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Physicists Disagree About H-Bomb Fallout Dangers

Differ on Significance of Figures

By Frederick W. Byron jr.

"No significant danger is-expected in the near future from radioactive fallout," Dr. Shields Warren, professor of Pathology at the Harvard Medical School, told a sparse New Lecture Hall gathering last night. He was speaking at the Law School Forum on radioactive fallout.

He pointed out that although the "potential" danger from such fallout is certainly worthy of consideration, the present rate of fall represents a smaller amount of radiation than one would get, on the average, from medical treatment in the course of one's life.

Walter Selove, professor of Physics at the University of Pennsylvania and formerly assistant professor of Physics here, took a rather different viewpoint of the situation. He pointed out that it is virtually impossible to determine what may be reasonably called a "permissible level" of radioactive strontium 90 in the body.

He said that the generally accepted level for small, occupational work is 100 roentgens, but many reputable organizations have decided that when dealing with a large body of people--such as a nation--one should use a figure about one-tenth as large--that is, ten roentgens.

Selove also stated that there was a tremendous variation in the amount of strontium 90 found in the soil. He said that the concentration depended on the amount of calcium in a certain area--there have been variations from the mean of as much as 5000 percent because of calcium concentration--and also that the amount of strontium taken into an individual's body depends on the form in which it is ingested.

The third speaker, Louis Osborn, professor of Physics at M.I.T., emphasized the problem of technical judgment versus moral judgment. He said that much of the difficulty lay in the difference between percentages and total numbers. Many of the problems arising with regards to the desirability of atom tests lie within the realm of human values--whether one should regard 100 mutated babies as 100 tragedies or as merely a total misfortune of one-forty-thousandth of the total babies born each year.

The final speaker of the evening, Victor K. Weisskopf, professor of Physics at M.I.T., said that the nations of the world should strike at the heart of the "fallout problem" by attempting to halt nuclear tests on a world-wide basis.

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