In an attempt to explain the dangers - real and merely perceived - of radiation, I propose the following analogy: radiation and temperature*.
1. Radiation, like temperature, can cause immediate damage to a living being, but only if it is sufficiently "hot."
2. Some places on Earth are warmer than others, and some colder. But that temperature difference doesn't create differences in cancer rates (you're not more likely to get a tumor in Fort Lauderdale than you are in Omaha, Tacoma or Duluth). Similarly, some places on Earth have more natural radiation, and some less, but this difference isn't significant enough to affect us.
3. A small rise in temperature, even when sustained, isn't likely to cause us any damage. In fact, we hardly notice it. Same goes for radiation; if we're exposed to 300 mrem in a year or 400 mrem in a year, we won't notice, and the change isn't likely to hurt us.
4. There are natural "sources" of temperature, and man-made sources. We can locally raise the temperature (by lighting a fire or turning on the heater), but when taken in the context of the universe, it's hardly a blip on the screen. Similarly, we can create local sources of radiation (nuclear weapon, nuclear accident), but they too are minuscule in the grander scheme of things.
5. Temperature is not dangerous when it is understood and controlled. Neither is radiation.
*Microwave and infrared EM radiation, which are direct causes of temperature increases from the vibration of molecular bonds, are, in fact, radiation. So the analogy obviously has some weakness to it, just like all analogy and metaphor - they can only go so far. But I'm trying to convey information about what people think of when they hear the term "radiation," mainly, ionizing radiation, or, incorrectly, radioactivity. If the terminology is bothersome, substitute your own: "radiation" could be replaced with "release of radioactive materials" or similar. For the purposes of the analogy, decouple any effect which certain forms of radiation have on temperature, and pretend they're independent.
6 days ago