Postby Dag Lindgren » 02 Jul 2011, 16:19

The intensity of “Cosmic” radiation increases by altitude and is much higher in flights than at ground. This is well-known as an individual problem and comparisons with nuclear effects are often done in statements like “the radiation originating from Fukushima to Tokyo can be compared to to that caused by flying once from Tokyo to Stockholm”. Air travel increases over time, and the collective dose to Mankind seems now likely to exceed that of Nuclear power (including accidents, the major one was Chernobyl).

Through the NPYP blog debate my attention was focused by Brian Mays onhis estimate of the collective dose of commercial flights and its possible effects. Similarly presented at (where it is a very long and partly interesting commenting discussion including LNT). Among the comments a slideshow appeared which I focus attention on

It seems to me that it is correct that the collective dose for Mankind by flying now has become larger than that caused by nuclear power. That is based on the assumption that Chernobyl is the major source of collective dose and also maybe that the exposure from nuclear power decreases by time. Fukushima will result in lower collective dose than Chernobyl and nuclear power is expected to be safer over time, at least as long it does not expands considerable quantitatively. It seems relevant for the future of nuclear power to make an updated calculation and use the results in comments, if this is not already done. The comparison is more powerful now than earlier if flying now is really causing a higher or at least similar collective dose. I found little while googling, it seems to be an issue less discussed than it deserves. If the idea is already well exploited to the general public, a reply can be given on this post. It can be seen as one of the tools to get the radiation exposures and risks connected to nuclear power in perspective 8-) .

Air crews get an extra annual exposure in the magnitude 2mSv and there are some studies showing an increase in various malignancies among crew members (list on the link), while others show no increased risk. The effect is small and can easily be shadowed by statistical noise or, more important, that a control population of "no crew" will differ in other respects (actually, like Chernobyl significant effects can hardly be expected even if they are as large as the LNT suggests).

The total crew number is large and their dose is a considerable part of occupational collective dose, but passenger collective dose is at least a factor 10 larger. [url=ålning]The best popular description I found[/url] was actually in Swedish, information for air charter travellers, thus not information from airlines or air authorities. It mentions actually the relation 20Sv=1dead. A new calculation should calculate only the collective dose and not its possible effects, as the later is controversial, depending on additional assumptions, and moves the attention away from the collective dose. If the calculation is done and can be cited to (by giving the link to the NPYP blog post), suggestions about the effect on Man's health can be done by others.

A calculation of the annual collective dose for flights to and from Schiphol till 1997 arrived at a projection around 1 000 ManSv today.
The collective dose from Chernobyl is in magnitude 450 000 ManSv and Schiphol is only one airport among many. Chernobyl is a considerable fraction of the total human exposure caused by nuclear power.
UNSCEAR made an global estimate for 1999 on 12 000 ManSv.
These collective dose calculations refer to a situation more than a decade ago, but I could not find much later. If the views of the radiation security authorities (like ICRP =LNT =Grönlund =me), the death toll from flying is higher from radiation exposure than from accidents or terrorism and the fear of flying some people feel is misdirected concerning the type of risk. It is remarkable how successful the airline industry have kept this from the public attention. That may also be a reason to focus on collective doses for those who are not that interested in getting public attention by writing a newspaper article.

Most nuclear proponents seem to be LNT-deniers. If they are correct, it may be a good idea to utilize the airline industry. If attention is focused on the large exposure by aviation, the air industry would be more motivated to join the risk deniers. A much larger part of the public may be pursueded to share the view that flying is low risk, than that nuclear is low risk. That would make it more difficult for agencies like ICRP to preserve their current assumptions without motivating them better in the light of the type of information the LNT-deniers bring forwards.

Even airport safety procedures expose passengers and some ground staff some mikroSv for a flight adds to the collective dose.

Perhaps Mays calculation (70 000 PassengerSv annually) is considered useful enough. I do not suggest so. It is too provocatively presented, and little qualified time and attention is placed on the collective dose, as the death rate is in the focus. It calculates an average over the past decade, but flying has expanded in that period and the annual collective dose is higher now than earlier. Mays figure is much above UNSCEAR 1999, which justifies some extra thinking. The collective dose should also include crew exposure and security check exposure. The current calculations do not include a calculation or reference to the collective dose from Nuclear power, just the fraction from Chernobyl. It is good to have the calculation under control to keep options to present results in different ways. I suggest collective dose calculations as an article in the NPYP blog, which could be linked to as an information source, when making statements that flying give a larger dose as nuclear power.
Dag Lindgren
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Joined: 02 May 2011, 17:03
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Re: Flying: larger radíation risk than nuclear power?

Postby NuclearSpeak » 15 Dec 2011, 13:02

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