Access

You are not currently logged in.

Access JSTOR through your library or other institution:

login

Log in through your institution.

Journal Article

Radiation, Cancer, and Mutation in the Atomic Age

Angela N. H. Creager
Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences
Vol. 45, No. 1 (Feb., 2015), pp. 14-48
DOI: 10.1525/hsns.2015.45.1.14
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/hsns.2015.45.1.14
Page Count: 35
Were these topics helpful?
See something inaccurate? Let us know!

Select the topics that are inaccurate.

  • More info
  • Add to My Lists
  • Cite this Item
Radiation, Cancer, and Mutation in the Atomic Age
Preview not available

Abstract

Following World War II, the publication of accounts such as John Hersey’s Hiroshima (1946) documented the devastating effects of atomic weaponry on inhabitants of the two Japanese cities targeted by atomic bombs. Yet the American government presented a positive image of the atom’s benefits for its citizens in peacetime. In the late 1940s and 1950s, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission sought to develop nuclear medicine and nuclear energy alongside its continued production and testing of atomic weapons. In both its civilian and military endeavors, the agency maintained that its safety guidelines were sufficient to protect workers and the general population from dangerous exposures to ionizing radiation. In the 1950s, mounting concerns about the hazards of low-level radiation exposure, particularly from atomic weapons fallout, raised the stakes of understanding and protecting against the health hazards of ionizing radiation. Radiological protection guidelines focused on preventing the somatic effects of radiation—leukemia, cancer, and life-shortening—for which experts postulated a safety threshold. By contrast, the genetic effects of ionizing radiation on an individual’s fertility and gametes appeared to be dose-dependent even at the lowest levels. Geneticists challenged the perceived gap between somatic and genetic effects of radiation by arguing that radiation-induced mutations play a role in diseases, especially cancer. In doing so, they also contested the Commission’s portrayal of a safe atomic future. This article examines how concerns over low-level radiation from fallout facilitated acceptance of the then-controversial somatic mutation theory of carcinogenesis, which became an enduring feature of cancer biology.

Page Thumbnails

  • Thumbnail: Page 
1
    1
  • Thumbnail: Page 
2
    2
  • Thumbnail: Page 
3
    3
  • Thumbnail: Page 
4
    4
  • Thumbnail: Page 
5
    5
  • Thumbnail: Page 
6
    6
  • Thumbnail: Page 
7
    7
  • Thumbnail: Page 
8
    8
  • Thumbnail: Page 
9
    9
  • Thumbnail: Page 
10
    10
  • Thumbnail: Page 
11
    11
  • Thumbnail: Page 
12
    12
  • Thumbnail: Page 
13
    13
  • Thumbnail: Page 
14
    14
  • Thumbnail: Page 
15
    15
  • Thumbnail: Page 
16
    16
  • Thumbnail: Page 
17
    17
  • Thumbnail: Page 
18
    18
  • Thumbnail: Page 
19
    19
  • Thumbnail: Page 
20
    20
  • Thumbnail: Page 
21
    21
  • Thumbnail: Page 
22
    22
  • Thumbnail: Page 
23
    23
  • Thumbnail: Page 
24
    24
  • Thumbnail: Page 
25
    25
  • Thumbnail: Page 
26
    26
  • Thumbnail: Page 
27
    27
  • Thumbnail: Page 
28
    28
  • Thumbnail: Page 
29
    29
  • Thumbnail: Page 
30
    30
  • Thumbnail: Page 
31
    31
  • Thumbnail: Page 
32
    32
  • Thumbnail: Page 
33
    33
  • Thumbnail: Page 
34
    34
  • Thumbnail: Page 
35
    35
Part of Sustainability