Radiation Risks in Perspective: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Radiation Risks in Perspective

1st Edition

By Kenneth L. Mossman

CRC Press

207 pages | 23 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2006-10-20
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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.


“… 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

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






Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / Environmental
SCIENCE / Environmental Science
TECHNOLOGY & ENGINEERING / Environmental / General