Thursday, January 7, 2016

A "Media Created" Fear?

Dr. Bernard Cohen - who was group leader for cyclotron research at Oak Ridge about the same time I was researching my toes in the shoe store X-ray machine - had noticed a disparity between the deaths and injuries from radioactivity accidents and the media's concern over this danger. So, like the researcher he is, he obtained the number of entries in the New York Times Information Bank for the years 1974-1978 for various types of accidents and the death toll resulting from them. [Bernard Cohen, The Nuclear Energy Option, Plenum Press, New York, 1990, pp. 58-59.] (This avoided the Three Mile Island "disaster," which would have made the situation look much more ridiculous than it already does.) His data looked like Table 1.

Table 1: News Stories on Deaths from Various Causes [Source: New York Times Information Bank, 1974-1978.]


News Stories
Deaths per Year
In Previous Decade
Auto accidents
120
50,000
500,000
Industrial accidents
50
12,000
120,000
Asphyxiation accidents
20
4,500
45,000
Radiation accidents
200
0
0

This table reminded me of two news stories I read less than a month apart some years ago, both of which reported more than twenty deaths in two separate geothermal well accidents in South America. Do you remember them? Or the dozens killed in refinery accidents and pipe line accidents? How about the 100 people that are killed each year from being hit by trains carrying coal for power generation? I guess those people are not as important as the people who didn't lose their lives in nuclear accidents.