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radiophobia

noun [uncountable]

an excessive fear of radiation, especially in relation to the health and environmental risks associated with nuclear energy resources

radiophobic

adjective

'The decline in public support for the nuclear power sector to a great extent results from the radiophobia caused by the Chernobyl disaster …'

Focus News 18th July 2006

'Chernobyl's real victims were 200,000 pregnant women in Europe who, caught up in a wave of radiophobic hysteria, feared that their fetuses would be damaged by radiation from the fallout and had their pregnancies terminated.'

Excerpt from Advantages of Nuclear Power by Donald Miller MD 14th April 2004

For many decades now, the world has lived in fear of the effects of radiation. However, amid more recent concerns about global warming and the world's depleting energy resources, the term radiophobia has hit the spotlight. It is now being argued that exaggerated fear of radiation and its environmental consequences – radiophobia – has caused an unjustifiable rejection of nuclear power as an energy resource.

Chernobyl has left an enduring legacy of opposition to nuclear power, now often referred to as radiophobia by technical experts investigating the long-term effects of the accident

The word radiophobia is mainly associated with the social and environmental consequences of what is regarded as the worst incident in the history of nuclear power, an accident occurring twenty years ago at Chernobyl, a nuclear power station in northern Ukraine. On 26th April 1986, there was an explosion in a reactor which, in the absence of a containment building, caused a cloud of nuclear fallout to drift over parts of the western Soviet Union, Europe and eastern North America. Large areas of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia were badly contaminated, resulting in the evacuation and resettlement of over 336,000 people.

The accident raised concerns about the safety of the Soviet nuclear power industry, slowing its expansion for a number of years. And whilst the number of deaths resulting from the accident, including those predicted by the World Health Organisation to die in the future, is still significantly less than the number caused by the nuclear bombing in Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War, Chernobyl has left an enduring legacy of opposition to nuclear power. This is now often referred to as radiophobia by technical experts investigating the long-term effects of the accident, which some people claim are not as bad as predicted.

The related adjective radiophobic is also used, especially in the context of attitudes and policies considered to unjustifiably oppose nuclear power as a potential solution to problems associated with global warming and dwindling energy resources.

Background – radiophobia

The word radiophobia is a blend of the suffix -phobia, used to form nouns referring to a strong feeling of fear or dislike of a particular thing, and radio-, a combining form meaning 'connected with radiation and radioactivity', as occurring for example in radiotherapy and radiology.

As well as being used in a general way to refer to opposition to the use of nuclear energy, radiophobia can also be used to describe a fear of X-rays, and a neurological disorder associated with an excessive fear of radiation. In the aftermath of Chernobyl, medical experts investigating the psychological consequences of the accident have suggested that certain symptoms (e.g. fatigue, memory loss, disturbed sleep) have no direct correlation to exposure to radiation, and are more likely related to some kind of neurosis.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 21st August 2006.

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