Thousands of so called "Radium Girls" used radioactive materials to make watch numbers luminous. Many of them paid with their health.


Anyone who takes radiation protection seriously cannot expose people to even a low dose – organisms are busy enough with natural radiation. But this is wishful thinking. On the grounds that we cannot statistically prove that so-called "low radiation doses" actually lead to a higher incidence of cancer cases, a question mark suddenly hovers over what was considered established knowledge. And it can be defined as a safe threshold dose based on the impossibility of evidence , which – similar to cars – in truth only represents a tolerance value. The long-term studies of survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which have been ongoing since 1950, provide the database for these tolerance levels. Founded in 1982, the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), a self-constituted panel of experts, is the most influential organisation when it comes to setting these tolerance levels. It has continuously weakened its basic recommendations from "lowest possible degree" (1955) to "as low as readily achievable" (1966) until the level used today of "as low as is readily achievable, economic and social consequences being taken into account" (1973). However, the findings of the long-term studies of atomic bomb survivors cannot be ignored, and so the tolerance levels for the population and workers have been made more strict step-by-step. At the end of the day, the tolerance levels have to be justified by a corresponding benefit to society. According to this mindset, the much trumpeted benefits of the peaceful use of nuclear power in the form of electrical energy has to outweigh the damages to our health, even if they are statistically undetectable. The currently valid tolerance levels therefore reflect what is politically achievable and not what is desired for the health of humankind and all living things.

Ludwig E. Feinendegen, Specialist in Radiation Medicine, Lindau, Germany: “Every amount of radiation can cause cancer”

Wolfgang Weiss, UNSCEAR, Germany: “Every amount of radiation can cause cancer”


Radium Girls

  • Radium Girls: Videocollage by the designer Rose Todaro