Radiation Risks in Perspective  book cover
1st Edition

Radiation Risks in Perspective

ISBN 9780367453435
Published December 2, 2019 by CRC Press
207 Pages 23 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Public misperception of radiological risk consistently directs limited resources toward managing minimal or even phantom risks at great cost to government and industry with no measurable benefit to overall public health. The public’s inability to comprehend small theoretical risks arrived at through inherently uncertain formulae, coupled with an irrational push to eliminate all risk with no contextual understanding of overall benefit, results in a forfeiture of valuable advances in technology in favor of an illusion of safety.

Radiation Risks in Perspective uses general concepts underlying radiological risk as a model to illuminate the fundamental problems in public perception, reaction, and policy when faced with possible health risks. Presenting three distinct themes, the author summarizes the causes for the failure of the current system and proposes methods for correction. Beginning with a discussion of the methods used to measure threat, the author weighs the nebulous assessment of risk with the use of a quantifiable assessment of hazardous dose, which uses actual numbers that the public can readily understand and that decision makers can confidently use to enact policy and measure success.

Secondly, the author addresses the contextual balancing of cost versus benefit when prioritizing expenditure, specifically emphasizing that it is inappropriate to analyze and discuss individual risks without regard to the presence of other risks. Finally, the author analyzes the public’s tendency to push toward zero risk tolerance, an extremist approach that leads to unreasonable restrictions on technologies, excessive regulatory compliance costs, and the ultimate loss of goods and services.

With detailed explanations and illustrative case studies, Radiation Risks in Perspective offers scientists, lawyers, engineers, policy makers, and public health professionals, the skills they need for a rational evaluation of risk.

Table of Contents


Risky Business

More than a Number
Safety without Risk?
What’s Risky?
Is It Dangerous?
Can I Get Exposed?
Can It Hurt Me?
What Are the Risks?
Damage Control
Perception Is Reality

Scientific Guesswork

Making the Right Choice
Predictive Theories in Risk Assessment
Linear No-Threshold Theory
Sublinear Nonthreshold
Limitations and Uncertainties
Speculation versus Reality
Risk Management and Risk Communication
Quantifying Risk at Small Doses

No Safe Dose

LNT: The Theory of Choice
The LNT Controversy
Elements of the Debate
The Question of Thresholds
Repair of Radiation Damage and Cellular Autonomy
Uses and Misuses of LNT
Case 1: Estimation of Health Effects of Fallout from the
Chernobyl Reactor Accident
Case 2: Childhood Cancer Following Diagnostic X-ray
Case 3: Public Health Impacts from Radiation in a Modern Pit Facility

Uncertain Risk

How Low Can You Go?
Risk Assessment Considering Uncertainty
Uncertain Choices
Another Approach

Zero or Bust

Management Triggers
Technical Triggers
Size Matters
Sensitive People
Assigned Blame
Social Triggers
Protection of Children and the Unborn
Polluters Should Pay
Catastrophe and Apathy
Public Information and Distorting Risks
Political Triggers
Perceptions and Conflicts of Interest
Management Strategies
As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA)
Best Available Technology (BAT)
The Precautionary Principle
Risk-Risk Trade-offs and Unintended Consequences
Risk Offset
Risk Substitution
Risk Transfer and Risk Transformation

Misplaced Priorities

Priorities and Realities
Factors in Prioritization
Scientific Evidence
Public Perception of Risks
Management Capacity
Court Actions
Influence of Stakeholder Groups
Real Risks and Reordering Priorities
Monetary Costs
Environmental Cleanup at the Nevada Test Site
Characterization of Waste Destined for WIPP

Avoiding Risk

The Case Against Risk
Different Risks
Agent-Agent Interactions
Dose as a Surrogate for Risk
The Case for Dose
A Dose-Based System of Protection
Regulatory Dose Limit
Natural Background
Acceptable Dose
Management Decisions Based on Dose Proportion
Simplification of Radiation Quantities and Units
Review of the Current System of Radiation Protection

Radiation from the Gods

The Watras Case
Human Exposure to Radon
Health Hazards of Radon
Is There Really a Public Health Hazard?
Public Health
Perceptions and Fears
Economic Impacts
National/Regional Differences

Hold the Phone

Will Cell Phones “Fry” Your Brain?
Managing Phantom Risks
Imprudent Precaution
International Calls

PR Campaign: Proportion, Prioritization, and Precaution




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Kenneth L. Mossman is a professor of health physics in the School of Life Sciences and affiliated faculty member of the Center for the Study of Law, Science and Technology at Arizona State University in Tempe, where he has also served as assistant vice president for research and director of the university’s Office of Radiation Safety. Prior to his arrival at Arizona State University, Dr. Mossman was a faculty member of the medical and dental schools at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and was professor and founding chairman of the Department of Radiation Science at Georgetown’s Graduate School. His research interests include radiological health and safety and public policy. Dr. Mossman has authored more than 150 publications related to radiation health issues. He served as president of the Health Physics Society and received its prestigious Elda Anderson Award, the Marie Curie Gold Medal, and the Founder’s Award. He has been a Sigma Xi distinguished lecturer and is a fellow of the Health Physics Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has served on committees of the National Research Council, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (Paris), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (Vienna). Dr. Mossman earned a BS in biology from Wayne State University, MS and PhD degrees in radiation biology from the University of Tennessee, and an MEd degree in higher education administration from the University of Maryland. Dr. Mossman is also author of The Radiobiological Basis of Radiation Protection Practice (1992) Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, with William Mills and Arbitrary and Capricious (2004) AEI Press, Washington, DC with Gary Marchant.


“… the book provides a useful source of information on how risks, and especially radiological risks, are assessed, evaluated and communicated by/to a variety of stakeholders including scientists, legislators, pressure groups and the public. … The book contains a great deal of interesting information and is certainly thought-provoking. It also contains some useful cross-references to chemical risks and how these are addressed. … The book is intended for scientists, lawyers, engineers, policy makers and public health professionals …  ”
— Ron Brown, in the Journal of Radiological Protection

“The book is written in a spirited tone…. It imposes a minimum burden of mathematical symbols, freshens graphs from the older literature to make them easy for a broad audience to understand, and provides simply formatted tables that list the main concepts as they are introduced. …notes following every chapter…deepen the exposition…. The mixing of a studied description of risk management with advocacy, debate, and some stridency makes for an exciting read. …gives anyone interested in risk management policy the perspective of a well-read, involved, and spirited actor in the field.”
—Mark P. Langer, Indiana University School of Medicine, writing in the American Journal of Roentgenology, (189) 1