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WHAT IT IS, WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
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
Hugely illuminating, Radiation is the definitive road map to our
post-Chernobyl, post-Fukushima world.
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““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
Let's be clear on health risks from
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
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.
Gerry Thomas, molecular pathologist at Imperial College London