Recent Revelations about Radiation
Not really. Not if you’ve been paying attention to this field for years.
I’m not sure, but I have come to reluctantly embrace some of the things that Alvin Weinberg said many years ago about public “radio-phobia”. These are quotes from his 1994 autobiography:
The actual as opposed to the perceived hazards of wastes therefore depend on the biological effects of protracted exposure to low levels of radiation. This is a matter fraught with controversy. In my view, the effects of exposures that are comparable to the natural background are so small as to be undetectable. The whole issue of low-level insults—not only by radiation, but by various manmade contaminants—belongs to trans-science, not science. That effects so small should terrify the public—indeed might lead to the abandonment of nuclear energy, I can only regard as irrational.
William Clark has likened the public’s frenzy over small environmental insults to the fear of witches in the later Middle Ages. Some million certified “witches” were executed because they could not prove that they had not caused harm to someone or something. In the same way, since one cannot prove that tiny amounts of radiation did not cause a particular leukemia—for that matter one cannot prove that they caused it either—those who wish to succumb to low-level phobia succumb. As a result nuclear energy—as well as other “technologies of abundance” such as pesticides and fertilizers—are under siege. Not until the low-level controversy is resolved can we expect nuclear energy to be fully accepted.
Unless the public overcomes its fear of low levels of radiation, the future of nuclear energy is bleak. I therefore consider the biological effect of low levels of radiation to be the leading scientific issue underlying the nuclear controversy.
In the 1960s, nuclear energy was under heavy attack by people who insisted that low levels of radiation were much more dangerous than we in the nuclear establishment conceded. Scientifically what was at issue was the existence of a threshold for radiation. Below such a threshold radiation was harmless.