News FocusTohoku-Oki Earthquake

Fukushima Revives The Low-Dose Debate

Science  20 May 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6032, pp. 908-910
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6032.908

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Summary

The ongoing crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has thrust several thousand of Fukushima's 2 million residents into the middle of a scientific debate about the health effects of long-term exposure to low levels of radiation. Some researchers believe even unavoidable background radiation can be a factor in causing cancer. Others argue that tiny doses of radiation are not harmful. Some scientists even claim that low doses, by stimulating DNA repair, make you healthier—an effect known as hormesis. Studies in Fukushima could help clarify the picture. But getting answers will not be easy. Radiation exposure levels for most people were elevated so minutely above background that it may be impossible to tease out carcinogenic effects from other risk factors, such as smoking or diet. That has experts wondering whether and how to carry out such studies. A population study could nevertheless pay off scientifically.