is an abnormal fear of ionizing radiation
Ionizing radiation is radiation composed of particles that individually have sufficient energy to remove an electron from an atom or molecule. This ionization produces free radicals, which are atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons...
, 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
Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity. Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear generated electricity...
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
In 1954, the Castle Bravo
Castle Bravo was the code name given to the first U.S. test of a dry fuel thermonuclear hydrogen bomb device, detonated on March 1, 1954 at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands, as the first test of Operation Castle. Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States ,...
test caught the Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryū Maru
was a Japanese tuna fishing boat, which was exposed to and contaminated by nuclear fallout from the United States' Castle Bravo thermonuclear device test on Bikini Atoll, on 1 March 1954....
in its radiation plume, even though it was fishing outside the predicted fallout area. All of the crew fell sick, and Kuboyama Aikichi, the boat's chief radioman, died less than seven months later, on September 23, 1954. 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
The Republic of the Marshall Islands , , is a Micronesian nation of atolls and islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, just west of the International Date Line and just north of the Equator. As of July 2011 the population was 67,182...
were also exposed to fallout, and a number of islands had to be evacuated entirely.
This incident created widespread fear of uncontrolled and unpredictable nuclear weapons, and also of radioactively contaminated fish affecting the Japanese food supply. With the publication of Sir Joseph Rotblat's findings that the contamination caused by the fallout
Fallout is the residual radioactive material propelled into the upper atmosphere following a nuclear blast, so called because it "falls out" of the sky after the explosion and shock wave have passed. It commonly refers to the radioactive dust and ash created when a nuclear weapon explodes...
from the Castle Bravo test was nearly a thousand times greater than that stated officially, outcry in Japan reached such a level that the incident was dubbed by some as "a second Hiroshima". To prevent the subsequent strong anti-nuclear movement from turning into an anti-American movement, the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed on compensation of 2 million dollars for the contaminated fishery, with the surviving victims receiving about 2 million each (US$ 5,550 in 1954, US$ in ).
The Castle Bravo test and the new fears of radioactive fallout inspired a new direction in art and cinema. The Godzilla
is a daikaijū, a Japanese movie monster, first appearing in Ishirō Honda's 1954 film Godzilla. Since then, Godzilla has gone on to become a worldwide pop culture icon starring in 28 films produced by Toho Co., Ltd. The monster has appeared in numerous other media incarnations including video games,...
films, beginning with Ishirō Honda
Ishirō Honda , sometimes miscredited in foreign releases as "Inoshiro Honda", was a Japanese film director...
'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."
A year after the Castle Bravo test, Akira Kurosawa
was a Japanese film director, producer, screenwriter and editor. Regarded as one of the most important and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, Kurosawa directed 30 filmsIn 1946, Kurosawa co-directed, with Hideo Sekigawa and Kajiro Yamamoto, the feature Those Who Make Tomorrow ;...
examined one person's unreasoning terror of radiation and nuclear war in his 1955 film I Live in Fear
is a 1955 Japanese film written and directed by Akira Kurosawa. It was co-written by Shinobu Hashimoto, Fumio Hayasaka, and Hideo Oguni.The film stars Kurosawa regulars Toshirō Mifune and Takashi Shimura. It is in black-and-white and runs 103 minutes. The film was entered into the 1956 Cannes Film...
. 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, where nuclear war has released so much radioactive fallout that all life in the Northern Hemisphere
The Northern Hemisphere is the half of a planet that is north of its equator—the word hemisphere literally means “half sphere”. It is also that half of the celestial sphere north of the celestial equator...
has been killed. The novel is set in Australia, which, along with the rest of the Southern Hemisphere
The Southern Hemisphere is the part of Earth that lies south of the equator. The word hemisphere literally means 'half ball' or "half sphere"...
, awaits a similar and inevitable fate.
Radiophobia and Chernobyl
In the former Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....
many patients with radioactive sickness after the Chernobyl disaster
The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine , which was under the direct jurisdiction of the central authorities in Moscow...
were accused of radiophobia. The term "radiation phobia syndrome" was introduced in 1987
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,"
The author of Chernobyl Poems Lyubov Sirota
Lyubov Sirota is a Ukrainian poet, writer, playwright, journalist and translator. As a former inhabitant of the city of Pripyat and an eyewitness of the Chernobyl disaster, she has devoted a great part of her creative output to the 1986 catastrophe...
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
Lomonosov Moscow State University , previously known as Lomonosov University or MSU , is the largest university in Russia. Founded in 1755, it also claims to be one of the oldest university in Russia and to have the tallest educational building in the world. Its current rector is Viktor Sadovnichiy...
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
Radiophobia as a term in the atomic energy debate
The term "radiophobia" is also polemically applied to the arguments of proponents of the LNT concept
The linear no-threshold model is a method for predicting the long term, biological damage caused by ionizing radiation and is based on the assumption that the risk is directly proportional to the dose at all dose levels....
(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 that even negligible doses of radiation may pose danger. The issue remains controversial.