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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


To the Ottawa Citizen, regarding recent media coverage of radioactive sewage sludge in Ottawa, and events at Chalk River Laboratories (published 2009 February 25):


Radiation is Political

Did anyone else notice how quickly the story of Ottawa's radioactive sewage sludge disappeared, as soon as it was realized that the contamination likely came from a hospital and not Chalk River Laboratories up the Ottawa River? The story was on talk radio and Parliament Hill when it was suspected that it might put the finger on a government nuclear lab, and specifically the minister in charge of it.

It didn't matter that the recent "leaks" from Chalk River turned out to not be leaks at all, but responsible environmental stewardship on a scale that probably makes many other industries in the Ottawa area pale in comparison.

It didn't matter that billions of becquerels of natural radioactivity drift past Ottawa every day in the Ottawa River, and that radioactivity itself is as natural as rocks, water, air, and you and me.

What matters is that radioactivity, quite simply, scares the bejeebers out of people. It apparently doesn't even help to know that we can measure radioactivity more accurately and more easily than any other environmental agent. Those trucks of sewage sludge carried a potent cocktail of chemicals, but radiation is all you can measure at a distance and through the truck walls, not to mention instantaneously and with great precision. This is, in fact, exactly why radiation has become so effective and indispensable at solving industrial problems, diagnosing disease, and detecting fires in our homes.

But the radioactive poop saga showed that something else matters: where the radiation comes from. Radiation is political. The radiation we bathe in and worship during the summer, and spend big bucks to chase in the winter, is good radiation. The radiation that kills cancer and fights heart disease, is undeniably good radiation.

And radiation associated with nuclear reactors, even in infinitesimal amounts, is bad radiation.

I suggest that folks think about this, and consider that the men and women at Chalk River Laboratories are the same dedicated and ethical creatures you'll find hard at work all over this planet trying to make it a better place to live.

Jeremy Whitlock,

Deep River

Past President, Canadian Nuclear Society

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