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Keeping Radiation in Perspective

One of the reasons there's so much fear of nuclear energy is that to most people (myself included) the world of nuclear physics seems completely incomphrensible.  Likewise, the term "radiation" is awfully scary, but as in the case with so many other things, the poison is in the dose.  This chart is helpful in maintaining a sense of perspective.  Note that close proximity to the Fukushima facility on March 16-17 exposed people to only slightly more radiation than women do every day getting mammograms--and to considerably less than they would in having a chest CT done.

Here's an interesting tidbit--one is exposed to more radiation by eating a single banana than one is by living for an entire year within 50 miles of a normally-functioning nuclear power plant.

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Discussions - 3 Comments

The idea that "the poison is in the dose" applies to radionuclides is incorrect. Just as women can't get more pregnant from higher quantities of sperm - only 1 will make it happen, some of the rest might have been capable but are rendered useless after fertilization - it takes just one single radioisotope to initiate a mutation or a cancer. Nobody knows which one that will be or how it will find a vulnerable point in the body to do its damage.

The chart, while factual, is problematic in how it is being misinterpreted, as in the silly implication that because most of us eat bananas the people living around those nuclear reactors in Japan are really just eating a few more bananas. That's silly.

I'm sure you've got a very solid lock on the choir you're preaching to here, John, so I won't devote much effort to this, but for starters the chart fails to distinguish between isotopes. Being "dosed" from an X-ray is different than getting doses from cesium. And americium, uranium, plutonium-234, cesium, and iodine, among many others, are all different in their pharmacokinetics in how they can specifically infiltrate the human body and how they can effect cells. It's a crap shoot, basically, and while it's always better to get less exposure to ionizing radiation (esp. that emitted from nuclear reactors - it's not the same as that from bananas - duh?), getting even the minimal amount is no guarantee that one will not experience negative health impacts. I don't see why the people of Tokyo should feel reassured by this chart that they're now being "dosed" with cesium/caesium-137 (that too is more serious than banana potassium) in their tap water, or that their kids might get a radioactive shot of iodine if they eat their spinach or drink their milk. (see various reports coming from Japan) Cesium-137 would be a choice isotope for a dirty bomb - bananas, not so much.

More here on the desperate efforts of the right to minimize the dangers of ionizing radiation:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/03/will_radiation_hormesis_protec.php

Obviously, there are solid practical reasons to think of radiation exposures in terms of doses - some higher, some lower - but that is no reason to dismiss or shrug off the very unnatural radiation risks that come from nuclear reactors and nuclear waste.

This is the sort of nonchalance that allows people to think it's A-OK to "recycle" these dangerous substances into such things as.... recliners!
http://www.scrippsnews.com/node/43582

(Armchair warriors - beware!)

Thanks very much for the clarification, Craig.

Your article contains good information. Every thing have its advantage and disadvantages. Provide me some more details on the japan radiation. Does it is harmful or not.

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