Monday, August 24, 2015

Radiation All Around Us All the Time

2005. Former U.S. President Jimmy CarterThe dreadful recent news about former President Jimmy Carter brought back happier memories. Some years ago, my wife and I stood next to and chatted with the then-Governor of Georgia and  First Lady while waiting to get into a concert at Atlanta’s Omni complex. I wouldn’t call it the most memorable moment in my life, but it doesn’t have to be to be fondly recalled.

Carter was dipping into a bag of boiled peanuts – a southern specialty I then considered foul – and we compared notes on various music halls and local bands. The Carters were likely more familiar with Macon than Atlanta at the time, but they had clearly canvassed the local music scene – and knew more about it than we did – and we were the college students.


President Carter’s treatment at Emory University has already begun and radiation therapy will be part of it.

Thursday afternoon, Carter was to undergo radiation treatment.

On Wednesday, the hospital fitted him with a mask that will hold his head perfectly still to make sure the radiation goes into the right places in his brain. "Focused radiation as compared to general radiation has shown some success," said Dr. Manmeet Ahluwalia. "That they are really small makes it more likely that these lesions can be controlled."

I’ve read elsewhere that this kind of treatment, combined with medicines, does not always completely clear the cancer, but can make the disease manageable, as AZT does with AIDs. We nervously but hopefully await a good outcome.

We wish President and Mrs. Carter all the best.


Time has stolen away some of the fear traditionally associated with radiation. In the 50s, radiation was often used in movies to enlarge people and animals to monstrous proportions, but, in case you haven’t noticed, that hasn’t happened in real life. And the medical uses of radiation have saved or lengthened many lives, as we hope it will for President Carter.

Radiation may not carry quite as potent a charge as it once did because people recognize that it is everywhere around us all the time and it always has been. That’s the idea Gizmodo author Maddie Stone runs with, with a dose, so to speak, of the unexpected places ionizing radiation is found. These include: bananas, concrete, cigarettes, and water. You name it, there’s likely to be ionizing radiation in or around it.

You will often see mSv as the unit used for representing radiation dose. Sieverts measure the biological impact of ionizing radiation, with one sievert considered potent enough to induce radiation poisoning in a human being. That’s a lot of radiation, though, making the unit problematic as a measuring instrument – every use of it would almost always be expressed as a decimal. Enter the millisievert: it is much more useful and manageable, representing 1/1000 of a sievert. All the items on Gizmodo’s list carry a relatively small number of millisieverts, which makes comparing one against another easy.

This is a “More You Know” kind of article and it’s information is worth knowing. Anything that helps people understand radiation is a plus – for the nuclear industry, of course, but just for general knowledge, too. Many of us have benefited from radiation in our real lives and know it; it is worth saying it and learning more about it.

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