THEOSOPHY, Vol. 81, No. 11, September, 1993
(Pages 335-339; Size: 11K)



[Part 10 of a 16-part series]

Although all matter is constantly undergoing change, some basic elements change faster than others. Many of the rapidly changing elements radiate an easily detectable energy. For example, radium breaks down into lead plus high-energy particles that penetrate matter. In the late 19th century in France, Becquerel and the Curies are credited with discovering the natural radioactivity of uranium and radium, two heavy metallic elements. At about the same time a similar radiation was produced by the German Roentgen with man-made apparatus -- the x-ray. Are these radiations a dim reflection of "the radiant essence," spoken of in Stanza III of The Secret Doctrine? H.P.B. explains: "'The radiant essence curdled and spread throughout the depths' of Space. ... it is the 'milky way,' the world-stuff, or primordial matter in its first form." (I, 68.)

Effects on the Body

We now know that exposure to either type of radiation can be a health hazard, but it took many years to determine "safe" exposures and to learn that radiation effects were cumulative. Meanwhile, many overexposed people were affected adversely. Today, exposures to radiant energy in dentistry and medicine are highly directed and controlled.

Diagnostic x-ray machines and film have improved greatly over the years, allowing reduced exposure and sharper images. In addition, there are alternative ways to obtain diagnostic images of the inside of the body -- for example, ultrasonic imaging and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

The new technologies may carry different hazards and must be thoroughly investigated to avoid the mistakes made with x-rays soon after their discovery. In particular, the effects of strong magnetic fields on the body are not well-understood. The few statistical studies made so far have been inconclusive because of lack of control over the subjects. Several books, magazine articles, and newspaper articles present evidence that strong fields may cause certain kinds of cancer (see the health magazine East West for May 1990 and two books by Dr. Robert O. Becker -- Cross Currents and The Body Electric).

An important discovery at the California Institute of Technology on the presence of a small quantity of magnetic substance in the brain, the same as in the mineral lodestone, indicates the possibility that people may be affected by magnetic fields ("Caltech Scientists Find Magnetic Particles in Human Brain," Los Angeles Times, May 12, 1992). In animals, the magnetic particles are thought to be used for direction finding.

Theosophically considered, electromagnetic fields are vital to manifested existence; they are on all planes of matter, in the cosmos, and in man. The astral body is said to be electromagnetic in nature, and atoms are assumed by Science to be made of various electromagnetic particles.

Natural Versus Man-Made Radiation

We have long been subject to radiation from the earth and from space, and our bodies have adapted to these natural doses. Space is filled with electromagnetic waves covering a wide range of wavelengths. The variation is from a few to many millions of vibrations per second, from electric power and radio waves to heat, light, ultra-violet, x-rays, and cosmic rays. As with other environmental factors, the body tolerates a "balanced" mixture of these radiations, but a different blend would most likely affect our fragile bodily processes in a destructive way.

In recent years the level of radiation considered as "safe" has been lowered more than once. For example, at a 1989 symposium of the National Academy of Sciences the low-level radiation risks were said to be four times higher than previously thought (Los Angeles Times, May 12, 1989). Human beings should not, therefore, be exposed to abnormal levels of radiation and electromagnetic fields, even if technologies must consequently be revised or delayed.

Warfare, Bombs, and Testing Nuclear Devices

Human history in Kali Yuga, the dark age, has been filled with unending conflict and warfare. While conflict may have started with the "wars in heaven," between the dual forces of Spirit and Matter, or Good and Evil, modern warfare is a ruthless expression of kama conjoined with lower manas.

The arsenal of weapons today is staggering. From poison gas and germs to big guns, air bombardment, and nuclear weapons, we have created a monstrous array of destructive mechanisms for killing and maiming. We might also include the countless small but potent weapons in the possession of gangs, criminals, and ordinary people. One could call this development a Kali Yuga mentality.

Even if the major nations with nuclear capability handle their weapons in a "responsible manner," smaller nations have given ample indication that they might not do so. Perhaps the safest alternative in this dark age, much as everyone dislikes prohibitions, is to keep such weapons out of the hands of all nations by mutual agreement and verification.

Nuclear testing continues in the face of a declining nuclear arsenal and diminished need for such weapons. Jonathan Schell's book, The Fate of the Earth, published in 1982 after appearing in the New Yorker magazine, gives an excellent evaluation of the dangers of nuclear technology. Conflicts must be resolved rationally to survive the presence of deadly weaponry.

A new nuclear problem exists today. Disarmament treaties with Russia require the dismantling of thousands of nuclear weapons. The dismantling will be costly, but the big problem is what to do with the many tons of radioactive plutonium. The deadly plutonium must be safely stored for thousands of years unless we can devise some way to "neutralize" it or use it in a safe, constructive way. This should become a major objective for researchers in all nations.

Nuclear Power Plants and Fallout

Nuclear materials are still used in the generation of electric power. Experience with nuclear power plants points to many questions on their safety and on the safe disposal of radioactive wastes. The cost of nuclear power has escalated, and it can no longer compete with conventional power. After the Three-Mile Island accident (U.S.) and the disastrous Chernobyl (Ukraine) experience, the American public has turned against nuclear power generation. So many nuclear projects have been shut down or cancelled. Other countries that are larger users of nuclear power may also reconsider their programs.

In theory the power of the atom can be harnessed to produce useful energy, but until complete safety can be assured and costs become reasonable, we had better look to other energy sources to replace our dwindling fossil fuels. Like fossil fuels, atomic sources are also limited. Some promising "clean" sources will be discussed in a later article.

Radioactive fallout from nuclear explosions, whether from tests, weapons, or nuclear power plant accidents, is a deadly toxin which will affect human health for generations to come. Like the chemical wastes diffused throughout our oceans, radioactive particles are diffused throughout our atmosphere. Both kinds of pollution will be difficult to remove or neutralize in the near future.

The Radon Gas Problem

In articles on air pollution we mentioned radon gas, one of several rare, inert gases in the air. Unlike other atmospheric gases, radon is radioactive, being released from subterranean sources, as indicated earlier. Concentrations of radon are higher in areas where there are ores of radium or uranium, or where the geology allows more radon to surface from the earth's crust.

Radon is drawn into buildings by small pressure differences between indoor and outdoor air. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Outdoors, radon is less dangerous because diluted with the other elements of air. Indoors, it can be detected with inexpensive test kits, now used more extensively.

There are measures which can be taken to reduce the contents of radon in homes where it is above the accepted "safe" measured limit of four picocuries per liter of air. In some cases, the cost may be prohibitive if the homes were built over radioactive fill dirt or with cement foundations made with radioactive sand. In those few cases, foundations and or dirt may have to be removed and replaced.

Flushing Polluted Indoor Air

Radon and fumes from indoor chemical pollutants may be flushed (diluted) with proper ventilation. Many heating and cooling systems restrict ventilation to minimize energy use. Thus, an independent, automated ventilating system is desirable -- one that would create little or no conflict with heating and cooling requirements and keep energy loss low. Exhaust fans, a simpler alternate means of diluting, are of course, less expensive than an automated system. If, however, there is a good breeze, open windows and doors may provide adequate fresh air flushing.

Metaphorically speaking, proper ventilation may also be applied to ourselves. If we are willing to clean our physical homes, should we not also be willing to clear out old mental and psychic skandhas? Steady winds, such as the tropical trade winds, perform this service for the earth, clearing away stale air and providing the freshness of renewal. Theosophical principles can serve, in a similar way, our thinking processes.

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