"We're dead."

— Holden, The Expanse episode "Critical Mass" (S1E9)

In "Critical Mass", the ninth episode of the TV series of The Expanse, Holden and Miller are exposed to a high dose of radiation. When Miller asks how bad it is, Holden replies that it's lethal.

Through much of the following episode, "Leviathan Wakes", Holden and Miller are desperately trying to reach the Rocinante.

Once they do, the implication is that they're saved. How?

And if such powerful anti-radiation medication exists, why would Holden declare themselves dead?

Is overexposure to radiation curable in The Expanse?

While this question was brought on by the TV series, I'm interested in answers from the entire franchise.

  • Increased cancer risk is only a problem with lower levels of radiation. High levels of radiation are bad because it shreds your DNA so you literally can't create proteins. – Nick T Mar 8 '17 at 14:00

The source novel series indicates that advanced anti-radiation "Meds" are a reality. Dosages of radiation that would normally kill a human somehow become a chronic condition (one that requires careful administration of these drugs on an ongoing basis) rather than a fatal one.

“I’ve never actually seen the detector activate,” Miller said, his voice rough and faint after his coughing fit. “What does it mean when the thing is red?”
“It means we’ll be bleeding from our rectums in about six hours,” Holden said. “We have to get to the ship. It’ll have the meds we need.”
“What,” Miller said, “the fuck… is going on?”

Leviathan Wakes


Back in the protective shell, he took off the vac suit and hooked the air supply to the recyclers to charge up. With only one person to care for, even low-level life support would have it ready to go within the hour. The ship batteries were still almost fully charged. His hand terminal chimed twice, reminding him that it was once again time for the anti-cancer meds. The ones he’d earned the last time he’d been on Eros. The ones he’d be on for the rest of his life. Good joke.

Leviathan Wakes


Holden had been a naval officer for six years. He’d seen people die, but only from the vantage of a radar screen. On Eros, he’d seen thousands of people die, up close and in horrific ways. He’d killed a couple of them himself. The radiation dose he’d received there meant he had to take constant medications to stop the cancers that kept blooming in his tissues. He’d still gotten off lighter than Miller.

Caliban's War

Evidently these medications are in short supply and not cheap.

“I got three cousins died because Earth corporations wouldn’t sell the good cancer meds to Belters. Gave us the crap left over from the farms on Ganymede. Only vat meats aren’t like people, yeah? Don’t work the same, but who cares?

Nemesis Games

Apparently this class of drugs are referred to as "oncocidals". They work by preventing unwanted cellular division.

“What?” Fayez said. “He’s overcooked? The eye thing only likes us rare, and he’s well done?”
“Oh,” Elvi said. “It’s his oncocidals. After the Eros incident, he had to go on a permanent course of them. And that means… oh! That’s so pretty.”
“Oh good. What are you talking about? Why would his anti-cancer meds work on something from a different biosphere?”
“It means there’s a Dawkinsian good move down around cell division somewhere.

Cibola Burn

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    Is there anything you haven't read? Or are you searching / scanning, spoilers be damned? Anyway, great answer, which also makes it clear I really should read the books. – SQB Nov 24 '16 at 19:32
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    @SQB - Often you find that a writer's first book in a series is far and away the best. The subsequent novels are invariably the result of the commercial success of the first and are devoid of new idea and devoid of passion. They're simply an exercise in milking a popular franchise. Orson Scott Card's "Ender Series" is about the best possible example I can think of. – Valorum Nov 24 '16 at 19:57
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    The other Expanse novels are as good as the first in my opinion. I wouldn't call them sequels, they're continuations of the series. The characters evolve and given room to develop. Story lines are cohesive and change over the books so you're not simply served up variations of the first. – user71418 Nov 25 '16 at 14:11
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    @Tobiasvl - I acquired the e-books and short stories, created a new "Expanse" library in Caliber, converted them all to searchable epub format, then started doing library searches for meds, medications, radiation, cancer, tumor, etc then pulled out the relevant quotes. – Valorum Dec 8 '16 at 8:19
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    Just a point of terminology, medical folks would consider radiation exposure to be "treatable" with these meds, not "cured", since the therapy is continuous and death occurs if stopped. – Jason K Mar 8 '17 at 16:23

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