Bookmark and Share

The essential guide to radiation: the good, the bad, and the utterly fascinating, explained with unprecedented clarity.

Earth, born in a nuclear explosion, is a radioactive planet; without radiation, life would not exist. And while radiation can be dangerous, it is also deeply misunderstood and often mistakenly feared. Now Robert Peter Gale, M.D.,—the doctor to whom concerned governments turned in the wake of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters—in collaboration with medical writer Eric Lax draws on an exceptional depth of knowledge to correct myths and establish facts.

Exploring what have become trigger words for anxiety—nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, uranium, plutonium, iodine-131, mammogram, X-ray, CT scan, threats to the food chain—the authors demystify the science and dangers of radiation, and examine its myriad benefits, from safely sterilizing our food to the relatively low-risk fuel alternative of nuclear energy. This is the book for all readers who have asked themselves questions such as: What kinds of radiation, and what degree of exposure, cause cancer? What aftereffects have nuclear accidents and bombs had? Does radiation increase the likelihood of birth defects? And how does radiation work?

Hugely illuminating, Radiation is the definitive road map to our post-Chernobyl, post-Fukushima world.




““Virtually everything is radioactive, including us.” The opening line of this stellar book underscores the omnipresence of radiation, yet, as physician Gale and science writer Lax point out, most people know little about the topic. Fear of radiation is out of proportion to the actual risks. About one-half of our radiation exposure occurs naturally, background radiation that has both cosmic and terrestrial sources. The remainder is man-made, and 80 percent of it comes from medical testing and procedures. Consider that a CT scan of your head hurls roughly the same amount of radiation toward you as if you were standing four miles from the atomic blast in Hiroshima. Readers learn about radon, food irradiation, nuclear bombs, the connection between cancer and radiation, radioactive waste, and nuclear power plants (including the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents). Lifestyle choices can collide with radiation hazards. For example, tanning booths give off approximately 12 times as much ultraviolet A radiation as our sun. A fertilizer applied to tobacco crops contains polonium-210, which likens smoking cigarettes to “intentionally inhaling a small nuclear weapon into your lungs.” Gale and Lax objectively present the danger and value of radioactivity. In content and writing, Radiation absolutely glows.

"Oncologist and bone marrow transplant specialist Gale (Final Warning: The Legacy of Chernobyl, with Thomas Hauser) has ventured into the world's top 'hot spots' — Chernobyl and Fukushima — and emerged to assure us that our worries about radiation are disproportionate to actual risks. With science writer and biographer Lax (Woody Allen: A Biography), Gale tackles the complicated science of radiobiology to quell unfounded fears and help readers weigh the risks and benefits of nuclear technologies. Taking on some of our more common anxieties, Gale shows there's no evidence that microwaves, cell phones, or LED watches increase the risk of cancer, that going through airport scanners is dangerous, or that irradiated food is radioactive. And though he notes that the U.S. must be careful about how it utilizes nuclear energy, Gale notes that coal-fired plants produce three times more radiation than do nuclear power stations. He also insists that despite the real dangers of nuclear terrorism, radiation saves more lives than it harms, citing its use as an important anticancer therapy. Gale's is an invaluable guide for negotiating an increasingly radioactive world — for scientists, patients of radiation-related medical procedures, and environmentalists alike."
–Publisher’s Weekly

Let's be clear on health risks from radiation
     Should Californians have had iodine after Fukushima? In Radiation Robert Peter Gale and Eric Lax clear up the confusion over radiation and health
     CIGARETTE smokers have three times the amount of polonium-210 in their blood as non-smokers. Some medical uses of radiation expose us to a higher dose in one go than smokers get in a year, yet many are happy to accept these radiation risks.
     Compare this with the global alarm following the Fukushima disaster in 2011. As Robert Peter Gale and Eric Lax tell us in Radiation, Californians reacted to the news by buying iodine tablets, which in the circumstances were "as useful as Californians buying raincoats to protect them from rain falling in Barcelona".
     Humans are ill-equipped to deal with uncertainty, and we know too much about the uncertainties around data on health risks from radiation. Gale is a doctor specialising in treating patients exposed to high doses of radiation, and Lax is a scientific writer. Touring through various scenarios, from nuclear accidents to irradiated food, they show how our inability to put risk into context can have serious consequences.
     They start with an account of an incident in Goiania, Brazil. In 1987, radiotherapy equipment was stolen and the thieves, tempted by the alluring blue glow inside, dismantled it carelessly. Because they didn't know how to handle and contain radiation many people were exposed to variable doses of caesium-137, some with fatal consequences.
     Mishandling is not the only danger that flows from a dearth of proper knowledge about radiation. Confusion over the risks to health, both on the part of the public and politicians, can lead to societal stress and stagnation in energy policy.
     The book navigates this troublesome territory without bias. The authors summarise health risks associated with various non-nuclear options, suggesting that energy policy should take into account all the possible health risks of a given strategy. Surprisingly, one conclusion is that the fly ash from coal power stations actually generates more radiation than is emitted by a nuclear power plant.
     Gale and Lax aim to fill in the gaps in public understanding of all things nuclear, and they are adept at doing so. Throughout the book they present a host of interesting facts and figures in humorous and accessible prose, and their explanation of the biological effect of internal radiation is excellent.
     These days we can measure radiation incredibly accurately, but are not good at putting health risks from radiation into perspective with all of the other risks that threaten our health. This book does a good job at explaining radiation and what it does, both good and bad. Radiation is integral to our planet and its use will shape our future here. In Radiation, Gale and Lax help us understand how and why.
New Scientist: Gerry Thomas, molecular pathologist at Imperial College London


Site Copyright 2013 Eric Lax
Eric Lax photograph by Patricia Williams.
Site Designed and Maintained by
Dovetail Studio