The government of radiation is predicated upon the idea that “low levels” of contamination produced by the nuclear-industrial-military complex pose relatively few and predictable risks to impacted human populations and ecologies. Consequently, using cost-benefit analyses of radiation risks and benefits, government agencies in nuclear nations allow routine contamination by radionuclides, although each nation sets official limits and deploys government bureaucracies to monitor and evaluate exposure levels.
Decades ago, authorities from governmental regulatory agencies and from nongovernmental organizations such as the International Committee for Radiation Protection created permissible exposure for human populations levels based on uniform, mathematical models of dose effects. However, most extant models for governing radiation flows and exposures fail to incorporate salient bodies of knowledge about radiation ecology and genetic mutagenesis carved out scientifically during the Cold War, primarily by authorities whose research was funded by the nuclear complex. Radiation has operated as a “privileged pollutant” and the current trend in some countries, such as the US, has been to raise allowable exposure levels, rather than to decrease them.
The biological effects of radiation are disputed, but no one disagrees on the basic fact that the environment is becoming more contaminated with radioactive elements and their decay products. Radioactive elements freed from their matrices or created through fission increasingly contaminate Earth’s environment. The assault began in earnest with atmospheric testing, although the practice of burning coal had already increased environmental contamination by radionuclides and other toxic elements. Disasters such as Hanford, Chernobyl, and Fukushima contributed to the production and circulation of vast volumes of radioisotopes, such as Cesium-137 and Strontium-90, previously unknown on Earth’s surface. Scientists and policy makers were well aware that they were creating a radioactive Earth. They studied how radionuclides circulate and concentrate in the environment, as illustrated by Project Sunshine that was secretly published in 1953.
The growing radioactivity of planet Earth was rhetorically managed in the concept of the permissible dose, the history of which has been well documented. The permissible dose was formulated in abstraction. The recipient of the permissible dose was formulated universally, usually as an adult male, who was conceptualized as free from any biological vulnerabilities, including previous exposures to toxins.[i] However, the construct of the de-contextualized, single-nuclide exposure was belied by empirical findings in the scientific research areas of of radiation ecology and genetic mosaicism, often in research sponsored by the nuclear complex. These bodies of knowledge disclosed that radionuclides concentrate and magnify in human bodies across time, with detrimental effects for human health and reproduction because radionuclides are often mutagenic through both chemical and radioactive processes. This chapter critiques the thanatopolitics inherent within the government of radiation focusing on the US as an example. Critique uses documents funded or influenced by the nuclear complex to demonstrate that radiation protection was compromised from its inception and continues to prioritize the sectional interests of the nuclear complex, among others, over the health and genetic integrity of the biosphere, despite decades of reform movements by dissident scientists, doctors, and concerned citizens. The epic failures of the radiation protection paradigm are illustrated using the governance of Fukushima fallout in the US as an exemplar....