Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Podcast: The Good, The Bad, The Radiation

This week on the podcast I talk with Robert Gale and Eric Lax, the authors of the new book "Radiation: What it is, what you need to know." 

Most people associate radiation with it's harmful effects and the mistakes made by people entrusted to manage it.

After the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, Gale went to Japan to treat patients who had received high doses of radiation (although no one there died from radiation poisoning). Gale's first experience like this was with victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

Following these types of events, Gale and his colleagues would watch as scores of bad information spread, and people would panic. What they needed was not a response to an emergency, but an effort to educate people before a disaster happened.

Gale says that's the purpose he hopes the book serves. It's a heavy dose of information, but it addresses many of the common fears that people have, such as, will my microwave oven give me cancer? (No, it won't) Should I get a full body CT scan to check for signs of cancer, aneurisms and other ailments? (Not without talking to your doctor about the risks and benefits) Is food that has been irradiated radiactive? (No.)

But of course, most questions about radiation don't have simple yes or no answers. For example, scientists know that a certain dose of radiation will give a person radiation poisoning; but they cannot say for sure if someone exposed to a lower dose of radiation will develop cancer, because those effects are determined greatly by chance. Furthermore, while an unintentional dose of radiation can kill a person, when used in the right way radiation can also cure diseases. Lax and Gale argue that radiation is not inherently bad: like any technology, the outcome depends entirely on how we use it.

Listen to this week's podcast to hear more.

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