Radiation is good for you!

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Most of us learned what little we know about radiation from anti-nuclear propaganda and sci-fi stories featuring mutants roaming post-apocalyptic wastelands. Large doses of radiation do in fact lead to a gruesome death, but small doses do not.

First, small doses of radiation are common. In fact, we regularly eat radioactive foods. Bananas contain potassium, and thus radioactive potassium-40, and they’re harmless. If authorities shared radiation levels in banana equivalents, most scares could be avoided.

Not only are small doses of radiation less harmful than large doses; they may actually be good for you. Thirty years ago, a Taiwanese metal recycler melted up a batch of cobalt-60 along with scrap steel. The resulting metal went into the frames of new apartment buildings, where the residents received more cumulative radiation than the Hiroshima survivors or the Chernobyl rescue workers. Their mortality rate from cancer was dramatically lower than normal, as was their rate of birth defects. (Chernobyl is a veritable Eden today.)

For optimal health, Dr. T.D. Luckey recommends a chronic dose of 100 mSv/y. Perhaps we should switch away from nuclear power and toward coal for that reason — coal waste is more radioactive than nuclear waste.


  1. Ross says:

    Banana equivalents! What a great idea! Other high potassium (and likely high potassium-40 foods, therefore) are pinto beans, avocado, papaya, melon, prune/tomato juice, and yogurt.

    T.D.Lucky, cited in this post, has extremely well-researched and compelling books and articles on radiation hormesis.

    On a humorous note, is there a banana-republic equivalent currency converter for hyper inflating fiat currency regimes?

  2. Edgewise Sigma says:

    That disaster in Japan has got everyone talking about radiation again, and that in turn has reminded me about the concept of hormesis — which is touched upon in that Taiwan story link.

    I haven’t kept up with hormesis research in a while. By any chance, do you know if hormesis research (whether or not WRT to radiation) has been applied to stem cell research? (Just wonderin’…)

  3. Ross says:

    Don’t know much about hormesis, other than the concept itself. Did a bunch of reading on radiation hormesis and convinced myself that the mainstream “take” on radiation is probably at the level of the Salem witch trials and that any study which blithely relies on the linear no-threshold model is quite possibly crap.

    They talk about a “J-shaped curve” for hormesis in general, a graphical representation of dose/effect which captures the bad effect of “zero” and “too much” dose, and the good effects in the middling range. The whole question, of course, is the specific shape and location of the particular “J” for any given assault type.

    Fascinating stuff. Needless to say, “now” is a temptingly relevant time, but can also be a difficult time to try to present this topic.

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