Radiation Alert: A Consumer's Guide to Radiation


184 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-385-19029-8





Reviewed by Merritt Clifton

Merritt Clifton was an environmental journalist and lived in Brigham, Quebec.


Radiation Alert, though billed on the back cover as “clear, straightforward language” about everyday radiation sources and the risks they pose, really isn’t. Some portions are clearly and concisely written, but many other sections are every bit as turgid and technical as the scientific and legal literature from which author David Poch distilled his information. Nor does his editing seem to follow any logical pattern. At one point he notes that he’s only summarizing the findings of Dr. John Gofman, for purposes of keeping his text clear and simple; but Gofman’s work is already sufficiently clear and simple that whole issues of Harrowsmith have been devoted to it, without losing any readers. Poch then repeatedly cites Gofman, without having explained adequately what exactly Gofman did (a series of studies on infant and fetal mortality downwind of nuclear reactor accidents). Meanwhile, Poch describes other research findings in excruciating detail, with mind-numbing strings of figures and technical language — and then doesn’t refer back to them at all.

Then there’s this howler on page 5: “If a particular job at a nuclear plant involves exposing a worker to enough radiation to give a one-in-ten chance of cancer, sharing that job (and the radiation exposure) among ten workers will reduce each worker’s risk to one-in-one-hundred, but the total risk will be the same — a one-in-ten chance that one of the workers will get cancer.” Las Vegas would love to see Poch walking in the door; and this is precisely the sort of sloppy criticism that the nuclear industry loves to harp upon while defending itself against much more serious and accurate charges.

Poch’s primary purpose in writing appears to have been to rebut the oft-heard nuclear industry claim that we have much more radiation exposure and much more risk from natural sources than from nuclear plants. He has assembled the material necessary to make a convincing rebuttal. At times it even comes together coherently. But he should have hired a ghostwriter, because any veteran hack journalist could have produced a much more readable, more persuasive book from the same facts and figures.


Poch, David I., “Radiation Alert: A Consumer's Guide to Radiation,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/36654.