the one hand, the impact comes from perception of radiation hazard; and on the other, it is a result of a mechanism of social aggravation. Let us consider in brief the reasons and peculiarities of perceptions of radiation hazard.
The starting point of radiation awareness as danger was the creation of nuclear weapons, the bombing of Japan, and large-scale nuclear weapons testing. One of the main reasons for formation and strengthening of extremely tense and unequal perceptions of radiation hazards has been the arms race, which for one-half a century has involved all nuclear countries (from the United States, Great Britain, and the USSR in the late forties to India and Pakistan at the end of the nineties). Still, opposition to nuclear activities in general is a reason too. Ionizing radiation is considered to be not only dangerous for health, but also an inevitable hazard for future generations.
Many factors have affected the perception of ionizing radiation. They are: secrecy, which has surrounded nuclear weapons production everywhere; international campaign drives for elimination of nuclear weapon testing; new types of production (H-bomb, N-bomb) in certain countries; international alarm over the danger of expansion of nuclear weapons; intensive attention to radiation effects on human health and the environment.
Thus, a strong base exists for a special perception of radiation hazards in everyday life. It is seriously aggravated due to peculiarities of man-made accidents and catastrophes. Society more easily withstands natural disasters even if they have huge effects. This has been proven with quick revival of regions suffering from earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes, even if the danger of repeated disasters remains very high.
In case of a man-made disaster, the first social reaction is to search for a reason and for culprits. The higher the level of responsibility, the harsher the social perception of the catastrophe. Thus, accidents and disasters at state-controlled factories appear to be the most serious for their social effects. Also, radiation accidents are certainly characterized with harsher social effects because it is the State which controls the use of radiation activities and especially nuclear energy activities.
We can see great differences in social attitudes to accidents and disasters. One is characterized by an adequate response including the following stages: defining the scope of a catastrophe and precise classification of victims; searching for reasons and culprits; paying compensatory damage, mainly, by insurance systems; punishing the responsible bodies (a producer, an operating organization); and identifying reasons (construction, organization, human factors) in order to prevent repetition of the accident. Such accidents include fires and traffic incidents.
Society has adapted to traffic accidents in spite of the number of victims. Loss of life of dozens, hundreds, and thousands of people in train wrecks, car crashes, and shipwrecks does not cast doubt on their necessity. It means the society regards such hazards as socially acceptable.