Radiation:Facts, Fallacies and Phobias.

Whether we like it or not, Australia is linked to the nuclear industry. If Saudi Arabia has about a third of the world’s known oil reserves, then Australia is the Saudi Arabia of uranium.

Uranium is a major export earner for Australia. In 2003 Australia sold A$472 million worth of it overseas. Should Australia build a nuclear power plant to reduce reliance on coal burning power stations? Should we accept nuclear waste from our trading partners for potentially large profits? If you want to understand the risks and benefits of the nuclear industry, you will need to know something of the science of radioactivity and of the biological effects of irradiation. You will need to be aware of the origins of the sometimes irrational fear of irradiation (radiation phobia) and its harmful consequences.

This paper has been written specifically for the general reader who may not necessarily have much or any scientific training. The nature of radioactivity, with special reference to uranium and plutonium, is simply described. How radiation affects tissues and the potential hazards to individuals and populations are explained. The cancer incidence in survivors of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Chernobyl are summarized. It is hoped the reader will find this paper helpful in understanding the issues currently so prominent in public debate. References to further reading are provided.