Romance of Radium – How did our relationship with radioactive material sour?

Note – This post was initially published on February 23, 2013. After attending the ANS President’s Special Session about the way we should communicate about radiation, I thought it would be worth repeating.

Sometimes, we need to look outside of our immediate time and place to find “best practices” that we should emulate.

Hitting road now for the final leg of my return to Virginia. Lots more to tell about the meeting and the trip.


My lovely wife, knowing my atomic energy obsession, thought that I might enjoy watching Romance of Radium a 1937 movie short (10 minutes) from MGM Studios that TCM (Turner Classic Movies) is occasionally running to fill time between full length movies.

It was utterly fascinating to me to watch how the filmmaker portrayed Henry Becquerel’s discovery of radiation, the Curie’s effort to refine radium, and the way that hunters in the Belgian Congo discovered one of the world’s richest sources of pitchblende because it was known to the local inhabitants as a soil with remarkable curative powers. This film was so well received that it earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Live Action Short Film (one reel).

Watching this film through the lenses of a nuclear energy professional who has spent decades being taught that it is worthwhile to use precious resources to reduce radiation exposure to a level as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) – with an unreachable goal of zero – it is interesting to think about the way irrational radiation phobia has developed over the last 3/4 of a century. It is almost unimaginable that society has moved away from widespread recognition that radioactive substances are highly beneficial if treated with the proper care and respect to a widespread response of fear and trembling at tiny doses of ionizing radiation.

There are some hints in the movie about how the fears developed; the writers could not resist using phrases like “extremely dangerous” or pointing out how some people who were exposed to large doses due to ignorance of the side effects suffered negative health consequences. However, the movie provides abundance evidence that by 1937, about four decades after Becquerel’s discovery, people had learned to avoid the risks well enough to take full advantage of the benefits associated with the intense radiation that naturally emanates from tiny quantities of radium.
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Atomic Show #239 – Sarah Laskow and the LNT model

In March 2015, Foreign Policy magazine published an article by Sarah Laskow titled The Mushroom Cloud and The X-Ray Machine. The article described the controversy over the radiation protection model known as the linear, no-threshold dose response. Ms. Laskow conducted some admirable literature research and talked with a number of well-known people. The ones that […]

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Ethics of international radiation protection system

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Tritium – aka radioactive hydrogen – from reactors is not a threat to human health

Fukushima Tank Farm

Tritium, also known as radioactive hydrogen, is an isotope that releases an 18 Kev beta particle. The isotopic half life is about 12 years. Among other possible production mechanisms, it is produced in low quantities and concentrations in any reactor where water is exposed to a neutron flux. The production rate is higher in heavy […]

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Presentations from NAS BEIR VIII Planning Meeting Posted

On November 17, 2014, I attended a meeting at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington organized to determine if there is a need to convene an eighth committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VIII). The presentations given during that meeting have been published on line at Planning Towards the BEIR […]

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Is Chernobyl still dangerous or was 60 Minutes pushing propaganda?

On November 23, 2014, 60 minutes, the venerable CBS News Sunday evening program that has been on the air since its launch in 1968, aired a segment titled Chernobyl: The Catastrophe That Never Ended. The show is full of fascinating contrasts between what the cameras show to the audience and what the narrator tells the […]

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Shaping public perceptions of radiation risk

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World Nuclear Association discussion on radiation protection

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Atomic Show #224 – Dr. John Boice NCRP

From front page of June 13, 1956 New York Times. Right column headline.

On November 11, 2014, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. John Boice, the President of the National Council on Radiation Protection. Dr. Boice has had a long and distinguished career in radiation protection and is currently leading a multi-decade effort known as the Million Worker Study to investigate the evidence that has been […]

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Culture Imposed by Image Gently Carries Substantial Medical Risks

I’ve been engaged with the struggle to counter excessive fear of radiation for many years. Since I come at the battle from a perspective of the avoided benefits of nuclear energy production resulting from the imposed fear, I have been focused on that aspect of countering radiation misinformation. My associates and I have often assumed […]

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Radiophobia hits home

One of the members of SARI (Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information) shared a disturbing story with a happy ending. I obtained his permission to share the story more widely in hopes that others will benefit. The happy ending was a result of caregivers who listened and responded properly when provided with accurate information that conflicted […]

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Radiation health effects for medical doctors

Misinformation about radiation health effects does not just affect the nuclear industry and dramatically increase the costs associated with all nuclear energy technologies. It is also having a deleterious effect on the beneficial use of radiation and radioactive materials in medical diagnosis and treatment. Throughout their training programs, medical doctors have been taught to do […]

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