Social Aspects

What is “safe”? We could certainly look at a dictionary for a definition, but “safe” or feeling safe is different to each of us. This Web site uses “safe” to mean there is no need to fear or worry about the liability of harm or injury. Since there is no activity that is completely without risk, we individually decide whether an activity is safe for us or our children. For instance, some parents allow their kids to play contact sports, believing that it is safe because of all the protective equipment being worn. Some parents believe that even with the protective gear, the potential for injury is too high and they won’t allow their children to play.

Some activities that we initially believe to be pretty risky (for example, crossing a busy highway on foot), we later find out we can do without being injured if we are careful and take our time. There still is a risk, but it can be done safely. Sometimes we learn the hard way—we know we can safely use a knife to cut up veggies, but occasionally we cut our finger. It is a reminder that while cutting veggies with a knife is a safe activity, there is some level of risk.

Like these examples, people’s feelings about the risks of radiation are based on their idea of “safe.” Some of us grew up with the threat of nuclear weapons being used and had bomb shelters in our backyards. Today we are still worrying about radiation as a weapon, but in the form of a dirty bomb or an improvised nuclear device rather than a whole-scale attack. Much of this worry continues to be promoted in the media when depictions of the “mushroom cloud” imply that all radiation is bad.

And what about nuclear power and those medical x rays? How can some people believe nuclear power is safe while others think it is a bad thing? How can some people voluntarily get a CT scan just to see what it shows and others are fearful of having a broken arm x rayed? Again, like the contact sports or using a knife to cut, it is each person’s perspective. How much do we know about radiation? The less we know, the more we tend to think it isn’t safe. The more we know, the more likely we are to understand that it can be dangerous if used maliciously or it can be beneficial if used to diagnose disease, treat cancer, or generate electrical power.

The social aspect of the safe-ness or risky-ness of radiation is very personal. And we know it doesn’t help that those who are considered experts on this topic disagree about its safety and risk. However, with the information provided throughout this Web site, our hope is that you are able to make an informed decision about those radiation issues affecting you.