Almost 10 years ago, I wrote a blog on Fiestaware when I noticed that the Post Office had issued a stamp honoring the man who had designed the original Fiestaware line (Frederick Hurten Rhead). My tone was a bit lighthearted, as one color of classical Fiestaware was made with a uranium glaze that gave it a distinctive orange color, so it had become something I personally enjoy collecting and using. (Well, collection may be a bit exaggerated, but I do have a couple of pieces, and I also have a couple of pieces of Vaseline glass, a product that similarly used uranium to color glass. And for any other would-be collectors, I do want to note that the Fiestaware that is in production today doesn't use that glaze. You have to look in antique shops.)
I did not think I would ever have a reason to revisit this subject, but yesterday's news featured an article about a school at which a hazmat emergency was declared because a student brought in a small sample of uranium-containing classical Fiestaware! The first thing that has me scratching my head is that the student brought it in because they were demonstrating the use of a Geiger counter. A Geiger counter needs a little radiation to show it's stuff! Duh! The second thing that struck me about this story is the profound ignorance that still surrounds anything with the "r word"--radiation.
People seem to be able to put other risks in perspective, but whether because of history, because it is invisible, or for any one of a number of other reasons I have heard, people do not seem to be able to understand even the basics of radiation. This clearly is one factor that has dogged the nuclear power industry for its entire existence.
I wish I had a magic answer to this dilemma, a way to educate people and to make them understand what they should fear and what they do not need to fear. But it is clear that, as we continue to try to educate the public on the safety of nuclear power plants, we need to keep in mind that we should be sure the educational tools cover things more basic than the nuclear power plants, in particular, the radiation from not only the nuclear plants, but from even such innocuous items as an antique orange plate.