(ETA: If you're interested in what's going on, or could have happened, at Marcoule, the radioactivity level monitoring page operated by the Commission de Recherche et d'Information Indépendantes sur la Radioactivité (CRIIRAD), an independent nuclear watchdog organization, may be of interest. Click on "Installations Nucleaires" to see where the Marcoule facility is. The nearest region for which there are both air and water measurements is the Avignon area; click on that to get to PDF charts.)
This year I've heard more about radiation than I ever thought possible. First there was the tsunami that damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plants of course, about which I wrote extensively on this site and elsewhere. And most recently, there was this accident in southern France, in Marcoule, which is about
50 40 km from our house. I were sitting in the mairie (town hall) of our local village this afternoon, signing some documents and stuff, when the official who was taking care of us took a phone call. It was from a 'concerned' citizen asking whether iodine pills would be made available due to the accident. The official reassured the caller very politely (nothing sounds as polite and elegant as politely spoken French) that they were not as of yet deemed necessary, and that the mairie, police and fire department were all on top of things. Then he hung up and shrugged a tiny bit. (In case you are wondering, the atmospheric radiation levels are at normal levels in the immediate vicinity of the facility where the accident occured. Of course, France being so heavily dependent on nuclear energy (it's a major export commodity for them among other things) they are puting a lot of effort into damage control on all levels.)
In case you are wondering, no, neither Max nor I are are at all worried about radiation poisoning or getting a hold of iodine pills. There's no cause to be. And, if I were, I'd be a total hypocrite, because last week, I had so many tests that involved radiation (in particular a CT scan), that helped to pinpoint those pesky cancerous cells in my body. Later this week I'm going to be starting a multi-week course of radiation therapy, which means more radiation exposure of course. (I may get something called "radiation burn". Sounds fun.) Without the existence of radiation related medical technologies, my chances of living a long enough life to become a dotty old aunt that my niece and nephew can be embarassed about are probably not so good.
I know, it's totally different when you are exposed to controlled, low doses of radiation voluntarily (not that you specifically asked in advance about it; not that I would have said no) vs. getting some unknown amount via the atmosphere. The thing is though, like it or now we humans have been living with this thing called radiation for a while now, and it's used for good and bad. Very bad of course is its use for weapons of mass destruction. Good is its use to treat or diagnose medical conditions. Perhaps nebulous is its use to generate energy. It's obvious that far stricter safety measures need to be in place, if it's used for that purpose, especially in earthquake prone areas.
Radioactive/nuclear something is the boogeyman of today. Every other thriller movie plot seems to involve a "dirty bomb". The hysteria surrounding the Fukushima plant accident from some parties, both within Japan and without, is sometimes sickening - not to mention the profiteering and pot-stirring by various parties with their own axes to grind. But surely this is not the way to face such an issue. Accidents are tragic, but what's the use if one cannot learn from them? What's the use of running around yelling "I don't understand so I'm scared of it, I want to forget it ever existed!"? If people who are screaming anti-nuclear slogans and acting like headless chickens every time 'something' happens are to be really consequent, they should refuse any medical treatment that involves radiation. You think they'd do it? Would you?
Me, I'm not refusing my radiation therapy. Do I keep a slightly wary eye on the nuclear power plant location about 30 km from our house (Tricastin)? Sure. Am I worrying myself sick about it? Not on your life. I have plenty of other, much more immediately worrisome things to worry about, thank you.
The nuclear genie has been out of the bottle for decades, and we can't push it back. As the species who let that genie out, surely we are responsible for learning to control it properly, safely - not bury our heads in the sand about it.