• Sannah van Balen

It is scary, but is it dangerous? - Separating radiation facts from fiction

Me stating that radiation is scary for most people would likely be as revolutionary as

me claiming that heating water will eventually make it boil. Equally, most of us have

at some point enjoyed the sun a bit too much and suffered the consequences the

day after. Similarly, most of us know that getting too much radiation can give you

cancer or even kill you. However, if we ask 100 people on the street about how much

radiation it would take to result in cancers, you will probably get as conflicting a

collection of views as a group of politicians trying to decide how to get off a deserted


Jokes aside, I have now spent more than five years trying to get to the bottom of

what is a seemingly easy and, indeed, straightforward question – “how dangerous is

radiation, really?”. The price has been paid in grey hairs and many lonely hours

trying to make heads or tails of what I was reading, but throughout the process of

going numerous rabbit holes, I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from some of the

sharpest minds in the field. What I found was a highly politicised area of science, but

where the debate was not really about the big questions I thought it would be, but

rather, a small war about what, to the general public, are inconsequential details.

So, over the next two weeks, I shall act as a guide through the often confusing,

seemingly impregnable and jargon-ridden world that is radiation research. This will

hopefully help shed some light on a fascinating, well-researched, yet very poorly

understood area of science. Together, we shall endeavour to find out what are the

facts and, indeed, the misconceptions around all sorts of radiation-related questions,

from the “will any radiation dose give me cancer?” to “what’s the deal with nuclear


- John Lindberg

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