The recent earthquake and tsunami is a terrible tragedy for Japan and the Japanese people. At current count there are 17,000 dead or missing, according to the BBC news web site, and my heart goes out to the Japanese people in this difficult time.
Despite the terrible destruction and loss of life caused, the news headlines are largely fixated on the overheating fuel in a nuclear power plant which has been damaged by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. So far, some radioactive material has been released from the plant into the nearby environment, and people are worrying about it. Should they be? It’s hard for a layperson to know what the potential dangers are, and what the real risks of radiation are.
Here at the Surrey Physics department, we have a large nuclear physics group, and one of our staff members, Prof Paddy Regan, has been very busy in the last few days appearing on the news to make sure that the stories have some proper science content in them. He is the director of our MSc course in Radiation and Environmental Protection, and is an expert in the effects of radiation on people and the environment. Part of our role as researchers and experts in specialist areas of science is to stand up and lend our expertise when important news stories happen. Paddy has been particularly good at this over the years, and you can see him on the news, trying to bring a rational voice to the news coverage. Good job, Paddy.