The terrible toll from Japan’s tsunami came from the wave, not radiation
I have watched a TV programme called ‘Fear Factor.’ In the series there are contestants who have to confront their worst fears to see who bales out and who can fight the fear and get through.
People who are afraid of heights are made to Bungee-jump off a high bridge, and people who are scared of spiders or insects are made to get in a bath full of spiders.
In virtually all cases the contestants later say that the fearful experience was not actually as bad as they feared. So the fear of the fear was greater than the fear itself ‘when the chips were down.’
This is often the case in life, that the fear of some factor turns out to be worse than the experience itself. The human mind builds a very scary image in the imagination. The imagination then feeds the fear.
If the picture in the imagination is not very specific or clear it is worse, because the fear factor feeds on the unknown.
This is what has happened in the public mind concerning nuclear power over the last half century. Concepts concerning nuclear reactions and nuclear radiation are in themselves complicated and mysterious.
Over the last couple of decades physics advances in fields such as quantum mechanics, which is linked to nuclear processes has compounded matters for the public. The image of strong and mysterious forces and effects is now well entrenched. There are Hollywood movies and TV programmes about space travellers or alien invaders who use time travel and quantum forces, and then battle to evade the dangerous intergalactic nuclear zones.
A consequence of all this is that internationally the public is now really ‘spooked’ when it comes to the topic of nuclear power. A real ‘fear factor’ looms over the mere word ‘nuclear.’ Newspapers love this, and really push imagery like; ‘nuclear leak’ or ‘radiation exposure.’
To a nuclear physicist like me, I look upon such public reaction half with amusement and half with dismay. The amusement comes from the fact that so many people can be scared so easily by so little. It is like shouting: “Ghost in the bedroom,” and everyone runs and hides in the hills.
The dismay reaction is that there is a body of anti-nuclear activists who do not want the public to know the truth, and the anti-nukes enjoy stoking the fear factor and maintaining public ignorance.
Let us now ponder the Fukushima nuclear incident which has been in the news again lately.
Firstly let us get something clear. There was no Fukushima nuclear disaster. Total number of people killed by nuclear radiation at Fukushima was zero. Total injured by radiation was zero. Total private property damaged by radiation….zero. There was no nuclear disaster. What there was, was a major media feeding frenzy fuelled by the rather remote possibility that there may have been a major radiation leak.
At the time, there was media frenzy that “reactors at Fukushima may suffer a core meltdown.” Dire warnings were issued. Well the reactors did suffer a core meltdown. What happened? Nothing.