Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Radiation and Fear Itself

fear_1_lg As you can see in the post below, the brief scare about radiation over the weekend has quickly faded and there are still no signs of increased levels.

The Environmental Protection Agency has put up a Frequently Asked Questions page to explain how increased radiation levels are detected in the United States. I knew some of this but not all of it. Well worth a visit.


From NPR this morning, a discussion between Dr. Robert DuPont, who teaches clinical psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School and specializes in the study and treatment of fear, including the fear of nuclear energy:

DuPont: God, you've got people in California taking potassium iodide to prevent cancers from the radiation from this plant. What is that? And I think the answer is in biology. Fear dominates our attention. Whatever the tsunami was, whatever the earthquake was, that's over. Sure, it could happen again. But the nuclear reactor? Who knows.

That’s a little harsh – lack of good information played a part - but it leads into a productive conversation between DuPont and NPR’s Renee Montagne about fear of nuclear energy.

Montagne: Now, what makes people's reaction to nuclear energy so different than other energy sources - for instance, you know, drilling for oil or coal mining - when they have also some quite tragic, you know, loss of life and danger in the industry?

DuPont: They do, but it's familiar and it doesn't have the connection to Hiroshima that we have with nuclear power, and it's also familiar. We're used to thinking about industrial accidents.

The whole thing is worth a read. I’d hate to think that anyone suffered an irrational fear of nuclear energy, which is really rooted in a fear of radiation, but there you are.


But maybe it’s too easy to point to fear – either of nuclear energy or radiation – as determinative the response to Fukushima Daiichi. In the local event, a fear mongering media must take a large role. Or is even that true?

Only 44 percent of those who took part in the CBS telephone survey said they were more fearful of a possible nuclear accident in the U.S., even as Japan struggles to put the lid on their own potential catastrophe at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

And that means:

Fifty-three percent of those polled said they were no more fearful of a similar catastrophe in the U.S. than they were prior to the ongoing issues at Fukushima.

Well, that still means that 44% are afraid of an accident here. CBS doesn’t appear to have polled it, but that must be a big uptick from the number prior to the Japan earthquake and a number that will doubtless decrease as time passes. For the moment, though, it suggests that efforts to name and dispel the fear are important.

That’s what EPA and NPR are doing and, of course, what NEI is doing, too. If this is polled again in a month or so, we’ll have a better way to judge fear whipped up by alarmist coverage and fear that sustains itself.

Not sure where this came from – I’ve seen old books on acting that showed your how to express different emotions. Pictures like this abound in them.

1 comment:

CrisisMaven said...

Your readers might be interested in the pertinent question of how to treat their radioactively contaminated drinking water: