[ RadSafe ] The Economist: "That healthy glow - How much radiation is safe?"

Ernesto Faillace ernesto.faillace at gmail.com
Fri Feb 15 13:17:20 CST 2008

I just get the Radsafe Digest; sorry if this article link has already been

Since quite a few people read The Economist, which I believe is a well
respected financial publication (although I have heard it has been accused
of some left-leaning bias recently), this article might get a
few non-scientists to re-consider their views of radiation hazards.  I found
it quite balanced, well written and concise.  I'd love to know who wrote it,
but there was no byline, and the link under the subtitle was really of no
help. I particularly liked the quotation from a "poetic"
advertisement written just about 100 years ago that starts off this article:

*"TAKE baths in liquid sunshine. It is radio-active, germicidal and purifies
your blood by destroying disease germs, thereby revivifying, rejuvenating
and increasing your Vital Force and circulation." So runs an advertisement
for the Radium Sulphur Springs in Colegrove, Los Angeles, displayed in the
January 5th 1908 issue of the Los Angeles Times.*

This article touches on the origin of LNT-based risk estimates derived from
atomic bomb survivors, Chernobyl's health impacts (both in terms of
potential radiation dose AND socioeconomic stress factors associated with
the collapse of the Soviet Union) as assessed by UNCEAR, countered on the
other extreme by "Green" groups, and acknowledges large (2 orders of
magnitude) variations in natural background:

*Doses vary widely from place to place, from a global average of around 3
milliSieverts (mSv) a year (mostly from exposure to radon, a
naturally-occurring gas) up to 260 mSv in Ramsar, an Iranian town whose
streams contain large quantities of naturally occurring radium. Deciding
just how dangerous radiation really is would improve public health all over
the world.*

The article concludes with:

*If the public's fear of radiation turned out to be overblown, it could help
soften opposition to nuclear power (the nuclear industry, naturally, is keen
to play down the risks at every opportunity). It might help to quell the
panic about terrorists using dirty bombs—conventional explosive devices
designed to spread radioactive particles across a wide area.*

*Despite much fearful media attention, virtually every scientist who has
considered the idea is adamant that the risk is overplayed and that most of
the deaths would be the result of the initial, conventional explosion. Once
lauded as a cure-all, has radiation's reputation swung too far in the other

Ernesto Faillace, CHP
ernesto.faillace at gmail.com

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