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Life AtomicA History of Radioisotopes in Science and Medicine$
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Angela N. H. Creager

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780226017808

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226017945.001.0001

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(p.143) Chapter Five Dividends
Life Atomic

Angela N. H. Creager

University of Chicago Press

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, particularly in medicine. This chapter examines this apparent paradox. In the late 1940s and 1950s, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) sought to harness atomic energy for humanitarian uses, including advancing cancer research, therapy, and diagnosis. Yet the growing concern about the hazards of low-level radiation exposure, particularly from atomic weapons fallout, changed the public perception of radioactivity. The fear of cancer, which in the 1940s could be exploited by the AEC to justify its status as a civilian agency bringing medical benefits to the citizenry, was by the 1960s a threat to viability of the agency’s other long-term benefit prospect, nuclear energy.

Keywords:   U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Advisory Committee on Biology and Medicine, David Lilienthal, Cancer, Fallout

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