The Olympics have started and the preparations were intense, although the mood of the local population is mixed about that, they were all aware of the preparation, renovations, constructions and so on. What they are not aware of are the radiological protection measures that were taken for the security of the games. Last week the Institute of Dosimetry and Radioprotection distributed detectors of radiation to the host cities of Football and all places where the competitions will be held in the Rio 2016 Games. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the North American Department of Energy gave the material, as part of an agreement, which also covered Training of experts from the National Nuclear Energy Commission (CNEN), technical support, information sharing and assistance in Response Actions to a possible emergency. Although these actions are of great importance they are not common knowledge, in fact, most of nuclear operations and technologies on daily activities of the city are unknown to a great part of the population in Rio.
Last year I was part of a competition, although it was nothing related to sports it was also intended to be global: The Nuclear Olympiad. It was organized by the World Nuclear University themed Nuclear Techniques for Global Development. One of the tasks of the competition was meant to encourage the competitors to bring awareness about nuclear to the public and that was when the dimension of the lack of information about nuclear became more clear to me.
The population of Brazil has little knowledge about nuclear, even in Rio de Janeiro that has two operating nuclear power plants that are responsible for about 50% of the electricity of the city, and has a Cancer Institute that is reference and it plays a multiple role in all areas of cancer prevention and control in Brazil – prevention, epidemiological surveillance, treatment, information, education and research.
Public acceptance in nuclear is an extremely important matter and I came to realize that a great part of the population in Brazil and in some other countries only hear about nuclear when something that will “sell newspapers” happens like the accident in Fukushima. During the process of the Olympiad I chose to talk about nuclear medicine and people where very receptive when founding out that radioactive material is used to diagnose sickness and treating diseases when I think they could remember was radioactive elements polluting water in Japan.
Part of the problem is that the nuclear industry and its professionals usually talk to their own public, in events about nuclear that doesn’t reach the part of population that is not informed about this industry. So it was fulfilling to see all the media attention advertising the benefits of the nuclear technology to a large population when coming back from the International Agency of Atomic Energy in Vienna had I just won the Olympiad.
Although the Olympics this month and the Paralympics next month have nothing to do with nuclear, I wish this industry would use this big event as a stage to show that this great technology is present in our life. Educate people about it, showing that it is used for our benefit with news like the following being well received by the media instead: During the competition the Institute of Radioprotection and Dosimetry will keep ready several specialized teams of response and radiological evaluation besides monitoring the training and competition sites.
Alice Cunha da Silva A recent UFRJ graduate ( Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) and currently working as a nuclear engineer at Westinghouse.