From Der Spiegel comes a story about the findings of scientists investigating the results of real-world cases of exposure to man-made nuclear radiation.
Their surprising conclusion? Turns out that radiation exposure from real-world events isn’t anywhere near as lethal as commonly thought.
Wow! Who knew?
Well, I did, as did anyone who actually objectively read the 70+ years of research on the matter of radiation exposure.
I don’t think it any exaggeration to say that the effects of radiation on living organisms represents the most thoroughly studied area in modern biology. By thorough, I mean that we not only expended the resources to study the effects but that we possessed the scientific tools necessary to get firm, repeatable and predictive results from experiments in the area.
During the period of the 1930s through the early 1960s, radiation ranked as one of the most researched phenomenon. In the post-WWII atomic era, everyone thought that atomic power would be the predominant technology of the future, so they directed a tremendous amount of research towards quantifying the risks and benefits of atomic technology. The results showed that real-world risks from radiation were about the same as real-world risks from commonly used non-nuclear technologies.
Yet, starting in the late-60s, a significant portion of the political spectrum simply ignored this body of firm experimental evidence and began a hysterical campaign of demonization against all things nuclear. The campaign proved so successful that most people regard anyone who makes statements based on the actual scientific research as insane.
Anti-radiation hysteria is a good example of how poorly we integrate scientific knowledge into our political discourse. The Spiegel article treats the results of the new studies as a surprise, no doubt because the magazine’s writers and editors grew up assuming that the claims of anti-nuclear hysterics arose from actual scientific knowledge. Instead, the hysterics demonized radiation only as a side effect of larger political and cultural struggles.
Now, however, with Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming looming and widely accepted (largely based on the same social mechanism) we find ourselves driven to reconsider nuclear power as the only existing practical source of low carbon power. Suddenly, people discover that radiation exposure isn’t such a big deal after all.
And around we go.