Drink Driving And Radiation Risk

Although I have talked about this topic previously here is another attempt of explaining a big misconception about radiation risk by comparing it to drink driving. If you drink and drive the probability that you will end up killing yourself or someone else is extremely small (say 1 in 10,000 per year)1. So why is drink driving seen as a problem?

The answer is obvious. Just because the individual risk is small when this is multiplied up by the number of people doing it a large number of unnecessary deaths occur.

Unfortunately, for some reason, when it comes to radiation risk it is not so obvious for many people. For example Jim Al-Khalili in the BBC documentary Is Nuclear Power safe? – Horizon – BBC (there are also many other problems with this programme which I will not go into here). I have also talked to people who have been health physicists who were taught how to calculate individual risk for workers but never how to extend this to a larger population.

Many of the ‘experts’ that appear in the media explaining that the ‘anti-nuclear lobby’ overestimate the risks of radiation  seem to have not looked or understand what they call the ‘anti-nuclear lobby’ (such as Ian Fairlie http://www.ianfairlie.org/) are saying. As with drink driving individual risk and collective risk are very different things.

1 about 90,000 people are caught drink driving every year in the UK (www.drinkdriving.org/drink_driving_statistics_uk.php). I assume that most people do not get caught (say 1 in 50). However drink driving causes 430 deaths per year. Many more people are unnecessarily injured but as with thyroid cancer these are not fatal and therefore do not count.


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