The explosion of atom bombs over the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 resulted in very high casualties, both immediate and delayed but also left a large number of survivors who had been exposed to radiation, at levels that could be fairly precisely ascertained. Extensive follow-up of a large cohort of survivors (120,000) and of their offspring (77,000) was initiated in 1947 and continues to this day. In essence, survivors having received 1 Gy irradiation (∼1000 mSV) have a significantly elevated rate of cancer (42% increase) but a limited decrease of longevity (∼1 year), while their offspring show no increased frequency of abnormalities and, so far, no detectable elevation of the mutation rate. Current acceptable exposure levels for the general population and for workers in the nuclear industry have largely been derived from these studies, which have been reported in more than 100 publications. Yet the general public, and indeed most scientists, are unaware of these data: it is widely believed that irradiated survivors suffered a very high cancer burden and dramatically shortened life span, and that their progeny were affected by elevated mutation rates and frequent abnormalities. In this article, I summarize the results and discuss possible reasons for this very striking discrepancy between the facts and general beliefs about this situation.
- Copyright © 2016 by the Genetics Society of America