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Radiation
Cover of Radiation
Radiation
What It Is, What You Need to Know
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The essential guide to radiation: the good, the bad, and the utterly fascinating, explained with unprecedented clarity.
Earth, born in a nuclear explosion, is a radioactive planet; without radiation, life would not exist. And while radiation can be dangerous, it is also deeply misunderstood and often mistakenly feared. Now Robert Peter Gale, M.D,—the doctor to whom concerned governments turned in the wake of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters—in collaboration with medical writer Eric Lax draws on an exceptional depth of knowledge to correct myths and establish facts.
Exploring what have become trigger words for anxiety—nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, uranium, plutonium, iodine-131, mammogram, X-ray, CT scan, threats to the food chain—the authors demystify the science and dangers of radiation, and examine its myriad benefits, from safely sterilizing our food to the relatively low-risk fuel alternative of nuclear energy. This is the book for all readers who have asked themselves questions such as: What kinds of radiation, and what degree of exposure, cause cancer? What aftereffects have nuclear accidents and bombs had? Does radiation increase the likelihood of birth defects? And how does radiation work?
Hugely illuminating, Radiation is the definitive road map to our post-Chernobyl, post-Fukushima world.

The essential guide to radiation: the good, the bad, and the utterly fascinating, explained with unprecedented clarity.
Earth, born in a nuclear explosion, is a radioactive planet; without radiation, life would not exist. And while radiation can be dangerous, it is also deeply misunderstood and often mistakenly feared. Now Robert Peter Gale, M.D,—the doctor to whom concerned governments turned in the wake of the Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters—in collaboration with medical writer Eric Lax draws on an exceptional depth of knowledge to correct myths and establish facts.
Exploring what have become trigger words for anxiety—nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, uranium, plutonium, iodine-131, mammogram, X-ray, CT scan, threats to the food chain—the authors demystify the science and dangers of radiation, and examine its myriad benefits, from safely sterilizing our food to the relatively low-risk fuel alternative of nuclear energy. This is the book for all readers who have asked themselves questions such as: What kinds of radiation, and what degree of exposure, cause cancer? What aftereffects have nuclear accidents and bombs had? Does radiation increase the likelihood of birth defects? And how does radiation work?
Hugely illuminating, Radiation is the definitive road map to our post-Chernobyl, post-Fukushima world.

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  • From the book

    Excerpted from the Hardcover EditionCHAPTER 1

    ASSESSING THE RISKS

    How Can I Determine My Risk of Cancer From Radiation, and Why Is There So Much Disagreement Among Experts?

    On July 16, 1945, in the Jornada del Muerto (Journey of Death) desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico, the fiery explosion of the Trinity test--the first atomic bomb--generated a light brighter than any ever seen on Earth. As it dimmed, it revealed a mushroom cloud of vaporized water and debris that grew thousands of feet into the air. J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904--1967), who more than anyone else was responsible for building the weapon, wrote afterward that watching the explosion brought to mind two lines from the sacred Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita: "If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst into the sky that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One." And: "I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds." (It is perhaps more likely that his first thought was, Wow! Thank God, it worked!)

    That shattering burst of energy was also an act of creation: it produced radioactive forms of natural elements that--apart from laboratory work during the bomb's development--had never before existed on Earth, including ­cesium-­137, iodine-­131, and strontium-­90. During the months that followed these newly created radionuclides circled the globe and silently entered the bodies of everyone alive. And because some of these radionuclides remain radioactive for hundreds or thousands of years, the children of these people, their children, and all humans from that date until our species ceases to exist will have radionuclides created at the Trinity explosion in their bodies. The same is true for the radionuclides released by the more than 450 atmospheric nuclear weapons tests carried out by the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France, and China between 1945 and 1980, and from several nuclear power facility accidents. Of course, the amounts of radionuclides released from each of these sources differ vastly. It is inappropriate to consider atomic weapons and nuclear power facility accidents comparable, because the quantity of radionuclides released varies greatly, because they are not uniformly distributed over the Earth, and because different people have different likelihoods of encountering them.

    Some of the radionuclides released by nuclear weapons testing and by nuclear power facility accidents can cause cancer. But some of the same radionuclides are used to diagnose and treat cancers and save lives. What is the balance between the potential harm and benefit posed by radionuclides and by all forms of radiation?

    To determine whether this balance favors harm or benefit, it is necessary to know what radiation dose a person has received. This is not as simple as it might seem (in fact it is exceedingly complex, even for radiation experts), so we ask the reader please to bear with the following several pages of technical information, knowing that in the end all you ­really need to remember is one technical term: millisievert (mSv), named for the Swedish medical physicist Rolf Maximilian Sievert (1896--1966), who did pioneering work on the biological effects of radiation exposure. A sievert (Sv) is a unit of potentially harmful radiation. Each year we generally receive a few thousandths of a sievert, called a millisievert. People in the United States on average receive 6.5 mSv of radiation annually.

    Radioactivity is measured by the number of atoms decaying (losing energy by emitting radioactive particles and/or electromagnetic waves) in a certain amount of time. The disappearance of a...

About the Author-
  • Robert Peter Gale, a scientist and physician, is presently Visiting Professor of Haematology at Imperial College London. His career has focused on the biology and therapy of bone marrow and blood cancers, especially leukemias. He is the author of twenty-two medical books, and his articles have appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. For the last thirty years, he has led or been involved in the global medical response to nuclear and radiation accidents, including those in Fukushima and Chernobyl. He lives in Los Angeles.

    Eric Lax's books include Life and Death on Ten West, an account of the UCLA bone marrow transplantation unit, and Woody Allen: A Biography, each a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The Mold in Dr. Florey's Coat, about the development of penicillin, was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. He lives in Los Angeles.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 26, 2012
    Oncologist and bone marrow transplant specialist Gale (Final Warning: The Legacy of Chernobyl, with Thomas Hauser) has ventured into the world's top "hot spots"—Chernobyl and Fukushima—and emerged to assure us that our worries about radiation are disproportionate to actual risks. With science writer and biographer Lax (Woody Allen: A Biography), Gale tackles the complicated science of radiobiology to quell unfounded fears and help readers weigh the risks and benefits of nuclear technologies. Taking on some of our more common anxieties, Gale shows there's no evidence that microwaves, cell phones, or LED watches increase the risk of cancer, that going through airport scanners is dangerous, or that irradiated food is radioactive. And though he notes that the U.S. must be careful about how it utilizes nuclear energy, Gale notes that coal-fired plants produce three times more radiation than do nuclear power stations. He also insists that despite the real dangers of nuclear terrorism, radiation saves more lives than it harms, citing its use as an important anticancer therapy. Gale's is an invaluable guide for negotiating an increasingly radioactive world—for scientists, patients of radiation-related medical procedures, and environmentalists alike. Agent: Kris Dahl, International Creative Management.

  • Kirkus

    December 15, 2012
    A leading expert in nuclear medicine and in dealing with the aftermath of nuclear disasters offers a basis for assessing the risks associated with radiation. With science writer Lax (Faith, Interrupted, 2011, etc.), renowned oncologist and hematologist Gale presents a primer on nuclear radiation. Writing for general readers, the author first establishes what nuclear radiation is, distinguishing the part that is man-made from that of natural origins and then what is harmful from what is not. He explains how radiation is measured and what normal background absorption rates are (per year, per person) in different parts of the world. He shows how man-made radiation has increased since nuclear weapons were developed. Surprisingly, the major component of this increase has not been weapons testing, but rather medical and nuclear diagnostics. Gale augments this discussion with a summary of what has been learned medically and scientifically from the nuclear bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as from atmospheric testing programs. Examining the half-lives of nuclear particles, the author shows how thyroid cancer and leukemia arise and how they can be treated. This background enables him to transition to the dangers of radiation in all its forms. He also discusses coal burning versus nuclear electric generation. Another surprise is just how unlikely it is for cancer-producing mutations to arise from atmospheric radiation. Gale ends with a helpful summary of his points. A well-written extension of the reach of reason in an area fraught with phobia and hysteria.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    August 1, 2012

    Gale, who developed the bone-marrow transplant used to treat exposure to radiation and served as a consultant at Chernobyl and Fukushima, is so hot that he's been profiled in Vanity Fair. This myth buster explains what radiation is, why it's important, and what role radiation-based technologies now play.

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from January 1, 2013
    Virtually everything is radioactive, including us. The opening line of this stellar book underscores the omnipresence of radiation, yet, as physician Gale and science writer Lax point out, most people know little about the topic. Fear of radiation is out of proportion to the actual risks. About one-half of our radiation exposure occurs naturally, background radiation that has both cosmic and terrestrial sources. The remainder is man-made, and 80 percent of it comes from medical testing and procedures. Consider that a CT scan of your head hurls roughly the same amount of radiation toward you as if you were standing four miles from the atomic blast in Hiroshima. Readers learn about radon, food irradiation, nuclear bombs, the connection between cancer and radiation, radioactive waste, and nuclear power plants (including the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents). Lifestyle choices can collide with radiation hazards. For example, tanning booths give off approximately 12 times as much ultraviolet A radiation as our sun. A fertilizer applied to tobacco crops contains polonium-210, which likens smoking cigarettes to intentionally inhaling a small nuclear weapon into your lungs. Gale and Lax objectively present the danger and value of radioactivity. In content and writing, Radiation absolutely glows.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2013, American Library Association.)

  • Nature

    "Eric Lax [and Robert] Gale weigh up the risks and benefits of industrial, medical and natural radiation clearly, logically and with ample science. But it is Gale's phenomenal frontline experience that gives this book edge."

  • -Publishers Weekly "[Lax and] Gale's is an invaluable guide for negotiating an increasingly radioactive world--for scientists, patients of radiation-related medical procedures, and environmentalists alike."
  • -Booklist "Gale and Lax objectively present the danger and value of radioactivity. In content and writing, Radiation absolutely glows."
  • -Kirkus Reviews "A well-written extension of the reach of reason in an area fraught with phobia and hysteria."
  • -New Scientist "Gale and Lax aim to fill in the gaps in the public understanding of all things nuclear, and they are adept at doing so. Throughout the book they present a host of interesting facts and figures in humorous and accessible prose."
  • Jewish Journal "Everyone needs to read this book; it's compact, easy to understand, rife with interesting revelations, and it cuts through a great deal of the noise surrounding the subject [of radiation]."
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What It Is, What You Need to Know
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