What it is, what you need to know

Robert Peter Gale, MD and Eric Lax, 2013

This book describes the risks of radiation, in particular ionizing radiation. They are nonzero, but in most cases small, and this book puts them in perspective. The book explains Becquerels (one decay per second), Sieverts, and the great difficulties of measuring very small risks.

The atomic bombings of Japan killed perhaps 240,000, of which 10% were caused by very high levels of radiation - most were killed by blast and fire. The average dose to 93,000 exposed survivors was around 200 mSv, resulting in perhaps 400 extra cancers (p57). Far more radiation was released by atmospheric nuclear weapons testing.

In 1986 there were 65,000 nuclear warheads worldwide. In March 2012 there were less than 4200, including 1731 US and 1492 Russian (about 1000 others). pg 169

Estimated Radioctive releases of radiation pg 82



Bomb tests

675 EBq

950 PBq


1.8 EBq

80 PBq

coverup, and iodine-deficient populations


0.2 EBq

13 PBq

80% blown offshore, mostly effective protection, iodine-protected population

my addition:

half life

8 days

30 years

Exa = 1018 = quintillion, Peta = 1015 = quadrillion

The Chernobyl accident resulted in an estimated 25,000 excess cancers, mostly treatable thyroid cancers caused by iodine-131 (pg 85), about 6000 cases in the Soviet Union in the three months following the accident, resutling in 15 deaths. However, given the very high base rate of cancer for the effected populations (tens of millions of deaths), this effect is mostly too small to directly measure. The effects were far higher for the bomb tests.

Radon in the home causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year in the United States p18. FYI, one year radon test kits can be purchased for $37.50 (price plus shipping) from the American Lung Association.

Medical imaging and radiation treatment causes somewhat higher radiation doses in the U.S., much less elsewhere. Irradiating food does not make it radioactive, though some worry about chemical changes (which are much less than the changes caused by cooking).

A large indirect effect of medical imaging is loss of radioactive materials. In 1983, a cobalt-60 capsule from a discarded Mexican radiation therapy machine ended up in metal scrap that was made into table legs and rebar. The material was tracked to hundreds of homes in the US and Mexico. In 1985, the cesium-137 core of a machine was stolen in Goiana, Brazil, 249 people were exposed, 20 hospitalized, and 4 died (pgs 3 to 10).

The authors present the numbers but leave the reader to make conclusions. I doubt innumerate ideologues will change their minds. I bought a radon test kit.

RadiationGaleLax (last edited 2014-01-12 01:26:10 by KeithLofstrom)