On August 6th, 1945 an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later that technology was rendered obsolete with the explosion of a hydrogen bomb over Nagasaki, Japan. Those three days launched a new science analyzing the impact radioactive material has on humans, including the little known concept of radiation hormesis.
There are two ways radiation affects the human body. In an uncontrolled release, the effects are devastating and negative. In a controlled setting, the same radioactive properties can destroy cancerous cells and save lives. This knowledge has led to experimentation that unveils the possibility that at certain levels there may be a beneficial effect caused by irradiation.
The medical experimentation on humans conducted by the Nazis was unacceptable and disgusting, yet led to information not available through normal scientific efforts. Similarly, we can not ignore the knowledge derived from the exposure of humans to the aftereffects of nuclear exposure, regardless the source. The Japanese population that experienced the two nuclear attacks represents a unique source of information.
The universal response to the bombing was absolute rejection, and despite flimsy rationalizations over the reasons for the attack, most found the effects inhumane. Nevertheless, the era of nuclear energy had been unleashed. Despite the dangerous possibilities, the enticement of significant power production was hard to ignore.
This is not to imply that the idea that nuclear reactors have a significant risk of danger is being ignored. The unfortunate experiences with nuclear mishaps such as that at the Three Mile Island plant highlight the fact that these power production facilities can be dangerous. What we must do is learn from these events to frame our response to nuclear accident prevention.
It would be a failure of science to allow the revulsion humans normally and understandably feel about nuclear radiation to impact our analysis of the event. This is the time to care for individuals as best possible, and redouble the effort to record the real impacts of their experiences in the effort to regain control.
Policy regarding nuclear facilities has been designed around an unproven theory. Known as the linear no threshold hypothesis, it has governed our handling of radiative material since the inception of nuclear science and holds that each increment of exposure is equally as destructive as the last. But there is another notion, the radiation hormesis concept, which demonstrates that at lower levels, radiation is not only safe, but beneficial to the human condition.
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