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Title: Radiophobia  
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Subject: List of pro-nuclear environmentalists, List of Chernobyl-related articles, List of diseases (R), Radiation, Radioactive contamination
Collection: Phobias, Radiation
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Radiation need not be feared, but it must command your respect.
Health physics poster exhorting respect for—rather than fear of—radiation. (ORNL, 1947)

Radiophobia is an abnormal fear of ionizing radiation, in particular, fear of X-rays. While such radiation is harmful (i.e. radiation-induced cancer, and acute radiation syndrome in higher doses) poor information or understanding,[1][2][3] but also as a consequence of traumatic experience, may cause unnecessary or even irrational fear. The term is also used in a non-medical sense to describe the opposition to the use of nuclear technology (i.e. nuclear power) arising from concerns disproportionately greater than actual risks would merit.


  • Castle Bravo and its influence on public perception 1
  • Radiophobia and Chernobyl 2
    • Chernobyl abortions 2.1
  • Radiophobia and health effects 3
  • Radiophobia and Industrial and Healthcare Use 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Castle Bravo and its influence on public perception

March 1, 1954, the operation Castle Bravo testing of a then, first of its kind, experimental thermonuclear Shrimp device; overshot its predicted yield of 4-6 megatons and instead produced 15 megatons, this resulted in an unanticipated amount of Bikini snow or visible particles of nuclear fallout being produced, fallout which caught the Japanese fishing boat the Daigo Fukuryū Maru or Lucky Dragon in its plume, even though it was fishing outside the initially predicted ~5 megaton fallout area which had been cordoned off for the Castle Bravo test. Approximately 2 weeks after the test and fallout exposure, the 23 member fishing crew began to fall ill, with acute radiation sickness, largely brought on by beta burns that were caused by direct contact between the Bikini snow fallout and their skin, through their practice of scooping the "Bikini snow" into bags with their bare hands. One member of the crew, Kuboyama Aikichi the boat's chief radioman, died 7 months later, on September 23, 1954.[4][5] It was later estimated that about a hundred fishing boats were contaminated to some degree by fallout from the test. Inhabitants of the Marshall Islands were also exposed to fallout, and a number of islands had to be evacuated.[5]

This incident, due to the era of secrecy around nuclear weapons, created widespread fear of uncontrolled and unpredictable nuclear weapons, and also of radioactively contaminated fish affecting the Japanese food supply. With the publication of Joseph Rotblat's findings that the contamination caused by the fallout from the Castle Bravo test was nearly a thousand times greater than that stated officially, outcry in Japan reached such a level that the incident was dubbed by some as "a second Hiroshima".[6] To prevent the subsequent strong anti-nuclear movement from turning into an anti-American movement, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed on compensation of 2 million dollars for the contaminated fishery, with the surviving 22 crew men receiving about ¥ 2 million each,[7][8] ($5,556 in 1954, $48,800 in 2016[9])

The surviving crew members, and their family, would later experience prejudice and discrimination, as local people thought that radiation was contagious.[7]

The Castle Bravo test and the new fears of radioactive fallout inspired a new direction in art and cinema. The Godzilla films, beginning with Ishirō Honda's landmark 1954 film Gojira, are strong metaphors for post-war radiophobia. The opening scene of Gojira echoes the story of the Daigo Fukuryū Maru, from the initial distant flash of light to survivors being found with radiation burns. Although he found the special effects unconvincing, Roger Ebert stated that the film was "an important one" and "properly decoded, was the Fahrenheit 9/11 of its time."[10]

A year after the Castle Bravo test, Akira Kurosawa examined one person's unreasoning terror of radiation and nuclear war in his 1955 film I Live in Fear. At the end of the film, the foundry worker who lives in fear has been declared incompetent by his family, but the possible partial validity of his fears has transferred over to his doctor.

Nevil Shute's 1957 novel On the Beach depicts a future just six years later, based on the premise that a nuclear war has released so much radioactive fallout that all life in the Northern Hemisphere has been killed. The novel is set in Australia, which, along with the rest of the Southern Hemisphere, awaits a similar and inevitable fate. Helen Caldicott describes reading the novel in adolescence as 'a formative event' in her becoming part of the anti-nuclear movement.[11]

Radiophobia and Chernobyl

In the former Soviet Union many patients with negligible radioactive exposure after the Chernobyl disaster displayed extreme anxiety about low level radiation exposure, and therefore developed many psychosomatic problems, with an increase in fatalistic alcoholism also being observed. As Japanese health and radiation specialist Shunichi Yamashita noted:[12]

We know from Chernobyl that the psychological consequences are enormous. Life expectancy of the evacuees dropped from 65 to 58 years -- not [predominately] because of cancer, but because of depression, alcoholism and suicide. Relocation is not easy, the stress is very big. We must not only track those problems, but also treat them. Otherwise people will feel they are just guinea pigs in our research.

The term "radiation phobia syndrome" was introduced in 1987.[13] by L. A. Ilyin and O. A. Pavlovsky in their report "Radiological consequences of the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union and measures taken to mitigate their impact,"[14]

The author of Chernobyl Poems Lyubov Sirota[15] wrote in her poem "Radiophobia":

Is this only—a fear of radiation?
Perhaps rather—a fear of wars?
Perhaps—the dread of betrayal,
Cowardice, stupidity, lawlessness?

The term has been criticized by Adolph Kharash, Science Director at the Moscow State University because, he writes,

It treats the normal impulse to self-protection, natural to everything living, your moral suffering, your anguish and your concern about the fate of your children, relatives and friends, and your own physical suffering and sickness as a result of delirium, of pathological perversion[16]

However, it must be noted that the psychological phobia of radiation in sufferers may not coincide with an actual life-threatening exposure to an individual or their children. Radiophobia refers only to a display of anxiety disproportionate to the actual quantity of radiation one is exposed to, with, in many cases, radiation exposure values equal to, or not much higher than, that which individuals are naturally exposed to every day from background radiation. Anxiety following a response to an actual life-threatening level of exposure to radiation is not considered to be radiophobia, nor misplaced anxiety, but a normal, appropriate response.

Chernobyl abortions

Following the accident, journalists mistrusted many medical professionals (such as the spokesman from the UK National Radiological Protection Board), and in turn encouraged the public to mistrust them.[17]

Throughout the European continent, in nations where abortion is legal, many requests for induced abortions, of otherwise normal pregnancies, were obtained out of fears of radiation from Chernobyl; including an excess number of abortions of healthy human fetuses in Denmark in the months following the accident.[18]

As the increase in radiation in Denmark was so low that almost no increased risk of birth defects was expected, the public debate and anxiety among the pregnant women and their husbands "caused" more fetal deaths in Denmark than the accident. This underlines the importance of public debate, the role of the mass media and of the way in which National Health authorities participate in this debate.

In Greece, following the accident there was panic and false rumors which led to many obstetricians initially thinking it prudent to interrupt otherwise wanted pregnancies and/or were unable to resist requests from worried pregnant mothers over fears of radiation, within a few weeks misconceptions within the medical profession were largely cleared up, although worries persisted in the general population. Although it was determined that the effective dose to Greeks would not exceed 1 mSv (0.1 rem), a dose much lower than that which could induce embryonic abnormalities or other non-stochastic effects, there was an observed 2500 excess of otherwise wanted pregnancies being terminated, probably out of fear in the mother of some kind of perceived radiation risk.[19]

A "slightly" above the expected number of requested induced abortions occurred in Italy, were upon request, "a week of reflection" and then a 2 to 3 week "health system" delay usually occur before the procedure.[20][21]

Radiophobia and health effects

"My former colleague, William Clark, has likened the public’s frenzy over small environmental insults to the fear of witches in the later Middle Ages. Some million certified “witches” were executed because they could not prove that they had not caused harm to someone or something. In the same way, since one cannot prove that tiny amounts of radiation did not cause a particular leukemia—for that matter one cannot prove that they caused it either—those who wish to succumb to low-level phobia succumb. As a result nuclear energy […is] under siege. Not until the low–level controversy is resolved can we expect nuclear energy to be fully accepted."

The term "radiophobia" is also sometimes used in the arguments against proponents of the conservative LNT concept (Linear no-threshold response model for ionizing radiation) of radiation security proposed by the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) in 1949. The "no-threshold" position effectively assumes, from data extrapolated from the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that even negligible doses of radiation increase ones risk of cancer linearly as the exposure increases from a value of 0 up to high dose rates. This is a controversial model as the LNT model therefore suggests that radiation exposure from naturally occurring background radiation, the radiation exposure from flying at high altitudes in airplanes, as well as lying next to loved ones for extended periods and the eating of bananas, which are also weakly naturally radioactive (both mostly due to Potassium-40, a naturally occurring radioactive material required for human life) all increase ones chance of cancer.

Moreover, the lack of strong evidence supporting the LNT model, a model created from extrapolation from atomic bomb exposure, and not hard experimental evidence at low doses, has made the model controversial. As no irrefutable link between radiation induced negative health effects from low doses, in both human and other mammal exposure experiments, has been found.

On the contrary, many very low dose radiation exposure experiments find positive (hormetic) health effects at low doses of radiation, therefore the conservative LNT model when applied to low dose exposure remains controversial within the scientific community.[23]

After the Fukushima disaster, the German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that Japanese residents are suffering from radiophobia.[12]

Radiophobia and Industrial and Healthcare Use

Radiation, most commonly in the form of X-Rays, is used frequently in society in order to produce positive outcomes. The primary use of radiation in healthcare is in the use of radiography for radiographic examination or procedure, and in the use of radiotherapy in the treatment of cancerous conditions. Radiophobia can be a fear which patients experience before and after either of these procedures,[24] it is therefore the responsibility of the healthcare professional at the time, often a Radiographer or Radiation Therapist, to reassure the patients about the stochastic and deterministic effects of radiation on human physiology. Advising patients and other irradiated persons of the various radiation protection measures that are enforced, including the use of lead-rubber aprons, dosimetry and Automatic Exposure Control (AEC) is a common method of informing and reassuring radiophobia sufferers.

Similarly, in industrial radiography there is the possibility of persons to experience radiophobia when radiophobia sufferers are near industrial radiographic equipment.

See also


  1. ^ Note i.e. Dina Spector (19 February 2014). "Here's The Basic Science Question That 1 In 4 Americans Got Wrong".   "a survey of more than 2,200 people in the United States, conducted by the National Science Foundation in 2012 [...] tests the public's knowledge of basic facts in the physical and biological sciences [...] All radioactivity is man-made. True or false? [...] False (72% [answered correctly])" and yet this was the best score of several countries surveyed: Japan 69% (2011), EU 59% (2005), China 48% (2010), South Korea 48% (2004), Russia 35% (2003), Malaysia 14% (2008).
  2. ^ Looi Hoong Wah. "LYNAS PLANT: Irrational fear behind plant". Retrieved 11 December 2014.  In Malaysia, the presence of (naturally) radioactive thorium in a rare earth element processing plant led to extreme fear: "one of my friends has even stopped construction of his new house in Kuantan because he is fearful of a nuclear explosion in the Lynas plant."
  3. ^ Meera Srinivasan. "At Kudankulam’s core is fear, ignorance and anger".   In India, locals near the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant had been told that it would cause Dengue fever.
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b Lorna Arnold and Mark Smith. (2006). Britain, Australia and the Bomb, Palgrave Press.
  6. ^ Beverly Deepe Keever (February 25, 2004). "Shot in the Dark".  
  7. ^ a b Keiji Hirano (Feb 29, 2004). "Bikini Atoll H-bomb damaged fisheries, created prejudice". chugoku. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  8. ^ Gerard DeGroot, The Bomb: A Life, Random House, 2004.
  9. ^ In 25 April 1949 the US dollar was pegged to the YEN at $USD 1 = 360 YEN
  10. ^ Chicago Sun-Times
  11. ^ "'"Nuclear radiation 'the greatest public health hazard.  
  12. ^ a b
  13. ^ Bella Belbéoch, RESPONSABILITES OCCIDENTALES DANS LES CONSEQUENCES SANITAIRES DE LA CATASTROPHE DE TCHERNOBYL, EN BIELORUSSIE, UKRAINE ET RUSSIE, in: Radioprotection et Droit nucléaire [eds.: Ivo Rens and, Joël Jakubec, collection SEBES, 1998, pp. 247-261 (English translation: "Western responsibility regarding the health consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe in Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia")
  14. ^ L. A. Ilyin and O. A. Pavlovsky,"Radiological consequences of the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union and measures taken to mitigate their impact" IAEA Bulletin 4/1987.
  15. ^ "The Chernobyl Poems of Lyubov Sirota"
  16. ^ "A Voice from Dead Pripyat" by Adolph Kharash Science Director, Moscow State University
  17. ^ Kasperson, Roger E.; Stallen, Pieter Jan M. (1991). Communicating Risks to the Public: International Perspectives. Berlin: Springer Science and Media. pp. 160–162.  
  18. ^ Legally induced abortions in Denmark after Chernobyl. 1991 Danish National Board of Health, Sundhedsstyrelsen, Copenhagen K, Denmark.
  19. ^ The victims of chernobyl in Greece: induced abortions after the accident. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1987 October 31; 295(6606): 1100.
  20. ^ Points: Induced abortions after the Chernobyl accident 1988. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1988 January 9; 296(6615): 136.
  21. ^ The Chernobyl accident and induced abortions: only one-way information.
  22. ^  
  23. ^ Zbigniew Jaworowski, Radiation Risk and Ethics, Physics Today, 52(9), September 1999, pp. 24-29
  24. ^ Freiherr, G. (2010). "We have to calm dose hysteria…RIGHT NOW!". Diagnostic Imaging. 

External links

  • Seth Borenstein (24 March 2011). "Americans fear the unknown in nuclear radiation".  
  • Geoff Brumfiel (16 January 2013). "Fukushima: Fallout of fear".  
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