Few issues have caused more fear and confusion than the question of the hazards of low-level radiation. There has been a remarkable failure to examine closely the evidence when discussing the issue and planning future studies. As a result, the public’s radiation phobia has been needlessly reinforced, and public money is being used on studies that are bound to be inconclusive.

The problem arises, in part, because the general public—and even most scientists—are not aware that exposure to ionizing radiation is only weakly carcinogenic. The evidence comes from a number of different studies. Among the 82,000 survivors of the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombing, for example, an average exposure of 27 rem only raised the number of cancer deaths by 6% over the number expected in the absence of such exposure. Radiation-induced leukemia among the survivors began to appear two to three years after exposure, reached a peak at five to six years,...

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