Uranium, the genie
Public speaker is the friendly face for nuclear energy in Canada

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 25/97) - God didn't make junk.

So believes Frank Finley of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., who dropped by St. Pat's high school recently to talk about uranium and the myths associated with radioactivity.

"It has more potential for good than evil," he said.

Finley is a travelling salesmen for nuclear energy, speaking to 30,000 people a year all over the world, from student groups to industry conventions.

AECL is the Crown corporation set up to promote Canada's nuclear industry. And while Finley isn't selling anything, he is promoting nuclear technology. His job is to counter the negative impression that Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and other nuclear accidents have left in the minds of many Canadians.

During his recent stint in Yellowknife, he visited both high schools to give energetic, informative presentations on the uses and origins of radiation in the everyday world.

"Everything gives off radiation -- color TVs, smoke detectors," he said. "Condoms and tampons are treated with radiation. Radiation doesn't make you radioactive."

While Finley's presentation is funny, easier to understand and chock full of information, it also gives a serious message about the real sources of harmful levels of radiation.

He sites the false impression sources like xxxThe Simpsons leave on television viewers, and presents what he says is a more scientific picture of what radiation is all about.

"Two biggest causes of cancer -- sunlight and tobacco -- are highly radiative," he said. "Smokers get more radiation than any employee at an atomic plant."

(The radioactive element polonium-210 is found in tobacco leaves and is released when the tobacco is lit, exposing the smoker to low levels of radiation.)

Then there are the benefits of radioactive elements such as radium. Nuclear medicine, for example, uses radiation to enable doctors to look inside the body for tumors.

He calls his uranium rock -- an omnipresent prop in his discussions -- a "genie" that can get rid of cancer. "It radiates energy from a little black rock called uranium," he said.

Finley, who has worked for AECL since 1957, said that people have to understand radiation and its potential to bring a lot of good for humankind. Radiation may mean a new fuel source for generations to come.

"Nuclear power will never be absolutely safe, but it will be as safe as humanly possible," he said.

Graham Hanna, a Grade 10 student, said that the presentation was inspirational -- "Just hearing about new sources of power is interesting," he said.

At the end of his talk, Finley bids everyone goodbye -- "May the force be with you," he said.