Why should you measure, when there is nothing to measure? This was the central question at the third meeting in our Making Sense pilot in measuring gamma radiation. The explanation of the RIVM environmental institute brought back memories of my secondary school physics lessons. And despite my interest in the subject, many of principles behind the various aspects of radiation are incomprehensible to me.
It is obvious that radiation can be measured very well, and RIVM is thoroughly doing so in The Netherlands. And just putting a piece of black tape on my (laptop) camera can also function as a nuclear measurement device (gammasense.org).
What sets it apart from air quality of noise pollution is the point why I should need to measure radiation myself. As long as there are no nuclear incidents, as a citizen you would measure, well... nothing. The background radiation levels in The Netherlands are very low. Hospitals are also very conservative when it comes to X-rays, and you are less exposed to radiation here then in many other countries.
The urgency to measure radiation yourself becomes clear when a problem emerges. And such a problem would probably directly scale to a disaster. Where air quality may gradually worsen and measures can be taken to improve the local situation, measuring radiation is more a controlling act, that has a value for activists to put the topic on the agenda. But for citizens, it is of less use to strive for a reduction of radiation in the local environment, although it can support the lobby to shut down nuclear power plants.
At the Maastricht meeting, the specialists involved showed all the measures and procedures that exist in case a problem arises. They work with much attention and care. In these very precise protocols, provising irregular and not-so-exact data does not fit, hampering the collaboration with citizens.
There is a strong case for a more detailed measurement network for radiation, as the probability of an incident somewhere in Europe in the next years is real. Radiation can have long-term effects on agriculture and livestock farming. The more we know about the spread of radiation, the better we can avoid unneccesary exposure.
On 25 June, the Making Sense team will be present at a demonstration to close the Belgium Tihange and Doel power plants. We will show the participants on location how you can measure radiation yourself with simple means, and we well further research how one could build a citizens measuring network, even when there is nothing to measure.