Latest Issue

A leaky unit

Measuring the damage done by radiation is an inexact science

By Philip Ball   June 2011

Checking radiation exposure after Fukushima—but it’s hard to gauge how much is dangerous

Few have heard of the Swedish medical physicist Rolf Maximilian Sievert, but his name has been much in use following the Fukushima nuclear leak. To honour his work, the international unit of radiation exposure adopted in 1979 was named the sievert. It is also one of the most ad hoc scientific units ever devised, underlining the fact that gauging the dangers of radiation to the human body is an inexact science.

The sievert is a useful but piecemeal attempt to quantify radiation’s biological effects. There are three…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to

More From Prospect