Understanding the Basis for Radiation Fears

Do you work with radiation sources? Is your facility a safe place to work? How do you know? What does safe mean? How often do you actually evaluate radiation risks? Do you have all the facts for a fully informed, analytical, rational decision? How much does fear play a role in decisions for radiation safety? Is it OK to be afraid of radiation? Psychologists tell us fears are a good thing for our safety. True fear is a response to a stimulus of imminent danger. Since radiation does not give us any warning sensation then decisions for radiation safety have to be based on imagination of unacceptable consequences. Risks of radiation injury are usually not imminent, but matters of future random chance. Most fears of radiation are also based on mythology (common beliefs that are not technically true). Since no one has ever had an experience of radiation, then fears of radiation are not true fears, but manufactured fears based on images. Radiation phobias arise from questions of, “What if …….?” Radiation fears often arise from assumptions of cause and effect. The basis of radiation fears may be identified by the question, “What’s so bad about that?” A defensible answer to “Is this safe?” requires answers to a series of questions from cause to effect.

1. Johnson, R.H. “Psychological and Mental Health Aspects of Ionizing Radiation Exposure,” Encyclopedia of Environmental Health, Elsevier Publications, October 2010. 2. Johnson, R.H. “How to Deal with Fears of Radiation and Nuclear Terrorism - Part I: Understanding the Fear Factor,” In: Public Protection from Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Terrorism, A. Brodsky, R.H. Johnson, Jr., and R.E. Goans, editors. Medical Physics Publishing, Madison, WI. 2004.
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