When something’s going wrong…

It isn’t news that radiation scares most of us. I am surprised when I talk to nonproliferation scholars who also seem to treat all “radiation” as an unknown force of instant death. Most of us who aren’t scientists or technical experts don’t have a good frame of reference for understanding the actual dangers (or lack thereof) from radiation. There is a good deal to know about it and what constitutes danger. (There is some debate here, but the ranges aren’t too far off). I am disappointed when I read news stories which refer to “radiation” and fail to convey even the slightest bit of information beyond that.



This came up in reading about a “radiation” leak at WIPP. The article caught my eye because the headline included both ‘radiation’ and ‘underground fire’. The articles are available here and here. The events are unrelated, but lumping them into a single piece insinuating that there may be a lurking danger of safety lapses at the facility did catch my eye.

All that said- I do understand that journalists have to write for their audience. There are certainly examples of reporters doing a good job of balancing this constraint with the need to inform about what is actually going on. (With maybe some context for the radiation doses). For example Laurie Garrett on the aftermath of Fukushima in Foreign Policy here.

This can be a tough subject and getting to the meat of how dangerous an event is can be difficult. That doesn’t absolve anyone from telling a complete story. 


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