News and Facts: Nuclear Industry and Radioactive Science

The Irrational Fear of Radiation

June 08, 2009 By: John Category: radiation myths & misconceptions, video

[reprinted from]

Radiation is natural, yet the very word itself generates an irrational fear in most people. Why? Nuclear science is still a relatively young science, and people picture exploding atom bombs when they think of radiation. They think of Three-Mile Island and Chernobyl and a thermonuclear holocaust. Yet, as this BBC documentary points out, this fear is not rational and often it is the fear of radiation that causes psychological trauma.

Radiation is all around us. In nature, something is either matter or radiation. Electromagnetic radiation includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet light, x-rays and gamma rays. We are submerged in an ocean of radiation fields. Energetic charged particles are also all around us, from the breakdown of heavier elements, yet most do us no harm at all. There are four tons of uranium in the top foot of every square mile of land. People live in regions with higher background radiation than the well-known reactor accident caused in the Russian city of Chernobyl, and they thrive. Some even suspect, as I have suggested before, that some level of background radiation is important to the stimulation of the body’s immune system.

While the higher levels of exposure to radiation is known to be dangerous (such as the fluoroscopes that many children played with to view bones in their feet at the shoe stores in the 1940s and 1950s) - there is little radiation danger presented in modern nuclear reactors, yet the irrational phobia about radiation halted the construction of new US nuclear reactors nearly thirty years ago. There are very real risks that come from our continued use of fossil fuels. Nuclear power, today, is a very safe and reliable technology, and we need to leverage this plentiful source of cheap energy. This means we must overcome the uneducated fear of anything related to radiation or radioactivity.

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