Radiation misconceptions

Posted on 8th Oct 2017

People often have a gut feeling regarding the dangers of radiation. This gut feeling often originates from the depiction of radiation in (social) media, which is often wrong. An important part of this radiophobia is the lack of knowledge and therefore the inability to distinguish between different types of radiation. Let’s tackle some of these misconceptions:

Radioactive radiation is dangerous:

I’m sorry, there is no such thing as radioactive radiation. There is radioactivity, a property of an element, and radiation which is either a particle or electromagnetic.

Radiation is dangerous:

This is partly true and highly dependent on the type of radiation and dose. We can basically split it up in two categories; ionising radiation and ‘normal’ radiation. For the sake of simplicity I won’t go into details regarding electromagnetic radiation and particle radiation. I will follow up on this!


Ionising radiation (like x-rays) has the ability to damage your DNA, this can results in a cell mutation. The chance of this happening is highly dependent on the dose (let me follow this up with another post). In short; when you went to the hospital and received an X-ray, CAT-scan or anything related you should not be worried. The chances of any cell mutating are small, by which I mean REALLY small. There are a lot of other thing which have a WAY higher chance of turning out wrong. Like smoking, drinking (alcohol), taking part in traffic, obesity. I can go on a long time.

Then there is ‘normal’ or non-radiation, which is not able to damage DNA the same way due to the lack of energy. In large enough amounts however it is able to heat up material, like microwave radiation. People often talk about the dangers of cell phone radiation or WIFI which is non-ionising. Again, the amount of radiation is paramount in this case. In short, our cell-phones do not use signal strengths large enough to have any relevant impact!

But the WHO doesn’t agree with you!

The World Health Organisation categorised cell phone radiation as possible carcinogenic a few years ago. This is often misinterpreted by journalists and general public. A lot of research is done in this field and there is no conclusive result about the dangers or safety of cell phone radiation. How I see this: If there is a danger it is so small you should not worry about it. Think about the amount of lives mobile communications saves!

If you want to worry do it about your diet and the amount of exercise.

Radioactivity is bad:

Well, this is again highly dependent on the amount. Almost everything around you is radioactive as most elements have a radioactive isotope. Radioactivity also plays a key role in medical imaging, think about cancer diagnosis using nuclear medicine.

Dependent on the amount of radioactivity it can be dangerous. However, in daily live again, you should not be worrying about it.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments:).