Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Radiation chart

With all the talk about the radiation from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi power plant, it can be easy to get lost in all the hype. Yes, the situation is bad, but like any event that requires understanding of scientific subjects, the truth has been overshadowed by the musings of the uninformed.

To make matters worse, we are dealing with a term that generally scares people to begin with, radiation. Years of bad horror movies involving mutant insects, doomsday scenario films as well as images from actual radiation victims has put society on edge whenever the term is used. To make matters worse, radiation has been detected in certain food products, such as milk and spinach. Though the actual health risk is minimal, as stated by Japan's State Secretary of Health Minister Yoko Komiyama:

"Can you imagine eating 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of spinach every day for one year?"

While the radiation levels are above limits, the amounts are hardly dangerous. Just when dealing with radiation, countries are rightly cautious, both for the sake of society and due to the innate fear radiation causes.

To further put things in perspective, Randall Munroe of XKCD has put together a chart to show what the actual radiation levels are in comparison to other events and what we experience in our day to day lives. I have included a small except here:

To clarify, the measurement for radiation absorbed by the human body is measured with the Sievert (Sv). The image shows amounts in millisieverts. It takes around a whole Sievert over a year for potential damage to accrue. For more information on this and radiation in general, Ethan Siegel, the theoretical astrophysicist over at Starts With A Bang has much more information.
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