Reviewers' Comments

"...a brilliant and insightful history of the many aspects of radiation protection, illuminated bycareful consideration of documents from the time as well as from major secondary sources. For the reader who is seriously interested in the history of radiation protection, the list of 457 references is, in itself, a treasure trove."

"... an absolutely riveting account."

"...a book that no radiation protection professional with a sense of history should be without."

Mike Thorne Journal of Radiological Protection December 2009

"Something I especially liked about it is the international breadth of its coverage. That, and the fact that there seemed to be something on every page that caused me to pause for a while and mull an issue over in my head."

"...deserves a place in any HP's library."

Paul W Frame Health Physics January 2010

Taming the Rays by Geoff Meggitt

Published through 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4092-4667-1

Taming the Rays is a history of the use of X-rays and nuclear radiation but, primarily, of the understanding and management of the dangers they pose. Soon after Rontgen and Becquerel made their discoveries in the final years of the 19th century physicians adopted the technology and scientists have since found many new applications, most significantly those connected with nuclear fission. The book traces how the risks associated with the technologies – and with the naturally-occurring sources of radiation - have been understood, expressed and assessed. It has often been a controversial enterprise and certainly one of the more complex of intellectual endeavours undertaken on an international scale. It has not been a strictly scientific one since the physics, chemistry and biology have necessarily been translated into concepts and standards that can be communicated and used to set standards. The book explores these themes and traces how they have evolved through reference to original research and the thinking of national and international organisations with responsibilities for advising on protection.

Have a look at the opening pages and some of the chapters. You will need Adobe Acrobat.

Opening pages

The Early Years of X-rays

Genetic Effects

Measuring External Radiation (part)

Page numbers are absent in these selections and the list of references and the index have been omitted. But you should get some idea of the style and scope. The files will open in a new window.

Comments, corrections, suggestions and enquiries to

Paperback from, AMAZON and other outlets


A Century of Radiation

The explosive and sometimes reckless exploitation of Rontgen and Becquerel's discoveries produced medical technologies that dramatically added to the diagnostic and therapeutic tools available to physicians. But the consequences for some of the pioneers were dreadful and it took decades to understand and control them. Later, the exploitation of discoveries of nuclear physics led, from the 1940s, to nuclear weapons and nuclear power with overwhelming potential for harm. The genetic damage seen in earlier animal experiments was the first concern but, as the long-term results of the A-bombs dropped on Japan emerged, it became clear in the 1960s and 70s that cancer was the most serious health effect. Quite how radiation damages cells and causes the effects it does has been studied since the earliest days and, since the leap forward that came with understanding the significance of DNA, there has been remarkable progress. However, it is still not fully understood and some key elements remain controversial – notably the likelihood of effects at very low doses. Our knowledge is still largely based on the Japanese experience but there are new data emerging as epidemiological studies become better coordinated and are combined.

While our understanding of how radiation damages has evolved so has our knowledge of its sources: we now know that the largest one for most people is the natural world around us. It is an understanding that has been won through undramatic work developing measurement techniques and defining key concepts and quantities. This has also given us an understanding of the effects of radioactivity taken into our bodies and this, in turn, has allowed us to compare quite different sources of radiation: medical procedures, natural radiation, nuclear power.

Measuring and understanding is one thing; control is another. The first successes were the rather crude recommendations for the control of the exposures of early physicians. While they reduced the horrendous acute injuries, they could not recognise the more insidious possibilities of cancer. Their central idea was that there was a threshold level of dose below which effects were insignificant - and this persisted until well after the Second World War. The dominant notion that followed – all radiation carries some risk of cancer, increasing as the dose increases - posed new challenges for protection. If all radiation can cause harm, how are we to balance that with the benefits some of it brings? This became a key question from the early 1970s and remained one until the end of the century.

You may be interested in Geoff's paper on the history of criticality safety assessment published in the Journal of Radiological Protection