ACHRE Report


The Atomic Century

Before the Atomic Age: "Shadow Pictures," Radioisotopes, and the Beginnings of Human Radiation Experimentation

The Manhattan Project: A New and Secret World of Human Experimentation

The Atomic Energy Commission and Postwar Biomedical Radiation Research

The Transformation in Government - Sponsored Research

The Aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: The Emergence of the Cold War Radiation Research Bureaucracy

New Ethical Questions for Medical Researchers


The Basics of Radiation Science

What Is Ionizing Radiation?

What Is Radioactivity?

What Are Atomic Number and Atomic Weight?

Radioisotopes: What Are They and How Are They Made?

How Does Radiation Affect Humans?

How Do We Measure the Biological Effects of External Radiation?

How Do We Measure the Biological Effects of Internal Emitters?

How Do Scientists Determine the Long-Term Risks from Radiation?

The Basics of Radiation Science

The ethical and historical issues of human radiation experiments cannot be understood without a basic grasp of the underlying science. This requires more than a glossary defining technical terms. At least an intuitive understanding of the natural laws and scientific techniques of radiation science is necessary. Obviously, acquiring a professional level of knowledge would require far more time than most readers can afford; indeed, entire careers are devoted to studying just one aspect of the field. To serve the interests of democracy in a technological world, however, we must provide sufficient technical background for all citizens to become active participants in considering the ethical and political dimensions of scientific research.

What follows is an attempt to provide such a background for the events and issues discussed in this report, directed toward those readers less familiar with "the basics" of radiation science. This task was deemed important enough to deserve a distinct section of this Introduction.

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