Earlier this year a very important person to the history of World War II, and more specifically the end of Japan’s presence in the global war, died after living to the age of 93 years old. Though his very existence was incredibly important as he was the last of the double A-bomb explosions (and many say the only one), it was also interesting to proponents of a theory known as Radiation Hormesis. The theory suggests that radiation is not as simple as was once thought and in proper doses and under proper circumstances could actually benefit those that come in contact with it.
The theory behind Radiation Hormesis states that ionized radiation in fairly specific low doses actually could activate the immune system allowing for far superior survivability of individuals in brief contact with ionized radiation. The theory behind it suggests that these trace amounts of radiation actually improve the circulation. Spas in Germany such as Radonia, promise to help visitors combat illness and rejuvenate their bodies. And the industry worldwide is pulling in millions of dollars every year. But just north of the spa is an old uranium mine that is widely considered a major ecological disaster. Is it possible these radioactive spas are helping people? Or is it just a matter of trying to turn a lemon into radioactive lemonaide?
The actual process behind Radiation Hormesis is a controversy in itself. And as the debate rages on many proponents and advocates are staking their reputations on hotly contested sides of the line. In one corner we have studies such as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggesting that even a single alpha particle can cause an increase in mutation. Radon, for example, is still listed as a major cause of deaths related to lung cancer. On the other hand, there are several proponents to the effects of radiation hormesis as well including the author of the book “Nuclear War Survival Skills” Cresson H. Kearny who suggests that while he did not include a reference in his previous edition of the book in 1979, he wished to create an addendum regarding the potential effects on Hormesis in his 2001 edition citing studies by Physicist T.D. Luckey.
Of course both sides can agree wholeheartedly and immediately that given sufficient levels, ionized radiation does cause tissue damage and as has been the unfortunate case with so many, death. But even so, we cannot ignore cases such as that of Yamaguchi, who not only survived the radiation from both bombs, but actually lived to the age of 93. Though Yamaguchi did suffer from several radiation related illnesses such as cataracts, we may never know precisely what it was that allowed him to live quite so long. But in the mean time, tourists worldwide are still visiting spas where they shell out money for a dose of radiation. Only in time and with adequate research will this mystery be laid to rest.