The Nuclear Energy Option: An Alternative for the 90's

By Bernard L. Cohen | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5

/ HOW DANGEROUS IS
RADIATION?

The most important breakdown in the public's understanding of nuclear power is in its concept of the dangers of radiation. What is radiation, and how dangerous is it?

Radiation consists of several types of subatomic particles, principally those called gamma rays, neutrons, electrons, and alpha particles, that shoot through space at very high speeds, something like 100,000 miles per second. They can easily penetrate deep inside the human body, damaging some of the biological cells of which the body is composed. This damage can cause a fatal cancer to develop, or if it occurs in reproductive cells, it can cause genetic defects in later generations of offspring. When explained in this way, the dangers of radiation seem to be very grave, and for a person to be struck by a particle of radiation appears to be an extremely serious event. So it would also seem from the following description in what has perhaps been the most influential book from the opponents of nuclear energy 1:

-49-

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