Radiation Exposure: Not Always as Dangerous as You Think

Nuclear weapons are very dangerous, yes, but the fear of what these weapons can do has given the public a false impression about radiation (the aftereffects of nuclear exposure) exposure at low levels.

Since the atomic bombings of Japan 71 years ago, about 120,000 survivors and 77,000 of their children have been studied to help understand the long-term effects of radiation exposure. A review released last week analyzed over 100 studies showing how the long-term effects of low-level radiation are not as dreadful as originally thought. In general, radiation risks are overestimated and other risks are underestimated.

Misunderstanding radiation further complicates already complicated problems, such as storing nuclear waste, finding sites for new reactors, and properly dismantling old ones. Public confusion and anxiety caused from the misinformation about naturally-occurring radiation, its invisibility to the naked eye, and its connection to nuclear war and reactor meltdowns.

Those who were exposed to a large amount of radiation, more than 2,000 times today’s safe level, developed cancer 61% more than expected. Despite common fears, the radiation damage has yet to be detected in survivors’ children’s genetic makeup. The public’s fear of low-level radiation exposure is not backed up by scientific data and throws off the public’s sense of what is truly dangerous. Particulates in the air kill more people than radiation, yet particulates are more prevalent because of the fear of using nuclear energy.

In the Japanese study, average life expectancy fell by only 1.3 years to those exposed to one Sievert (Sv) of radiation, and fewer years to those exposed to less exposure. The social disruptions during the collapse of the Soviet Union decreased life expectancy by 5 years due to poor living conditions and health care. Thus, the risks vs. benefits of increased nuclear power and technology need to be compared to other challenges in society for a more accurate assessment.
Roston, Eric. “Radiation Can Kill, but Not as Easily You Think.” News. Bloomberg, 11 Aug 2016. Web. 14 Aug 2016.

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