To experience the sensation of low-level radiation, please enter the booth alone and be seated. Switch to "on". Wait ten seconds. During this time you will undergo the exact feeling of low-level radiation contamination. Switch to "off". Exit.
The 2'x6'x6.5' booth is made of a minimal wooden frame covered with used corrugated cardboard. Participants are told that by going in the booth and switching on, they can experience what it feels like to be exposed to low-level radiation. The curtain over the doorway looks and feels like the protective vest dentists put on patients for x-rays. Inside is a stool, and on the wall facing you is a vent and a switch. Flick it. A red light starts buzzing and flashing intermittently. Nothing else happens. At one end there is a display of radioactive artifacts from the history of radioactive contamination.
This piece was shown at Middlebury College in concert with a speech given by Helen Caldicott in the fall of 1995.
Please note: the radiation given off by these items is equal to less than 20 rems, the equivalent of 4000 x-rays, the level considered safe by the NRC.
- Protective gear worn by a fireman who helped shovel debris off the roof of the burning reactor at Chernobyl.
- Sand from the Nevada Test Site where 563 atomic bombs were detonated between 1948 and 1980.
- Book from Vernon Elementary School located 1000 yards from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant where radioactivity leaked downhill and was measurable inside the school.
- Coral and shells from the Pacific Islands of Eniwetok, Bikini, the Christmas Islands and Johnson Islands where 106 atomic bombs were detonated by the United States between 1946 and 1962, and from the Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls where 5 bombs were exploded by France in 1995.
- Gloves worn by a worker at American Atomics, Tucson, Arizona, for inserting tritium into glass slivers used in digital watches.
- Flower picked within a three mile radius of the Three Mile Island reactor, 1993.
- Sheepskin from Doug Clark's herd, Cedar City, Utah, killed by radioactive fallout from Dirty Harry, a 32 kiloton atomic bomb dropped at the Nevada Test Site, May 19, 1953.
- Water from Rio Puerco, Church Rock, New Mexico, July 16, 1979, where a broken dam sent 1100 tons of radioactive uranium mill wastes and 90 million gallons of contaminated liquid down stream towards Arizona.
- Radioactive contaminated milk from St. George, Utah, and Troy, NY, where fallout raised the rate of infant mortality in 1953, and from Windscale, England, 1957.
- Dogtags from Harry Coppolo, Lyman Quigley, and Harold J. Ralph, three of thousands of GI's who were sent to clean up ground zero of Nagasaki several weeks after the bomb was dropped and died of radiation related cancer thirty-five years later.
- Apple from Joe Harding's lunch at the Paducah, KY., uranium enrichment plant. He said, "After a couple hours of work the uranium dust on the floor was so thick you could see your tracks when walking around. There was no particular lunch room or lunch hour. You just sat down somewhere, blew away the uranium dust and had your lunch."
- Chunks of concrete and asphalt from Grand Junction, Colorado, where 6000 structures including schools were built with uranium tailings deposits in the building materials or in the landfill under them.
- Orange from the Ukraine.
- Notebook and Pencil from Rm. 180 in Bldg. 771 of the Rocky Flats plutonium factory near Denver, where a plutonium trigger spontaneously ignited on September 11, 1957. During the 13 hour fire which had to be extinguished by water as a last resort, an estimated 20 to 250 kilograms of plutonium went out the stocks, plus thirty thousand gallons of contaminated unfiltered water entered local streams and the water table.
- Water from the shore of Ocean City, Maryland, where 120 barrels of radioactive cesium were dumped and are leaking.
- Uranium mine tailings from Durango, Colorado. Greta Highland of Durango called it "the biggest, best sand pile in the world. After school my friends would sneak into the mill yard and play in the tailings."
LOW LEVEL RADIATION IS INVISIBLE TO THE SENSES
LOW-LEVEL RADIATION CANNOT BE CONTAINEDThe increase in natural background radiation has the prospect af altering the entire schema of biogenetic evolution, which has been under slow and steady evolution for billions af years. Mankind, by developing atomic technologies, is unleashing forces which it does not understand and cannot control. Unlike the sorcerer's apprentice in Gothe's fanciful tale, there is no wise sorcerer who can step in and undo the damage we are causing. The effects of low-level radiation seem very abstract since we cannot see, feel, touch or sense them. They are statistical. But the danger is that they, bad enough by themselves, will act in concert with other systemic effects in unpredictable and disastrous ways. They will act not only on people, but on those biological systems which support us. Because these changes occur beyond our noticing, beyond the ability of scientists to judge, and in so many disparate ways, we will not notice the decline in the spiritual and physical quality of our world. When finally the effects of this process are so bad that no one can disagree, it will be too late to put the genie back in the bottle.
systems ecologist, cultural theorist
Low-level radiation contamination
is just a symptom of a trend of insidious
ecological problems that can't be tracked.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS!
- WHAT's so bad about low-level radiation?
It can kill you. The hazards of ionizing radiation have put billions of people at risk.
- HOW do I know if I am being exposed?
You don't. You cannot detect low-level radiation with your senses.
- HOW does it affect me?
It damages cells, accelerating aging and creating an environment conducive to cancer. Fetuses and young children are by far the most susceptible to radiation-induced cancer.
- WHAT types of cancer does it cause?
All forms of human cancer can be induced by radiation.
- WHAT is a safe dose?
It has been scientifically proven that "there is no safe threshold. Ionizing radiation is not like a poison out of a bottle where you can dilute it and dilute it. The lowest dose of ionizing radiation is one nuclear track through one cell. You can't have a fraction of a dose of that sort. Either a track goes through the nucleus and affects it, or it doesn't."[+]
- WHAT about x-rays - are they dangerous?
Yes. "Medical radiation from x-ray machines is roughly twice as harmful per unit dose as Hiroshima-Nagasaki radiation."[+]
[+] Dr. John Gofman, MD, Ph.D. in nuclear/physical chemistry, Professor Emeritus in Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley.
(For more information, see Gofman's Committee for Nuclear Responsibility)
- WHAT can I do?
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men (sic) do nothing.."
English Statesman 1729-1797
If your bathtub were overflowing and you came in the front door and there was water in your living room having run down the steps from the bathroom, you probably would decide that one of the first things you should do is turn off the water. . . . [It is not hard to figure out that] if you don't know what to do with the deadly garbage, that you stop producing it.
author and journalist
"Nuclear Cover-Up", 1992 speech in Santa Cruz, CA
(See also the complete speech as well as the text of his book Killing Our Own (co-authored with Harvey Wasserman))For more information contact:
Committee for Nuclear Responsibility
San Francisco, CA 94142
New England Coalition on Nuclear Pollution Inc,
Brattleboro, VT. 05301