Books et al.History of Science

Risky business

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Science  04 Mar 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6277, pp. 1034
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf3339

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In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched his "Atoms for Peace" initiative, aimed at increasing energy production, improving agriculture, and advancing health care. The following year, the U.S. Pacific atomic test Castle Bravo showered a Japanese fishing vessel with radioactive fallout, resulting in 23 cases of radiation sickness (including one death) and a boatload of contaminated tuna. These events—even more than the use of nuclear weapons at the end of World War II—launched an ongoing public debate over whether the risks of radiation exposure outweigh the benefits of nuclear technology. For many, the verdict is still out. Or, more to the point, it is hard to reach a verdict even today, because unbiased, comprehensible information on radiation risk is hard to come by. Timothy J. Jorgensen's book Strange Glow: The Story of Radiation fills this gap, using history to explain how we encounter radiation and how it affects us.