The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Gender and Radiation: Women and Children Require More Protection

Today is International Women’s Day  “a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.” 

There are many such women in the anti-nuclear movement.  For example..

Mary Olson is the Founder of the Gender and Radiation Impact Project and is clear her life’s mission is to bring to light the disproportionate impact of radiation on girls and women. Over her long career, Olson has studied radiation health consequences with some of the leading radiation researchers of the 20 th Century including Rosalie BertellAlice StewartHelen Caldicott and Wing, and was featured in the educational film “ The Ultimate Wish: Ending the Nuclear Age” Through her work as a staff biologist and policy analyst at Nuclear Information and Resource Service , she has worked for decades to improve public policy on highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel and plutonium
Below is an excellent fact sheet from the Nuclear Information and Resource Service

Women & Children Require More Protection from

Ionizing Radiation than Men

NAS Findings: Adult Males are Group Most
Resistant to getting Cancer from Radiation
There is no safe dose of ionizing radiation: any
exposure of living cells to sub-atomic particles
(alpha, beta, neutron) or waves of energy (gamma,
X-ray) ejected from unstable radioactive atoms
has the potential to trigger cancer in people.i
Men get cancer from exposure to radiation, and
men die from that cancer, however, for reasons
not yet fully understood , fewer males get cancer
and fewer of them die from it compared to
females of the same age at the same level of
radiation exposure. The difference is not small:
for every two men who get cancer, three women
suffer this disease. These findings of physical
difference (not based on behavior) of 40% — 60%
more cancer in women compared to men come
from the (US) National Academy of Sciences
(NAS), Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation
(BEIR) Report number VII, published in 2006 ii
It has been common knowledge that children’s
bodies are the most vulnerable to radiation
impacts, but from BEIR VII we also learn that
little girls (age 0 — 5 years) are twice as likely to
suffer harm from radiation (defined in BEIR VII
as cancer) as little boys in the same age group. iii
In October 2011, NIRS published a briefing paper
Atomic Radiation is More Harmful to Women iv
containing more details about these findings. The
numbers in the BEIR VII tables are the source of
this new information. Gender difference is not
discussed in the report text.
Not every dose of radiation results in detectable
harm–cells have repair
mechanisms. However,
every exposure carries the potential for harm; and
that potential is tied to age of exposure and
Radiation Exposure Standards Based on Adult
Male Body
While we cannot see or
otherwise detect radiation with
our senses, we can see its
When the  first regulations were made, it was because
soldiers and scientists in the U.S. (virtually all
male to begin with) were working on building
nuclear weapons. The first standards were
“allowable” limits for exposing these men to a
known hazard.
Radiation Levels v Dose
Geiger counters and other devices can detect
levels of radiation and concentrations of
radioactivity.  It is much more difficult to say how much of that energy has impacted a living body (dose). Dose is calculated based on body size, weight, distance from the source and assumptions about biological impact. Gender is not factored in a typical determination of a dose. Historically the “dose receptors” were male, and were of a small age range. It is somewhat understandable that the “Reference Man”v was based on a “Standard Man”–a guy of a certain height, weight and age. Clearly such assumptions are no longer valid when there is such a striking gender difference– 40% to 100% greater likelihood of cancer or cancer death (depending on the age) for females, compared to

Not Only Cancer

Radiation harm includes not only cancer and leukemia, but reduced immunity, reduced fertility, increases in other diseases including heart disease, birth defects including heart defects, other mutations (both heritable and not). When damage is catastrophic to a developing embryo, spontaneous abortion or miscarriage of a pregnancy may result.vii

Gender Mechanism Not Yet Described

Perhaps the reason that the National Academy of Sciences does not discuss the fact that gender has such a large impact on outcome of exposure to radiation is that the causal  mechanism is not yet described.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell, one of the icons of research and education on radiation health effects, suggests that one basis may be that the female body has a higher percentage of reproductive tissue than the male body. Dr. Bertell points to

studies showing reproductive organs and tissues are more sensitive to radiation. Nonetheless, Dr. Bertell is clear: “While research is clearly needed, we should PROTECT FIRST.”

Ignoring Gender Results in More Harm

The NAS BEIR VII findings show that males of all ages are more resistant to radiation exposure than females, and also that all children are more vulnerable than adults. The only radiation standard certain to protect everyone is zero. Given the fact that there is no safe dose of radiation, it is an appropriate goal. Any additional exposure above unavoidable naturally occurring radiation should include full disclosure and concurrence of the individual. It is time to adopt non-radioactive practices for making energy, peace, security and healing.

03/10/2012 Mary Olson, NIRS Southeast / 828-252-8409

i See
ii BEIR VII, Table 12D‐3 page 312, National Academy Press (Washington, DC) 2006.
iii BEIR VII page 311, Table 12‐D 1.
iv NIRS: Atomic Radiation is More Harmful to Women df
vICRP Publication 23: Reference Man: Anatomical, Physiological and Metabolic Characteristics, 1st Edition

vi IEER: The use of Reference Man in Radiation Protection Standards and Guidance with Recommendations for Change
vii Non‐cancer health effects are documented in classic works of John Gofman, for instance Radiation and Human Health (Random House 1982) and digital documents available: and Dr. Rosalie Bertell’s classic work No Immediate Danger, Summer Town Books, 1986.


March 9, 2018 - Posted by | radiation, Reference, women

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