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Radiophobia is an abnormal fear of ionizing radiation, in particular, fear of X-rays. The term is also used in a non-medical sense to refer to general opposition to the use of nuclear energy.

Fear of ionizing radiation is not unnatural, since it can pose significant risks; however this fear may become abnormal and even irrational, often owing to poor information or understanding, but also as a consequence of traumatic experience.

Castle Bravo and its influence on public perception[edit]

March 1, 1954, the operation Castle Bravo testing of a then, first of its kind, experimental thermonuclear Shrimp device; overshot its predicted yield of 4-6 megatons and instead produced 15 megatons, this resulted in an unanticipated amount of Bikini snow or visible particles of nuclear fallout being produced, fallout which caught the Japanese fishing boat the Daigo Fukuryū Maru or Lucky Dragon in its plume, even though it was fishing outside the initially predicted ~5 megaton fallout area which had been cordoned off for the Castle Bravo test. Approximately 2 weeks after the test and fallout exposure, the 23 member fishing crew began to fall ill, with acute radiation sickness, largely brought on by beta burns that were caused by direct contact between the Bikini snow fallout and their skin, through their practice of scooping the "Bikini snow" into bags with their bare hands. One member of the crew, Kuboyama Aikichi the boat's chief radioman, died 7 months later, on September 23, 1954.[1][2] It was later estimated that about a hundred fishing boats were contaminated to some degree by fallout from the test. Inhabitants of the Marshall Islands were also exposed to fallout, and a number of islands had to be evacuated.[2]

This incident, due to the era of secrecy around nuclear weapons, created widespread fear of uncontrolled and unpredictable nuclear weapons, and also of radioactively contaminated fish affecting the Japanese food supply. With the publication of Joseph Rotblat's findings that the contamination caused by the fallout from the Castle Bravo test was nearly a thousand times greater than that stated officially,[citation needed] outcry in Japan reached such a level that the incident was dubbed by some as "a second Hiroshima".[3] To prevent the subsequent strong anti-nuclear movement from turning into an anti-American movement,[citation needed] the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed on compensation of 2 million dollars[citation needed] for the contaminated fishery, with the surviving 22 crew men receiving about ¥ 2 million each,[4][5] ($5,556 in 1954, $48,800 in 2014[6])

The surviving crew members, and their family, would later experience prejudice and discrimination, as local people thought that radiation was contagious.[4]

The Castle Bravo test and the new fears of radioactive fallout inspired a new direction in art and cinema. The Godzilla films, beginning with Ishirō Honda's landmark 1954 film Gojira, are strong metaphors for post-war radiophobia. The opening scene of Gojira echoes the story of the Daigo Fukuryū Maru, from the initial distant flash of light to survivors being found with radiation burns. Although he found the special effects unconvincing, Roger Ebert stated that the film was "an important one" and "properly decoded, was the Fahrenheit 9/11 of its time."[7]

A year after the Castle Bravo test, Akira Kurosawa examined one person's unreasoning terror of radiation and nuclear war in his 1955 film I Live in Fear. At the end of the film, the foundry worker who lives in fear has been declared incompetent by his family, but the possible partial validity of his fears has transferred over to his doctor.

Nevil Shute's 1957 novel On the Beach depicts a future just six years later, based on the premise that a nuclear war has released so much radioactive fallout that all life in the Northern Hemisphere has been killed. The novel is set in Australia, which, along with the rest of the Southern Hemisphere, awaits a similar and inevitable fate.

Radiophobia and Chernobyl[edit]

In the former Soviet Union many patients with negligible radioactive exposure after the Chernobyl disaster displayed extreme anxiety about low level radiation exposure, and therefore developed many psychosomatic problems, and with an increase in fatalistic alcoholism being observed. As Japanese health and radiation specialist Shunichi Yamashita noted:[8]

We know from Chernobyl that the psychological consequences are enormous. Life expectancy of the evacuees dropped from 65 to 58 years -- not [predominately] because of cancer, but because of depression, alcoholism and suicide. Relocation is not easy, the stress is very big. We must not only track those problems, but also treat them. Otherwise people will feel they are just guinea pigs in our research.

The term "radiation phobia syndrome" was introduced in 1987.[9] by L. A. Ilyin and O. A. Pavlovsky in their report "Radiological consequences of the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union and measures taken to mitigate their impact,"[10]

The author of Chernobyl Poems Lyubov Sirota[11] wrote in her poem "Radiophobia":

Is this only—a fear of radiation?

Perhaps rather—a fear of wars?
Perhaps—the dread of betrayal,

Cowardice, stupidity, lawlessness?

The term has been criticized by Adolph Kharash, Science Director at the Moscow State University because, he writes,

It treats the normal impulse to self-protection, natural to everything living, your moral suffering, your anguish and your concern about the fate of your children, relatives and friends, and your own physical suffering and sickness as a result of delirium, of pathological perversion[12]

However, it must be noted that the psychological phobia of radiation in sufferers may not coincide with an actual life-threatening exposure to an individual or their children. Radiophobia refers only to a display of anxiety disproportionate to the actual quantity of radiation one is exposed to, with, in many cases, radiation exposure values equal to, or not much higher than, that which individuals are naturally exposed to every day from background radiation. Anxiety following a response to an actual life-threatening level of exposure to radiation is not considered to be radiophobia, nor misplaced anxiety, but a normal, appropriate response.

Chernobyl abortions[edit]

Following the accident, journalists mistrusted many medical professionals (such as the spokesman from the UK National Radiological Protection Board), and in turn encouraged the public to mistrust them.[13]

Throughout the European continent, in nations were abortion is legal, many requests for induced abortions, of otherwise normal pregnancies, were obtained out of fears of radiation from Chernobyl; including an excess number of abortions of healthy human fetuses in Denmark in the months following the accident.[14]

As the increase in radiation in Denmark was so low that almost no increased risk of birth defects was expected, the public debate and anxiety among the pregnant women and their husbands "caused" more fetal deaths in Denmark than the accident. This underlines the importance of public debate, the role of the mass media and of the way in which National Health authorities participate in this debate.

In Greece, following the accident there was panic and false rumors which led to many obstetricians initially thinking it prudent to interrupt otherwise wanted pregnancies and/or were unable to resist requests from worried pregnant mothers over fears of radiation, within a few weeks misconceptions within the medical profession were largely cleared up, although worries persisted in the general population. Although it was determined that the effective dose to Greeks would not exceed 1 mSv (0.1 rem), a dose much lower than that which could induce embryonic abnormalities or other non-stochastic effects, there was an observed 2500 excess of otherwise wanted pregnancies being terminated, probably out of fear in the mother of some kind of perceived radiation risk.[15]

A "slightly" above the expected number of requested induced abortions occurred in Italy, were upon request, "a week of reflection" and then a 2 to 3 week "health system" delay usually occur before the procedure.[16][17]

Radiophobia and health effects[edit]

The term "radiophobia" is also sometimes used in the arguments against proponents of the conservative LNT concept (Linear no-threshold response model for ionizing radiation) of radiation security proposed by the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) in 1949. The "no-threshold" position effectively assumes, from data extrapolated from the atomic bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that even negligible doses of radiation increase ones risk of cancer linearly as the exposure increases from a value of 0 up to high dose rates. This is a controversial model as the LNT model therefore suggests that radiation exposure from naturally occurring background radiation, the radiation exposure from flying at high altitudes in airplanes, the act of lying next to loved ones for extended periods - due to radioactive Potassium-40 naturally found in bones, and the eating of bananas, which are also weakly naturally radioactive all increase ones chance of cancer.

Moreover, the lack of strong evidence supporting the LNT model, a model created from extrapolation from atomic bomb exposure, and not hard experimental evidence at low doses, has made the model controversial. As no irrefutable link between radiation induced negative health effects from low doses, in both human and other mammal exposure experiments, has been found.

On the contrary, many very low dose radiation exposure experiments find positive (hormetic) health effects at low doses of radiation, therefore the conservative LNT model when applied to low dose exposure remains controversial within the scientific community.[18]

After the Fukushima disaster, German state newspaper outlet Der Spiegel reported that Japanese residents are suffering from radiophobia.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Lorna Arnold and Mark Smith. (2006). Britain, Australia and the Bomb, Palgrave Press.
  3. ^ Beverly Deepe Keever (February 25, 2004). "Shot in the Dark". Honolulu Weekly. Retrieved 2008-11-30. "The Japanese government and people dubbed it “a second Hiroshima” and it nearly led to severing diplomatic relations." [dead link]
  4. ^ a b Keiji Hirano (Feb 29, 2004). "Bikini Atoll H-bomb damaged fisheries, created prejudice". chugoku. Retrieved 2008-11-30. 
  5. ^ Gerard DeGroot, The Bomb: A Life, Random House, 2004.
  6. ^ In 25 April 1949 the US dollar was pegged to the YEN at $USD 1 = 360 YEN
  7. ^ Chicago Sun-Times
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^ Bella Belbéoch, RESPONSABILITES OCCIDENTALES DANS LES CONSEQUENCES SANITAIRES DE LA CATASTROPHE DE TCHERNOBYL, EN BIELORUSSIE, UKRAINE ET RUSSIE, in: Radioprotection et Droit nucléaire [eds.: Ivo Rens and, Joël Jakubec, collection SEBES, 1998, pp. 247-261 (English translation: "Western responsibility regarding the health consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe in Belarus, the Ukraine and Russia")
  10. ^ L. A. Ilyin and O. A. Pavlovsky,"Radiological consequences of the Chernobyl accident in the Soviet Union and measures taken to mitigate their impact" IAEA Bulletin 4/1987.
  11. ^ "The Chernobyl Poems of Lyubov Sirota"
  12. ^ "A Voice from Dead Pripyat" by Adolph Kharash Science Director, Moscow State University
  13. ^ Kasperson, Roger E.; Stallen, Pieter Jan M. (1991). Communicating Risks to the Public: International Perspectives. Berlin: Springer Science and Media. pp. 160–162. ISBN 0-7923-0601-5. 
  14. ^ Legally induced abortions in Denmark after Chernobyl. 1991 Danish National Board of Health, Sundhedsstyrelsen, Copenhagen K, Denmark.
  15. ^ The victims of chernobyl in Greece: induced abortions after the accident. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1987 October 31; 295(6606): 1100.
  16. ^ Points: Induced abortions after the Chernobyl accident 1988. Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1988 January 9; 296(6615): 136.
  17. ^ The Chernobyl accident and induced abortions: only one-way information.
  18. ^ Zbigniew Jaworowski, Radiation Risk and Ethics, Physics Today, 52(9), September 1999, pp. 24-29

External links[edit]