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Failure to discuss "micro-dosimetry" demolishes a biased thesis
on 1 June 2011
This book has a fatal flaw. Allison attempts to make the complex topic of radiation biology approachable but, as he says at the outset, he "always felt" the conventional radiation safety culture is over-protective. He is now recommending that public exposure limits should be relaxed to a level 70 times the limit defined by European Directive 96/29. (This is in later articles, not this book)
The key to understanding his position is his acceptance of the concept of absorbed dose. Authorities acknowledge there are types of exposure that make "absorbed dose" quantities meaningless. The portmanteau word is "micro-dosimetry", referring to exposures where radioactive substances are inside the body and where the radiation tracks are localized. Plutonium is an example; the alpha particles it emits are relatively massive, they slow down rapidly, concentrating all their energy into a minuscule volume of tissue. This makes nonsense of "absorbed dose" because "absorbed dose" is an average of energy transferred into a volume of tissue, usually equivalent to the whole body or a region like the lung. To use dose in this way is an averaging error, like believing it makes no difference whether you sit by the fire to warm yourself or eat a burning coal. At the extreme, the dose a single internal alpha particle track can deliver to a single cell is 500mSv. The dose to the whole body from the same alpha track is 0.000000000005mSv.
Allison knows there's a problem; his preface says "To keep the discussion focused on a few main points many important topics have been omitted or just noted in passing - in particular, the subject of micro-dosimetry is treated rather briefly in spite of its importance for future understanding." In fact he doesn't discuss micro-dosimetry at all.