Lars Roobol

Head of Measurement and Monitoring Department

RIVM

April 26, 2021

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Ep 303: Lars Roobol - Head of Measurement and Monitoring Department, RIVM
00:00 / 01:04
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Bret Kugelmass
We are here today with Lars Roobol who's the Head of Measurement and Monitoring at the Dutch National Institute for the Public Health and the Environment. And really, one of the leading radiation experts in all the Netherlands. Lars, it's so great to have you on the show. Thanks for joining us.

Lars Roobol
Well, thanks for inviting me.

Bret Kugelmass
Absolutely.

Lars Roobol
I'm very excited about it.

Bret Kugelmass
You have a wealth of experience that myself and our whole audience wants to benefit from. But before we get into the work of the current day, perhaps you could take us back through your past and tell us, how did you get into this space?

Lars Roobol
Well, it all started when I was going to college. That was back in the 80s. I'm 55 years old now. And when I was doing one of my first exercise there, at the Leiden University in the Netherlands. That was in 1986. And you may know that, 35 years ago, we had that incident in Chernobyl.

Bret Kugelmass
Yes.

Lars Roobol
So I had access to all these radiation meters. And I went outside with my pal whom I was doing experiments with. And we could measure absolutely nothing. So we were like, Hey, what's going on?

Bret Kugelmass
Where's this radiation cloud?

Lars Roobol
Yeah. And of course, there are spots on earth where you really can find it. But in the Netherlands, you could only measure in the red with very sensitive equipment. And that was when I also first heard the name of the Institute where I'm working now, because those were the experts with these radiation gauges, that could measure it. So well, after that, I was doing some other stuff in physics. But about 10 years later, I was working on a University Institute where they had a particle accelerator and that is where I first encountered real radioactivity, and very studied all sorts of exotic particles.

Bret Kugelmass
Do you remember if I can ask you to take a step back even further, though? Do you remember even as a kid where you first got your interest in science and physics from? Did you read a lot of books on the topic? Did you watch shows? How did you become fascinated by this?

Lars Roobol
Yes, I was one of these sad kids that never left their room. And I was always reading books. And I really loved well, science, about dinosaurs and things that happened in the past. And I also wanted to know why things are working. And also how they were working. I was really interested in space - I was really excited about that, and really into science and into physics.

Bret Kugelmass
So when you get to see this particle accelerator, this is like stepping into the future almost?

Lars Roobol
Yes. Well, now I'm not doing real physics in a lab every day anymore. But every time when I visit some large institute where they have large things and they make a lot of noise and to hear, to hear a cooling water going down and to melt the oil of the pumps. And I really get excited again to take it back to my youth.

Bret Kugelmass
Yep. I feel the exact same way every time I stepped into a big facility. When I went out to CERN every time I just get like the tingly feelings just seeing the big equipment.

Lars Roobol
Yes, it's superb, it's like being a kid in a candy store.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay, so tell me where did your career take you? Where did you decide to really kind of focus in on and become an expert?

Lars Roobol
After I worked at that Institute with the particle accelerator. I saw an advert that they were looking for a manager at the other side of the Netherlands. Well, at the other side of the Netherlands is not such a big deal. When you go East to West it's about two hours by car. And when you go North to South, it's three hours.

Bret Kugelmass
Amazing, amazing.

Lars Roobol
But there was a facility in a little town called Petten and they have a material test reactor. And they were looking for someone to lead their research facility. And also the facility where they make the radioactive medicine. And well, I thought that was very exciting, that was not only science, but you could do something with it.

Bret Kugelmass
Really applied, yeah.

Lars Roobol
And you could really help people. And well, therefore, I decided to work there and they also thought it would be a good idea that I came there. I worked at that facility and because they were working with a humongous amount of radiation, also the manager needed to be radiation experts. And you needed to know a lot about safety, about well, ISO stuff. And that was my first step in becoming an expert.

Bret Kugelmass
And when you say ISO, do you mean ISO like the qualification? Like the trade, the industry standard qualification? Or like isotopes?

Lars Roobol
No, really ISO 9001.

Bret Kugelmass
I see, right? Like these are standards on how things have to be built, essentially.

Lars Roobol
Yes, there are also standards for facilities making, well, they call them API's, active pharmaceutical ingredients. Then you go into the medical standards because you don't want all sorts of particles that don't belong there in this stuff you administer to people.

Bret Kugelmass
Yes. Can you maybe give our audience a bit of an explanation on what the nuclear reactors have to do with nuclear medicine, overall? What's the relationship? I think, you know, most people still don't realize that the radio stuff that they get in their medical treatment, had to be created by man somehow, in some magical machine, that maybe they don't even know that there's a magical machine, maybe they think you just pull it from a tree or something. Can you explain to us what is all of this?

Lars Roobol
Yes, certainly, I can. Very many of the substances that we use, they are actually found in the 1940s and the early 1950s. And they were made using particle accelerators. But one of the substances is called technetium. And that is used for scans in people who have medical scans. Think about scans for cancer, for heart disease, coronary disease. It's a substance called technetium-99. And they're using that 50 million times a year, on patients all over the world. And it's called technetium because it doesn't exist on Earth. It really has to be made by man.

Bret Kugelmass
Wow.

Lars Roobol
And it was made in the 1940s in the US using a particle accelerator. And in the 1950s, people realized that they could make scans with it, and really images of what is going on inside the body.

Bret Kugelmass
And the basic way that this works is you ingest it and then it shines a light from the inside out is that how the concept is?

Lars Roobol
Well, basically, yes. It emits gamma radiation, and you have a gamma camera on the outside of the person. And the good thing you can do with it is that you can bind it to all sorts of biological substances. For example, sugar. And sugar finds its way inside your body and it goes to the muscles, so it can go to the heart muscle. But you can also bind it to another substance that goes to cancer cells. And there it can highlight a sliver of the cancer cells in the body. So some really cool stuff, but you need to have it in enormous amounts and up until now, particle accelerators could not make it in such large amounts. So, since the 1960s, reactors are making technetium. And they do that by bombarding uranium with neutrons - well, that is what reactors are very good at - and the uranium falls apart into two larger atoms. And about 6% of all the time it is a molybdenum atom, molybdenum-99, which is radioactive. And when it becomes radioactive, it becomes another atom, which is technetium-99.

Bret Kugelmass
So, inside nuclear reactors, we're creating a version of an atom that doesn't exist naturally. And the characteristics of this is that it emits this gamma radiation as a way to, let's say, stabilize itself, to go back to a more comfortable atomic state of being. We're taking advantage of that property, to hook it up to a sugar, to put it into the body, and then to highlight things that we want to find in order to diagnose people.

Lars Roobol
Exactly. And well, these are very exciting times for making such substances, because there's a lot of technical development going on also in the US. There's this company that is finding out another way of making technetium, but then using a very large particle accelerator. That's very exciting, because I think within five to 10 years, the way these substances are made, we'll see very new techniques and we are also still going to use reactors, I think, but we will also see these particle accelerators coming.

Bret Kugelmass
Now, how many of these reactors exist across the world today that are producing this vital element for medicine?

Lars Roobol
Well, when you look at the largest ones, there are about five to six.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay, not that many for the whole world, for 50 million doses a unit.

Lars Roobol
No, and then there were some smaller ones that make it for local users. Most of them are in Europe. There was one in South Africa, one in Australia, and also in the US we see more and more of these facilities coming. Because in the US people think it's such a vital thing to have, you want to make it yourself also. Because when something happens and airplanes can't fly, then they're stuck in the US.

Bret Kugelmass
I see, like security of supply is an issue. And as far as I understand it, shelf life is also an issue. These things, from the moment that they're made, you have to get them to the hospital pretty quickly because the very property that we're utilizing them for, this disintegration almost, this emission of gamma radiation is the thing that transforms it from useful to not useful. So is that right? So is geography also important? How close we are to these reactors?

Lars Roobol
Yes. When you look at technetium, the amount of technetium you are holding in your hands is, so to speak, halves every six hours,

Bret Kugelmass
Okay. So time is really of the essence.

Lars Roobol
Yes, and therefore, it is very neat that this technetium is, so to speak, the daughter of molybdenum-99. because molybdenum-99 has a half-life of 66 hours.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay.

Lars Roobol
So that gives you enough time to fly it all around the world.

Lars Roobol
Well, there are very many of these medical radioisotopes. Some of them have half-lives of months or weeks. But there are also substances who have half-lives of minutes. So they need to be made active at the actual hospital by a particle accelerator. And then they are going to pace them almost directly.

Bret Kugelmass
Oh my god, which ones are these?

Bret Kugelmass
Got it.

Lars Roobol
These are called PET isotopes. A PET is a technique of making images of the body. And these ones are called to oxygen and carbon. But under radioactive versions of it, and these have shelf lives of minutes, only five minutes, 10 minutes.

Bret Kugelmass
Wow. And so the reactor that you started working at, the medical reactor, was this one of the smaller ones or one of the bigger ones in the world?

Lars Roobol
No, it was actually - well, there are lots of reactors who are smaller than that, that are university reactors. This one was a little bit bigger, but to give you an idea, it is a 50 megawatt reactor, 50 megawatt of heat.

Bret Kugelmass
That's pretty good. I'd say that's pretty substantial.

Lars Roobol
Yeah. So we do also have one university reactor in the Netherlands. And that is only two megawatts. But when you look at the full-size power plant, it's about 1000 megawatts. So that is more or less the state of things.

Bret Kugelmass
Got it. So what is like Netherlands' history and experience with nuclear technology overall? You do have a full-scale power plant, in addition to a couple of the research ones as well? And medical as well?

Lars Roobol
Yes, we do have one power plant. I wouldn't call it full scale nowadays. It was built in the early 70s and it's almost 500 megawatts.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay, I still think that's big. I know, some of the big ones are the 1500 megawatts these days. But 500, it just seems like such a good size. To me, the 1500 ones, I understand the economies of scale of size, but those are big projects. The grid is not really built for that type of interaction. I'm a huge fan of the 500 megawatt ones.

Lars Roobol
Well, that is what we are realizing now, because we are building so many wind farms and solar PV, that actually in the 300 to 500 megawatts sizes are a bit better for the electricity grid than the 1500 megawatts are.

Bret Kugelmass
And then so maybe - and this might be too broad question, but see if you can answer for me - what do the Dutch people generally think of nuclear? If you if you've had this around for a while, and you've got leaders like, you know, scientific leaders like yourself that are that are pioneers in the medical field, and in the research reactor field, and your universities understand it, is there a general feeling overall of, Yeah, we understand nuclear, we like nuclear, or are there different feelings?

Lars Roobol
No, there are different feelings in the Netherlands. I would say now it's about 50/50 and it depends on where you live. When you live very near to the power plant, then very many people think, Well, it's okay. And maybe they've worked there. And they're used to it. And that is totally different from the parts of the country that are well, more or less empty. They don't have large scale industry. Depends on where you live.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, it depends on where you live, essentially. And then so what role have you played, just throughout your career, in terms of being an advocate or being an educator throughout your country on these topics?

Lars Roobol
Well, the institute I work at now, the RIVM, that is a government institute. And our role is to help people and also to advise them on all sorts of matters. There are very many people who are working on viruses at our institute. So our name is very big at this moment, because of the COVID-19 situation, but we also advise on all sorts of chemical substances, radiation, ionizing radiation, UV, cell phone radiation. But all the things people worry about.

Bret Kugelmass
Because your organization has such a broad mandate across all of these risk factors, are you able to take a balanced approach and explain relative risk? One thing that I found is a shortcoming of some of the organizations in the US that are just focused on radiation or just focused on nuclear protection is they either don't understand it, or they don't want to, or they don't feel like it's in their mandate to explain relative risk. Do you get to do that?

Lars Roobol
We do get to do that. But it's very difficult. And it is because there is also another effect, and that is the perception of the public. Take, for example, terrorism. Very many people think that terrorism is "this" likely to occur to you. In actual fact, it's "this" likely. And when you think about heart attacks, but I think, well, "this" is my risk of getting a heart attack. But in actual fact, it's "that" large. So relative risks are very difficult because people react to different things very differently.

Bret Kugelmass
Yes.

Lars Roobol
And radiation is one of the things that they think it's "this” big, and it's actually "that" big. .

Bret Kugelmass
One of the things, and tell me your opinion on this, because my opinion that I've developed over meeting with many experts in the space, is that in our effort to over explain, and to over protect people, in terms of knowledge, give them knowledge about radiation, we actually make it seem like a bigger deal than it is. We actually increase their perceived sense of risk, just by trying to explain to them over and over and over again. Have you found something similar or different?

Lars Roobol
Yes. We are now also doing research into public perception. And also in risk communication. And to give one example, when there was a fire, we used to warn the people with the message, Close your windows. And in our research, we found out that wasn't working in the Netherlands. Dutch people are rather stubborn. And when somebody tells him to do something, then they think Well, let's think about that again. And now we tell them something different. Now, the Fire Department says, smoke is not healthy, do not come in contact with smoke. And then people start thinking, Well, I might close the window.

Bret Kugelmass
I see. Yes, give people a little bit of credit. Let them come to their own conclusions. Treat people like they're smart. And then they'll act in the right way, as opposed to being oppressive and overburdensome and telling people, Here's what you have to do. And then you kind of put them on the defensive and then you make them act, you know, maybe not in their best interest. I see this across all spaces. Yeah. Well, no, it's good to know that the Dutch people are stubborn, I call it you know, it's healthy skepticism.

Lars Roobol
And now we're also doing that with radiation. Some years ago, there were these iodine pills that were given to the people. That was a political decision that everybody within a range of, well, a certain amount of kilometres, from a nuclear power plant, they were offered these iodine pills so they could take them during an accident. And they first did some research asking 1000 people, What do you want to know? And what do you think about radiation? And by doing that research, we could make a website telling people what to think about their worries, and we could really address the worries they had. And we do that more and more now. And I think it's a very exciting research.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah, amazing. Okay, so you ask people what they think, instead of just telling them what to think. The revolutionary. No, I mean, it's amazing. It's amazing how wrong so many times we've gotten it in the past. In some places, we still get it wrong. But I love that, I love the approach that you're taking. I love the approach that your country and your culture takes now in terms of giving people a little bit of benefit of the doubt, treating them like they're intelligent, and actually engaging with them. I love it.

Lars Roobol
Yes. And well, that is what I also have done. Well, in my career, I always thought that, it doesn't work when you have a polarized debate. For example, about that we're not to build a nuclear power plant, to really be the advocate. I really believe that when you give people honest information, and let them decide for themselves, that they will do the right thing.

Bret Kugelmass
Yes, treat people like adults, even kids, I think even we should treat kids like adults, and they'll act like adults. So tell me about that. Tell me about with nuclear energy. So you developed this long career with specialty expertise in radiation and medical technologies. And now you're at the Institute, your local institute of radiation protection. But when did nuclear energy come into your view? And what were your opinions on it? And where do you see it fitting overall?

Lars Roobol
Yes, well, these are, of course, my personal opinions, because I can't speak for the government of the Netherlands. They are forming a new government right now. And it's a little bit exciting for me., which side of the coin will come up? The politics are such that, there is a chance that the new government will decide to build a new power plant. But it could also form another government because we have a multi-party system. And there could also be parties involved that are very much opposed to power,

Bret Kugelmass
And which are which, just because I don't know your political system, I don't think most of our audience does, either. Can you just what are the names of the parties even?

Lars Roobol
Well, the largest one is called VVD, and that is a modestly right wing party. And that has been in government for 10 years now. It is mostly such that the parties that formed the government, they are center or center-left, center-right. And nowadays, we need for parties to get enough votes in the parliaments to form a government. Last elections we had over 30 political parties.

Bret Kugelmass
Oh my god, what are you guys Italy all of a sudden?

Lars Roobol
And now, when you look at our Parliament, we have 17 different political parties. So political is really a lot more difficult than it was in the 1980s, where there were less parties.

Bret Kugelmass
And the way that it works in your system, since it's so fragmented, it's harder to get a majority of votes together to take any action. And that's why these Coalitions are so important?

Lars Roobol
Yes. When we would've adopted the US system, then for the party I mentioned, VVD, they would get all of the seats almost. But because we have a direct election, so it's one vote one seat in Parliament. Well, the landscape is totally different.

Bret Kugelmass
I see, it's not a winner-take-all system like ours is, got it.

Lars Roobol
So when you get 1/10 of the votes, you get 1/10 of the seats in Parliament.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay, so the government is being formed - I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I'll assume that within a few months, it will happen - and then what happens for nuclear energy, specifically? Does there have to be a vote cast? Or is it just a general policy? If the right coalition takes control, we'll just know that the general policy is pro-nuclear? Or are there specific actions that need to be taken for nuclear?

Lars Roobol
Of course, the issue at stake is that we are emitting too much CO2. And we need to do something about that. And we need to do it fast.

Bret Kugelmass
Yes.

Lars Roobol
So, what is already going on is that we're investing in those techniques to get CO2 down. So we're building a lot of wind farms, also on the sea. We're building a lot of solar PV. And we are okay until 2030, then things are moving in the right direction. But then we have only done the easy part. And by the easy part, I mean, we are not selling any cars anymore that are moving on fossil fuel, these are all going to be electric cars. And our electricity system will be reasonably low carbon. But then you also have the industry and you have a lot of other things in the economy wanting more electrical power, wanting substances that they need to use in their chemical processes. And these also have to be made with some sort of energy. And what we're going to decide in the Netherlands during this Cabinet is what will the next step be? And nuclear power is one of the options.

Bret Kugelmass
Yes. And- go ahead, please.

Lars Roobol
Yeah. And it depends on the lines. So the political parties that form governments together, which way it goes so it's really more political decision.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. And then so let's say the political parties decide that they want it, what happens then? Is it a state-backed system or are vendors just invited to come into the country and become independent power producers? What type of market and market forces exist to then- let's say the decision in theory in principle is made, Yes, more nuclear. What are the other structures in place that would allow for or encouraged nuclear development to occur?

Lars Roobol
This is a very good question. People high up in this state are thinking very hard about that. Because you can say, well we want all vendors are welcome. That didn't happen with the wind parks that we built, because builders need some sort of certainty that they're doing a good investment. And we were not doing very well in the Netherlands in the past 15 years. Because about 15 years ago, we started building new coal plants. And now 10-15 years later, we're saying, Well, what about closing them? And these builders, they are not very happy about that, of course,

Bret Kugelmass
I see. What you're saying is, 15 years ago, the government invited coal to be built. And people assumed that they were going to finance these projects on a 40-year timescale or so. And halfway through that 40-year timescale, they're being told, no, this is not part of the plan anymore. It scares other developers that might want to come in and do something similar for clean energy.

Lars Roobol
And therefore, with wind parks and solar PV, we have got this subsidy scheme in the Netherlands, that, people who are sellers of electricity, when the actual hour to hour price of electricity is lower than a certain amount, they get subsidized for the difference of that. And we have also auctions of wind parks, so there is some certain space where you can build a wind park, they even make a license for you. And then you can make a bid. And that works very well with solar PV and wind. And right now, our government is doing some research on what will invite builders of nuclear, what do they need to really come onto the market.

Bret Kugelmass
And then, let's say that they do that survey, and they kind of come up with a plan. And maybe even then, you know, create the right rules and market rules in place to make that happen. What else is left, let's say structurally, that needs to be in place for reactor developers to come to the Netherlands? Do you guys have a nuclear regulator that is trained up on new nuclear technologies? What about that aspect?

Lars Roobol
Yeah, we do have a regulator. And well, like in very many countries, the last 30 years there wasn't much building activity going on. So they know something about the power plants that are existing now. Of course, they keep an eye on what is going on in the rest of the world. But I think what is needed is that when some party will want to build a reactor, that also there for the regulator, that they need to build up certain knowledge about that type of reactor. And of course, they're very skillful people. And well, I know that they will do a very good job. But it's something you have to take into account.

Bret Kugelmass
I mean, I like the fact that you guys already have a 50 megawatt research reactor because many of the new designs that are coming out, are about that size. The small reactors, some of the SMRs are big. Okay, let's put those aside. But there's a whole other class of reactors that are actually small, or sometimes they call them micro reactors. And I feel like any country that successfully oversees a research reactor program should have all of the institutional knowledge to be able to evaluate these new designs because frankly, they're a lot smaller and smaller is just easier to deal with. Am I right in assuming that?

Lars Roobol
Yes. But of course, they are also more advanced than things that were built in the 70s. So and of course, people do their homework and they keep up with the new techniques. But of course it's well those safety wise it is better dealing with the 300 megawatt plant then with the 1500 megawatt one.

Bret Kugelmass
Probably even easier with a 10 or 20 megawatt?

Lars Roobol
Oh, yeah, certainly.

Bret Kugelmass
And we should also mention that there's another project going on in the Netherlands, the POLIS project, is that right? What's going on there? Are they building it? Is it a new design? What is that?

Lars Roobol
Well, up until now, it is a proposal to build a reactor of the order of 100 megawatt in the same facility where I have worked in Petten. And that is because the reactor with which these medical isotopes are made now will be phased out one day,

Bret Kugelmass
I see. So they just want to be ready for when that happens.

Lars Roobol
Yes. The old reactor, the reactor that we have now, is what was built in the mid-60s. So when you want to continue that work, then you need to start planning,

Bret Kugelmass
I see, and just on that topic, though, what is it that prevents a reactor from continuing on indefinitely in the sense of swapping out components, swapping out core, swapping out fuels, swapping out heat exchangers, swapping up pumps. Is there any theoretical reason why we can't just indefinitely extend the life of reactors one piece at a time?

Lars Roobol
For that type of reactor, no. When you look at the nuclear power plant, then it has this- well, it's actually a large metal vat which is closed. And that is what builds up the pressure with which you make the steam eventually. And that large vessel is being bombarded by neutrons. And that alters the mechanical properties of that vessel. And ultimately, then it needs to be renewed. So for power plants, it's really too expensive to renew that vessel. But with an open pool reactor, it's open at the top, you can look into the water and see the reactor giving off its nice blue light. And sometimes it can be economically done to renew that vessel. And in the Netherlands, it was done about 30 years ago. And it is really like owning a car that is getting a bit older. So it needs a new exhaust pipe and then it needs new tires. And it is just a matter of economics and whether you love that car, or not, whether or not you do it.

Bret Kugelmass
So tell me about what else is next. If we're looking forward into the future, we've done a nice little overview of the existing technologies that your country is familiar with, your background and experience, the organization that you're at now. Tell me what's coming next. And we've spoken about the KPMG survey that's going to advise the government and a little bit about the framework that needs to take place, but what do you see if you were to put on your magic cap looking forward? What do you see happening and maybe what are some extra things that we might need to change or take action for to encourage the future that you want?

Lars Roobol
Okay, that's a very exciting question. I can answer in a couple of ways. First, I see more work coming for me at my Institute. For either they're going to decide that they want new power plants, and then they will come to our institute with all sorts of all sorts of questions about safety, about radiation, and so on and so forth, or they will decide not to build it. And then it's going to be time to deal with our radioactive waste. And then they also will come to me with questions about safety and radiation protection and so on and so forth. So, that is a good thing for my Institute and for me also. But let me also give the more serious answer. I would love to see within the coming 10 years, that we can do something about the system of radiation protection. And there are a couple of things there. One way, one thing is the way we prepare ourselves for incidents and accidents. And in the past years, there was some very exciting research about whether the evacuations in Chernobyl and Fukushima, really were unnecessary,

Bret Kugelmass
Really were necessary. That's a nice way of putting it. Do you mean, if they did more harm than good?

Lars Roobol
Well, that is what we know now. But I have also done a lot of exercises about incidents. And I know how hard it is, when you know only half of what is going on, to really make the right decision. So I really don't want to say anything nasty about the people in Chernobyl and Fukushima, because they did their utmost. But what we have learned now, is that really, these evacuations did more harm than they did good. And we are also doing research into that at my Institute.

Bret Kugelmass
And what becomes of this research, because to me, I actually think that research that you just mentioned, is probably one of the most important things in the entire nuclear sector to get right and then to get that information out there. Once your research is complete, once it's conducted, how is it going to be disseminated and implemented in regulations across the world?

Lars Roobol
Yes, that's a difficult thing, of course, because we are a tiny country and most of these rules are made on a very high level at the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN. And how can we, as a small country, influence all of the world? And we think that we can best do that at a scientific level? Yes, because at a scientific level, you can make more impact by talking to your peers, your fellow scientists in all of the world. You can write articles about it, and people can read that. And the idea is that these ideas will be incorporated over time. Also in the thinking of other countries. Then it's time to return to the IAEA level and make some real political decisions there.

Bret Kugelmass
Yeah. It's very frustrating to me, because I think that if the result of your research is what I think it might be, based on the conversations that I've had, that evacuations are not the proper course of action, in the case of an accident - especially in light water reactor where, after Fukushima, we understand what happens, we understand where the radionuclides go, we understand how much is dispersed and its potential impact on people - if we decide that is truly the case, that we should not be doing evacuations, then I think that the impact that that would have on public perception would be positive, too, because that's why people- though, if you ask people why maybe they don't want nuclear, it's not because they're really afraid of radiation, it's afraid that they're going to be kicked out of their homes. You know, that's what people don't want. People don't want their lives to be ruined, and people don't really think much about the medicine, the medical attributes of radiation. And so if we can just get that off the table, if we can just say, listen, no matter what, nobody's going to ask you to leave your home, then I think people would like nuclear more.

Bret Kugelmass
Hmm. Yes. That makes me think about research we have done recently around a large chemical plant in the Netherlands. And there we have asked many people that they feel safe, because these plants emit a tiny amount of chemicals. And what some people do in the surrounding things is they start to worry.

Bret Kugelmass
When you ask them, if they feel safe, you're saying? That's when they start to worry?

Lars Roobol
Yes. Then even more so. But we'll do firstly, some articles on websites or in the local newspaper. And then people from a government institution like me, come and ask them whether they feel safe, well, then it's making it even worse. But when you look at it scientifically, the chemicals emitted, which they inhale, then they have a very small risk. But because of the worrying of what's going on in their heads, they actually are at more risk, because, well, people who worry, they start to smoke more, they turn to alcohol. They are leading the less healthy life. And that is what we also saw in Fukushima, very many of these people, they got taken out of their homes. They were losing their work, the people they met every day, their neighborhood was gone. So the suicide rate went up, alcoholism went up. Well, also things that are not healthy for people begin to appear. And those are secondary effects of the evacuation. And, well, that's a very sad thing. And when we could have let them live there, then maybe they were a little bit more at risk because of the radiation. But because they still have their sports, their cinema, their neighbors, and so on and so forth. I think they would lead net healthier lives.

Bret Kugelmass
One more technical question. And then after that, I'll give you just the final word. Just because I don't get to ask too many people this and it's always a topic of interest to me: does your organization conduct or review the literature on low dose radiation studies? And if there's a threshold or no threshold?

Bret Kugelmass
Oh, yes. I do even have a PhD student working on that.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay. Maybe I'd be able to interview them as well, at some point. That's a topic of great interest to me.

Bret Kugelmass
Yes. He's finished in about half a year. So I could give you an email. Perfect. But it's a very interesting subject. You want me to tell something about it?

Bret Kugelmass
Just a quick maybe, just a few minutes on it, if you wouldn't mind?

Bret Kugelmass
Yes. Well, but we know about the effects of ionizing radiation, we know only at high dose and at high dose rate.

Bret Kugelmass
And what is high dose and high dose rate, if you could just give me some units to think about?

Lars Roobol
Dose is measured in millisieverts in Europe and about 100 millisieverts is a high dose. And well, a tenth of a millisieverts for an hour or one millisieverts for an hour typically is considered a rather high dose rate. Because when you look at nature, for around where we live and the soil and the air we get about one millisieverts per year. So that's very much lower. And it is unknown at low dose rate and at low dose, what the effect is and therefore we assume that also low dose could, in theory, give the effect that you get cancer, for example, but we can't see it statistically, because I have ionizing radiation is not very good at giving people cancer.

Bret Kugelmass
Right. It's not a very potent carcinogen is what we're saying.

Lars Roobol
But the exact amount.

Bret Kugelmass
The ionizing radiation, yeah. Compared to many other things that we deal with, like oxygen.

Lars Roobol
Yes, to eating an apple. But we're doing research into how low dose rates and low dose can have an impact. And we're looking, for example, at people getting a CT scan. That's a medical dose, and it's supposed to be more good than it does bad. But is a theory that could give you some adverse effects in 10 to 15 years time. And what we're looking at with this PhD student is whether we can match our theories with things we see going on in cell cultures. And we get a dose to those cells and see what happens there. And then the goal is to figure out what then will happen in humans. And well, it's not finished yet. So it can't tell you any of the results. But it looks like that at low dose that the risk is lower than at high dose.

Bret Kugelmass
Okay. And that could be a whole other episode. So we'll push that aside. All right, final word is on you. What message would you like to leave our audience with?

Lars Roobol
Yeah, that's a difficult one. Well, one of the messages I can give the audience is that the world would be a lot better place if we could learn to deal with our fear of radiation. And that I mean, is that the most adverse effect we see in day to day life, that are the effects of fear, and not the effects of ionizing radiation. And when we learn to love it a little bit more, then we can open up to this wonderful technology that we have.

Bret Kugelmass
Lars Roobol, couldn't end on a better note than that. Thank you so much for sharing your time, insight, expertise and wisdom with us.

Lars Roobol
Well, you're very welcome.

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