Thursday, June 29, 2006

Can radiation be good for you?!

We've all heard so much about the dangers of radiation. In fact, some people have made a career out of preventing the building of nuclear power plants and causing the decommissioning of those already built. The media is full of stories about how dangerous even the smallest amount of radiation can be to our health. They have us worrying about dental X-rays. The mere mention of Chernobyl or Three Mile Island evokes images of widespread death and destruction. The Hanford nuclear site in Washington State is struggling to put in place containment that will satisfy the environmentalists.

But what if this isn't the whole story? What if parts of it have been exaggerated, misrepresented, or misunderstood? The truth is that the death toll from Chernobyl (the worst nuclear accident ever) is around 50, according to an extensive UN study. (No, I'm not missing a few zeroes!) No one died or even got sick from the radiation emitted at Three Mile Island. Long-lived radio-isotopes such as Plutonium, those that remain radioactive for a long time, are generally presented as being extremely dangerous. In fact, it is those with a short half-life that are a much more significant threat, since they emit radiation at a much greater rate.

And even more amazing, there is evidence that small doses of radiation can actually be good for you! Among other interesting facts, people living in the Colorado Rockies, where natural uranium creates higher background radiation, have lower cancer rates than those living in the Gulf States, where background radiation is lower than average. A study showed that people living in houses with small to moderate amounts of radon had lower lung cancer rates than those in houses with little to no radon. This effect is called hormesis.

Intrigued? Read more about it:

John Stossel's report on Radiation (an exception to the usual media message!)
Biological Effects of Low-Level Exposure Website (click on Newsletters link)

Book:
The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science has a chapter about this.

Enjoy!

5 comments:

Ana Braga-Henebry said...

Fascinating!

Nancy C. Brown said...

I had heard of this before as well. Thanks for posting this information which is so interesting.

Love2Learn Mom said...

Hmmm. My skeptometer's running a little high on this one. We live in a area with high radon content. The previous owners of our house put in radon system (sealing the basement and fanning the air outside) in the house because they had a child die of cancer. The house next door had a child sick with cancer in the past too. The houses only date from the late 70s.

ScienceMom said...

There's actually quite a bit of data supporting the theory of hormesis in radiation. (The lead author of the study I mentioned on lung cancer actually disabled the radon abatement equipment in his own home after analyzing his study's results.) However, more study definitely needs to be done.

I just thought this was interesting and worth considering and studying.

Love2Learn Mom said...

Now that I think about it, it seems to me that our radon levels are high rather than low to moderate.