The Genetic Effects of Radiation by Isaac Asimov is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post Series. The Table of Links for this book can be found here. Radiation - Man-made Radiation
Man began to add to the background radiation in the 1890s. In 1895, X rays were discovered and since then have become increasingly useful in medical diagnosis and therapy and in industry. In 1896, radioactivity was discovered and radioactive substances were concentrated in laboratories in order that they might be studied. In 1934, it was found that radioactive forms of nonradioactive elements (radioisotopes) could be formed and their use came to be widespread in universities, hospitals, and industries.
Then, in 1945, the nuclear bomb was developed. With the uranium or plutonium fission that produces a nuclear explosion, there is an accompaniment of intense gamma radiation. In addition, a variety of radioisotopes are left behind in the form of the residue (fission fragments) of the fissioning atoms. These fission fragments are distributed widely in the atmosphere. Some rise high into the stratosphere and descend (as fallout) over the succeeding months and years.
It is hard to try to estimate how much additional radiation is being absorbed by human beings out of these man-made sources. Fallout is not uniformly spread over the earth but is higher in those latitudes where nuclear bombs have been most frequently tested. Then, too, people in industries and research who are involved with the use of radioisotopes, and people in medical centers who constantly deal with X rays, are likely to get more exposure than others.
These adjuncts of modern science and medicine are more common and widespread in technologically advanced countries than elsewhere, and nuclear bombs have most often been exploded in just those latitudes where the advanced countries are to be found.
Attempts have been made to work out estimates of this exposure. One estimate, involving a number of technologically advanced countries (including the United States) showed that an average of somewhere between 0.02 and 0.18 rem per year was absorbed, as a result of radiations (usually X rays) used in medical diagnosis and therapy. Occupational exposure added, on the average, not more than 0.003 rem, though the individuals constantly exposed in the course of their work would naturally absorb considerably more than this overall average.
Man-made radioactivity in the atmosphere produced this nuclear-emulsion photograph. This radiation source is a fission product produced in a nuclear explosion. The enlargement is 1200 diameters. Compare this with the natural radioactivity depicted on page 28.
On the whole, the highest absorption was found, as was to be expected, in the United States.
If these findings are expanded to cover a 30-year period, assuming the absorption will remain the same from year to year, it turns out that the average absorption of man-made radiation in the nations studied varies from 0.6 rem to 5.5 rems per 30 years per individual.
Considering the higher figure to be applicable to the United States, it would seem that man-made radiation from all sources is now being absorbed at nearly twice the rate that natural radiation is. To put it another way, Americans are just about tripling their radiation dosage by reason of the human activities that are now adding man-made radiation to the natural supply. By far the major part of this additional dosage is the result of the use of X rays in searching for decayed teeth, broken bones, lung lesions, swallowed objects, and so on.
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This book is part of the public domain. Asimov, Isaac. (October 13, 2017). THE GENETIC EFFECTS OF RADIATION. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved June 2022, from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/55738/55738-h/55738-h.htm#c14
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