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The problem. Today, for many people, the word RADIATION evokes atomic bombs, nuclear power plant accidents, nuclear wastes, or radioactive fallout; it summons up the specter of cancer. If they think further about radiation at all, they are more likely to worry about it rather than try to understand it, objectively and constructively. When people are asked about their sources of information on radiation, most will cite newspapers, television, popular magazines, or just casual gossip. These media rarely try to educate with facts; they tend to emphasize the dangerous and sensational to appeal to emotions. Thus, it is not surprising that people tend to base their opinions of radiation on the well-publicized effects of large exposures from weapons or major accidents. Often they do not distinguish between such large exposures and everyday medical or industrial exposures to radiation or those encountered in the natural environment.
This book is designed to enhance your knowledge, to help you make both sound personal decisions about your own or family members' radiation exposures and sound socio-political decisions about activities which might carry some chance of exposing other people to radiation. It is written by a radiation protectionist who has spent a career studying the science of radiation and its effects and developing guidelines for protecting us all from radiation injury. There are some people who think that those who are familiar with a subject must be biased about it and cannot be considered a reliable source of information. Such suspicious people must reach the logical conclusion that only the ignorant and inexperienced can be trusted to help when decisions are to be made about complex technical matters. That is patently absurd.
If knowledgeable and experienced radiation protectionists have a bias, it is that uncontrolled use of ionizing radiation can be hazardous -- so can uncontrolled use of almost anything, including common nutrients like salt and pepper. Radiation protectionists -- some thousands in the US -- devote their collective knowledge, skills, and efforts, to developing ways to make as safe as practicable the use of radiation in the service of mankind. We must all recognize that there is no such thing as absolute safety in any human activity. Indeed, the uses of ionizing radiation today involve smaller risks, overall, than those associated with many activities of everyday life, including riding in cars, taking baths, and climbing stairs.
Since, literally, no one in the world can be free from exposure to ionizing radiation, it is important that we all acquire at least some elementary information on the subjects of radiation and its effects, relying for guidance on those whose life work has enabled them to best understand it. This book, based on well-established and publicly available facts, attempts to provide such information -- the kind of information that may enlighten a discussion, let us say, of the role of x-rays as a part of dental hygiene. It is addressed to the reader whose knowledge of radiation may have been framed by images of mushroom clouds, the ruins of Nagasaki, or cartoon mutant monsters. It aims to help replace irrational fear with fact-based respect for radiation.
This book consists of three parts.
Since this book is addressed to the general reader, who comes to it with no specific knowledge of radiation technology, the technical terms used must be defined. They are discussed and explained in everyday language as they occur.
The theses of this book, outlined briefly, are:
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