KJEMI nr. 6 - 2017
KJEMI 6 2017 21 Utdrag fra plenumsforedrag ved 11ICHC i Trondheim: Living with Radiation or Why we Need a Diplomatic Turn in History of Science MARIA RENTETZI, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR IN HISTORY AND SOCIOLOGY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, NTUA, GREECE I have long been living with radiation in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. In 1986 I was among those who were shoc- ked by the Chernobyl accident, terrified by its proximity, and eventually affected by it. My father was among those who were diagnosed with leukemia as a num- ber of other residents in northern Greece. When I asked his physician about possi- ble causes he pointed to the effects of the Chernobyl accident in the area. “But, of course, we cannot prove it. Correlations exist but not causal connections between the increase in the incidents of leukemia and the radioactive fallout after the acci- dent.”Yet, I have also been living with ra- diation in a strong metaphorical sense since I have built most of my career around the history of radioactivity and nuclear sciences. I told the story of the establishment of the Vienna Radium Institute in 1910, I moved to the post World War II period to document the fo- undation of nuclear research in Greece, and eventually I explore the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency in standardizing the field of radiation pro- tection. Most of us, however, are living with radiation even though we do not always acknowledge it. At one or another point of our lives we are asked to take decisions about our own radiation exposures. For example, consider that, 80 million people each year are asked to have a computed tomography, known as CT scan. Each of these tests exposes individuals to 20,000 times the radiation dose of an x-ray to the arm. More surprisingly, this dose equals to the one experienced by the lower-dose Japanese atomic bomb survivors. And alt- hough computed tomography was intro- duced only in the 1970s, the use of x-rays has a history longer than a century. Hence, how did we end up living with ra- diation the ways we do today? Throughout the early 20th century hu- mans have been exposed to x-rays and ra- dium for medical, commercial, and even aesthetic reasons. I remind you the shoe- fitting machine--x-ray fluoroscopic mac- hines installed in show stores mainly in the US--that people used to test whether the shoe fits them properly; women used to remove hair from their bodies using x- ray technologies. Physicians implemented radium masks and other weird devices to treat cancer during the early days of radia- tion therapy, men breathed radium emana- tions and inserted radium suppositories to enhance their manhood and virility while women used radium cosmetics to beautify their bodies. Triggered by the stream of deaths among laboratory workers who handled radioactive materials, all major radiologi- cal societies in the United State joined for- ces in establishing the Advisory Committee on X-Ray and Radium Protection only in 1929. By the end of the 1920s, industrial laboratories continued to pay scant attention to the safety of their workers who were often left alone to add- ress issues of control and safety individu- ally. Before the WWII the field of radiati- on protection was in the hands of the Curies and the Radium Institute in Vienna who were both responsible for its standar- dization. During these early days radiati- on protection signified mainly the protec- tion against radiation risks associated with radium and X-rays. With the advent of the atomic age and the use of advanced medical technologies and radioisotopes several internationals scientific organizations sidelined the Curies and took over the field: the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) were among them. A turning point, nonetheless, occurred in the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The widespread use of radioactive materials in industry, the broad public concern about the effects of radiation, as well as the rapid develop- ment and adoption of new medical tech- nologies such as radioisotope teletherapy units and the growth of the nuclear power industry, led to a shift in emphasis from radiation protection to nuclear safety. The mass quantities and new types of radiati- on and radioactive materials led to new approaches in the field and created the space for the international regulation of radiation risks. The establishment of the IAEA in 1957, the only United Nations body with specific statutory responsibilities for radi- ation protection and safety in all sectors, marked this shift. Today the agency’s la- boratories calibrate more than 50 ioniza- tion chamber systems, verify some 450 beams emitted from radiotherapy equip- ment in hospitals across the globe, de- velop safety standards for medical radia- tion exposures, establish radiation safety principles concerning the environment, and respond to major crisis that follow nuclear accidents. In short, IAEA con- trols the field of radiation protection and standardization in its entirety.
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