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.