Determining Radiation Dangers

August 10, 1979

Report Outline
Debate Over Safety Questions
Evolution of Exposure Standards
Scientific Basis for Controversy
Special Focus

Debate Over Safety Questions

Recent Incidents Causing Public Alarm

More than half a century has elapsed since women laced their eye shadow with radium to make their eyelids glow, and today any educated person would regard such a practice with horrified condescension. Yet 50 years from now, if some experts are to be believed, the routine diagnostic X-ray may be seen — like radioactive mascara — as the barbaric custom of a bygone era. According to these experts, accumulating evidence suggests radiation is much more dangerous at low levels of exposure than generally appreciated, and the U.S. government therefore should lose no time in tightening standards.

Other equally reputable experts remain convinced that low-level radiation poses a negligible health hazard, and these experts advocate retention of current standards. At stake in the growing controversy over low-level radiation are not only widespread medical practices but also certain military doctrines and, above all else, the future of the nuclear power industry.

Most of the studies on which radiation critics rely involve complex methodologies and produce ambiguous results. What gives the critics strong credibility with the public is not so much the studies as a large number of incidents which seem to call the vigilance of authorities into question. The accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pa., made a particularly strong impact on public perceptions. Extensive press and television coverage in the days following the March 28 accident made tens of millions of Americans more fully alert to the danger that escaping radiation holds for large populations.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Nuclear Power
Jun. 10, 2011  Nuclear Power
Jan. 28, 2011  Managing Nuclear Waste
Jan. 2007  Nuclear Proliferation
Mar. 10, 2006  Nuclear Energy
Jun. 08, 2001  Nuclear Waste
Jan. 22, 1993  Nuclear Fusion
Feb. 22, 1991  Will Nuclear Power Get Another Chance?
Dec. 05, 1986  Nuclear Reactor Safety
Jul. 29, 1983  Nuclear Power's Future
Dec. 04, 1981  America's Nuclear Waste Backlog
Sep. 12, 1980  Nuclear Fusion Development
Aug. 10, 1979  Determining Radiation Dangers
Dec. 03, 1976  Nuclear Waste Disposal
Aug. 22, 1975  Nuclear Safety
Aug. 04, 1971  Nuclear Power Options
Jun. 10, 1964  Atomic Power Development
Feb. 12, 1958  Radiation Hazards
Feb. 27, 1957  Atomic Power Race
Mar. 29, 1955  Atomic Energy for Industry
Apr. 24, 1946  Control of Atomic Energy
Hazardous Substances and Nuclear Waste
Nuclear Energy
Science and Politics