Does the U.S. really need to worry about radiation?

Roamy here.  Blame it on the “duck and cover” exercises in the 1950’s or yellow journalism, but many people are afraid of radiation.  I can remember when magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used to be known as nuclear magnetic resonance, and they changed it because people heard the word “nuclear” and said no to a useful test.  Easy enough to be afraid of something that can kill you and you can’t see it coming.

Discovery has a pretty good article here, and California has a FAQ here but I’ll distill it down further.

California is 5,000 miles away from Japan.  That’s a loooong distance for anything coming from Japan, so any radioactive elements have plenty of time and space to dissipate.  I’m telling my friends and loved ones on the West Coast that they don’t need potassium iodide – the half-life of radioactive iodine is 8 days, and it takes about that long to get here.  Furthermore, you’ll get a bigger headache from the side effects than any extremely slight benefit.  (For any children living with 20 miles of Fukushima, it’s another story.)

I learned my levels in millirem, but I’ll convert it to milliSieverts, since that’s what Japan is reporting.  (For some no-nonsense reporting on what’s going on in Japan, try World’s Only Rational Man.)

  • Radiation from Japan arriving in CA – <0.001 milliSievert (mSv) (they didn’t give a rate with this data – I’d assume per day for now.)
  • Sunbathing on the beach for a day – 0.01 mSv
  • Flying cross-country – 0.04 mSv
  • Extra yearly radiation dose if you live in a brick house instead of wood – 0.07 mSv
  • Chest X-ray – 0.1 mSv (though I’ve seen as low as 0.02 mSv)
  • CT scan – 1 to 2 mSv
  • Eating dinner off “FiestaWare” – 2 mSv 
  • Mammogram – 2 mSv
  • My allowed dose in a year where I work – 5 mSv
  • Barium enema – 3 to 15 mSv
  • Average dose to Ukrainians evacuated from Chernobyl fallout – 17 mSv
  • Average dose to Pripyat (nearest village to Chernobyl) evacuees – 430 mSv
  • What will make you sick, if received in a short amount of time – 1,000 mSv
  • What has a 50% chance of killing you, if received in a short amount of time – 5,000 mSv

If you’re going to squawk about radiation levels, I’d be more concerned with the body scanners at the airport.

7 thoughts on “Does the U.S. really need to worry about radiation?”

    1. Thanks for the link, jon.
      “If you flew in the Space Shuttle, you’d receive more radiation: between 433 millirem and 7,864 millirem depending on the duration of your mission.”
      I deal with radiation effects on materials, not people, but the above makes sense.

  1. Roamy,

    People are petrified of those things which they do not understand, I mean totally ignorant. I also grew up in the “Duck and Cover Era”. But our public schools including high school taught courses that were required for graduation on nuclear power. I don’t think any of us walked out of those courses feeling like we were nuclear scientists. We had enough knowledge to know what we did not know, this is a powerful point. We had about a dozen students who later became nuclear scientists. The students who did not become scientists had a very deeply seated knowledge, that caused many of us to always be asking questions. I’m not saying that it caused any of us to have a cockiness about the subject, but always asking sharp pointed questions. Within my life, I would find out the reasons why these courses were taught openly in our public schools.

  2. Great post!

    But I fear that facts will not be allowed to stand in the way of irrational crowing by media and the Clamshell Alliance crowds….

  3. If someone wishes to set their hair on fire, run around in circles and do the pee-pee dance; who am I to stop them. Having said that, a real scary book that I have on my bookshelf is DA Pam 50-3 The effects of Nuclear Weapons revised dated March 1977.

    If Antone has access to this book, refer to table 12.108 on page 580. Granted the total whole body dose in in Rems. the conversions can be found at wolframalfa.com web site.

  4. CT scans scare me more than what may arrive from Japan. Many people could do with more Iodine in their diet, but not the massive amounts you need to to fill your Thyroid gland to prevent absorption of I-131. The stuff you get in salt is utterly inadequate and is hard to absorb.

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