Answer to Question #11952 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Nuclear Power, Devices, and Accidents — Nuclear Power

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:

Q

What is being done by the nuclear industry to educate people on the real risks of radiation and radioactive material? As a member of the National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists (NRRPT), I am concerned that I have been reading and seeing more and more hyperbole and fear-mongering about Fukushima, and I have to work very hard to find information that disputes the "information" or mollifies the individuals who post it. Real education about radiation and radioactive material in the kindergarten through 12th grade system would seem to be a positive step to stemming this. As it is, we have the nuclear industry presenting itself as lollipops and puppies while the media present everything from radiation turning people into green, glowing puddles of slime to developing superpowers. Is anything at all being done toward public education on a large scale?

A

Your question has been around since the early days of nuclear energy. Many attempts have been made to provide rational information to the public. It has not been easy, as you noted. Organizations like the Health Physics Society (HPS), without a connection to the nuclear industry, have be seen as credible sources of information about radiation and radiation effects.

Let me tell you about a speakers' bureau I was on, sponsored by a nuclear industry trade group. With the help of a public relations agency, we spoke to groups like the Rotary Club and others. We went to media outlets to stimulate coverage. We also held events on college campuses whenever we could.

We actually had good luck with radio stations. I did several call-in shows that had a wide reach. But with the exception of radio stations, I gave up on expecting rational coverage from the media, especially TV stations. They're not in the education business. Still, I think the effort had an overall positive result.

Regarding schools, I've found that only students in the upper high school grades can process information that is as technical as radiation risk. Since it is possible to arrange lectures and demonstrations for high school science classes, please don't be afraid to contact your local high school with such an offer. Also, some HPS chapters have held nuclear science workshops for high school science teachers. These are well attended and have been successful.

Finally, I don't think "large-scale" public information works. Only people who are concerned about radiation (e.g., facility neighbors) are receptive to radiation risk information. We need to think small in this area. Identify the concerned group and reach out to them specifically. Be proactive. Since you are a member of NRRPT, I challenge you and your colleagues to take the initiative.

Joel I. Cehn, CHP

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