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The first major success at Livermore (Part 1)


Misconceptions about radiation
Edward Teller Scientist
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There is an excellent Japanese book by the name of a man called Kondo, - K-O-N-D-O - "The Health Effects of Low Level Radiation". That was published just a few years ago. Here is actual situation and I want to talk about it, because I think it is something that people in general should understand and from year to year, so far, the fears and misunderstandings have become greater. These are the simple facts. All of us are exposed to radiation from natural sources. Practically all of us are exposed to radiation from various medical procedures and that added radiation is comparable to a natural background. Now we know that if somebody gets radiation in a short time, which is a couple of thousand times bigger than what we naturally get in a year, that is fatal. It has been generally assumed that radiation is damaging, the more radiation the greater the damage. The simple assumption on which many regulations have been based was an assumption of proportionality between cause and effect. The Japanese Kondo wrote a thick book and 20% of it are tables - so much radiation so great an effect. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the accident in the Soviet Union at the place called Chernobyl, and many others - and what Kondo finds is that a little radiation is not proved to be harmful- That a little radiation hurts you, he explicitly says- is a myth. On the contrary, there appears to be evidence, not conclusive, but an indication that an increase of the natural amount of radiation that we all are getting, by a factor of five or ten, is helpful rather than harmful. That is a statement that cannot be proved or disproved without an enormous amount of experimentation, of research and that has not yet been carried out. But here's the question: how can it possibly be that radiation which causes disorder in an otherwise orderly sequence of molecules that in our genes determines the nature of our very body, how can something that disrupts the simple structure, how can that be helpful? Whether it is helpful is not proven, merely indicated. But that it might be helpful is not absurd. We know that we have in our bodies chemicals which counteract the irregularities that might lead to cancer. These natural anti-cancer substances are absent in a few people and it is clear, no doubt about it, that their probability of having cancer is much higher. This is the suspicion, unproven, but should be investigated, that a little radiation stimulates these cancer preventing activities. A little radiation may in a way act like an inoculation and maybe helpful rather than harmful. At any rate, nuclear energy is a possible source of really practical energy production, electricity production, throughout the world, and the facts - is it dangerous, how dangerous is it even if it is only slightly dangerous - certainly needs more investigation.

The late Hungarian-American physicist Edward Teller helped to develop the atomic bomb and provided the theoretical framework for the hydrogen bomb. During his long and sometimes controversial career he was a staunch advocate of nuclear power and also of a strong defence policy, calling for the development of advanced thermonuclear weapons.

Listeners: John H. Nuckolls

John H. Nuckolls was Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1988 to 1994. He joined the Laboratory in 1955, 3 years after its establishment, with a masters degree in physics from Columbia. He rose to become the Laboratory's Associate Director for Physics before his appointment as Director in 1988.

Nuckolls, a laser fusion and nuclear weapons physicist, helped pioneer the use of computers to understand and simulate physics phenomena at extremes of temperature, density and short time scales. He is internationally recognised for his work in the development and control of nuclear explosions and as a pioneer in the development of laser fusion.

Duration: 6 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: June 1996

Date story went live: 29 September 2010