Understanding radiation


The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos, New Mexico contains a bunch of exhibits about the history of Los Alamos National Laboratory and its science and research work. And with alarm bells continuing to sound around the world in light of Japan’s troubled efforts to contain a nuclear contamination crisis at its Fukushima Daiichi plant, (and folks on the West Coast and beyond stockpiling potassium iodide for fear of exposure to drift) I found myself drawn to the “Understanding Radiation” display during a recent visit to the museum, which includes a chart to help folks calculate their annual radiation dose (scroll down to the end of this post to figure out your own personal annual dose.)

The display notes that the three main sources of radiation for folks in the United States are from outer space, fallout from past nuclear testing and nuclear power plants.

“Exposure doesn’t make you radioactive but can cause biological harm measured in units called rems,” the display stated, noting that our exposure to ionizing radiation is measured by a unit called a rem.
“On average, each of us receives a total dose of about one-third of a rem (362 millirem) per year, from all sources,” the display notes.

The average American receives about 360 millirems in one year, according to the Bradbury Science Museum, and the display includes a pie chart that shows that the biggest slice of our annual dose comes from natural sources, starting with radon gas, which is present in most rocks and soil and building materials, is produced in small amounts in buildings, and can build up indoors, especially in basements and tightly sealed buildings.

The second highest source is a combination of natural cosmic radiation (the dose you receive from the sun and outer space) and terrestrial radiation (the dose you receive from the ground).

The third largest dose comes from medical and dental procedures, including X-rays.

That’s followed by internal radiation (what comes from our bodies), consumer products, other sources, and lastly, an average annual but very small dose from Los Alamos National laboratory activities.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for the Los Alamos National Laboratory clarified that the small dose from the lab's activities opnly applies to folks living in the immediate area. “Our exhibit notes that Laboratory activities contribute about 1/10 millirem to the public - to a person who lives in Los Alamos year-round,” they clarified. “ It doesn't apply to someone living in say, the Bay Area, let alone a person who lives in the Bay Area and doesn't visit Los Alamos (or the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for that matter)." [So, my apologies for my misinterpretation, and thanks for the clarification!]

Now, maybe, like me, you did not pay attention/or did not retain the information from your chemistry classes on nuclear fission, fusion and fallout. If so, what follows could be of interest to you.

And if you did pay attention, rest assured that I’m trying to figure out if folks will need to start factoring in a new annual dose level related to leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi plant. (Today’s news is all about how marine life faces a threat from the runoff: high levels of radioactive cesium have been detected in seawater near the damaged nuclear reactors, and this is raising the disturbing prospect that radiation could enter the food chain. Cesium 137 levels have been detected at 20 times the normal level at 1,000 ft from the effluent at the plant. These levels are far less than the iodine 131, which has been found spilling from the plant at concentrations of more than 1,150 times the maximum allowable levels. But the problem is that unlike iodine 131 which degrades relatively quickly, (it becomes half as potent every 8 days), cesium 137 has a half life of 30 years and is absorbed by marine plants, which are eaten by fish, and tends to bioaccumulate (become more concentrated) as it moves up the food chain (as big fish eat smaller fish).

Anyways, I’ll update this post, when we get more information about the size and nature of the leaks, which are thought to have occurred when seawater was dumped on the overheating reactors. (The idea is that the seawater picked up the radiation before it washed back out to sea, but other sources are also thought to be possible).

In the meantime, read on if you want to brush up your understanding of radiation/or better understand the sources of your annual personal radiation dose:

“Radiation is energy in the form of waves or particles,” the BSM display observes. “Radiation is energy traveling at the speed of light. It makes up familiar parts of our world, such as visible light, ultraviolet light and infrared light, radio and television waves, X-rays and microwaves.”

That said, the display goes on to explain that the problem is with ionizing radiation.

“Is radiation harmful?” the display asks. “Most radiation is not, but some radiation carries enough energy to separate molecules or remove electrons from atoms and this can damage living tissue. This type of radiation is called ionizing radiation. It includes particles and energy emitted from radioactive elements and the X-rays used in medicine or at airports. A less energetic form of radiation, ultraviolet rays from the sun, can burn our skin.”

So, how can we protect ourselves from ionizing radiation?
“We can protect ourselves from the effect of ionizing radiation by applying three principles: time, distance and shielding,” the display states.

“We use time to allow a radioactive material to decay and thus decrease its radioactivity. Or we limit the amount of time we are exposed to the source of radiation.”

“We use distance between us and the source to decrease the likelihood it will reach us.”

“We use shielding between us and the source of radiation to absorb or stop radiation before it reaches us.”

“We can protect ourselves from the effects of ionizing radiation from internal hazards (inhaling or ingesting radioactive material) through the use of engineered controls (like containment and ventilation) and personal protective equipment (like anti-contamination clothing and respirators).

Ionizing radiation comes in two forms: a) Waves or rays and b) particles.

One type is similar to visible light and occurs as waves or rays, e.g. gamma rays, X-rays. And, as the museum explains, gamma radiation and X-rays can easily penetrate our bodies and so are external hazards. They can be stopped by dense material such as lead, concrete and steel. Examples of gamma-emitting radionuclides are cesium-137 and cobalt-60, uranium-235 and plutonium-239, in addition to being alpha-emitters, also emit gamma radiation.

The other type of ionizing radiation is known as alpha, beta and neutron radiation and is produced by energetically charged particles.

Alpha radiation
Alpha particles (two protons and two neutrons) can be stopped by a single sheet of paper and cannot penetrate clothing or the outer layer of skin. So externally, alpha radiation is not a hazard. But if alpha particles enter your body by breathing and eating, then they can be an internal hazard. [Examples of alpha-emitting radionuclides are Uranium-235 and plutonium-239. And as recent reports from Japan have explained, plutonium has been found at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. While the source is currently not clear, the reactors could be a source, as could tests of tests of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, because even though these ended in 1980, they left trace amounts of plutonium around the world. This is worrying because Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years and can cause healthy tissue to turn cancerous if it gets deep inside the body.)

Beta radiation:
Most beta particles are negatively charged and have a short range in air and cannot penetrate other substances very deeply. But if beta radiation has enough energy, it can penetrate your skin, so it’s considered an external hazard. It can be stopped by plastic, aluminum, wood, and clothing. Examples are phosphorous-32 and hydrogen-3 (tritium) which is deemed to be a very low hazard.

Neutron radiation
Neutrons are neutrally charged, subatomic particles emitted during a nuclear reaction in radiation-generating devices like accelerators and nuclear power plants.
They are also emitted by special radionuclides like californium-252 or by ionization of materials like plutonium plus berrylium. Highly penetrating, water, concrete and hydrogen-rich materials make effective shields.”

How to measure your exposure
Our exposure to ionizing radiation is measured by a unit called a rem.
“On average, each of us receives a total dose of about one-third of a rem (362 millirem) per year, from all sources,” the museum display notes.

How to calculate your personal annual radiation dose.

1.    Calculate your Cosmic radiation level
The level of cosmic radiation depends on your altitude:
If you live at sea level, you receive 26 millirem, a year.
If you live at 0-1,000 ft above sea level, it’s 28 millirem.
If you live at 1,001-2,000 ft, it’s 31 millirem.
If you live at 2,001-3000 ft,  it’s 35 millirem.
If you live at 3,001-4,000 ft, it’s 41 millirem.
If you live at 4,001-5,000 ft, it’s 47 millirem.
If you live at 5,001-6,000 ft, it’s 52 millirem.
If you live at 6,001-7,000 ft, it’s 66 millirem.
If you live at 7,001-8.000 ft, it’s 79 millirem.
If you live at 8,001 ft and plus, it’s 96 millirem.

2.    Now add the terrestrial radiation, the dose you receive from the ground:
If you live closest to the Atlantic Coast, add 23 mrem.
If you live closest to the Gulf of Mexico, add 23 mrem.
If you live closest to Colorado Plateau (AZ, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico) add 90 mrem.
If you live closest to the MidWest, add 46 mrem.
If you live closest to the Pacific Coast, add 46 mrem.
If you live closest to Alaska, add 46 mrem.
If you live closest to Hawaii, add 46 mrem.

3.    Add your radon gas dose
Add 200 mrem (the U.S. Average) for radon gas we breathe.

4.    Add natural radiation dose for food and water
Add 40 mrem for average natural radiation from food we eat and water we drink.

5.    Fallout from past atmospheric testing of nuclear devices
Add 0.5 mrem for fallout from past atmospheric testing of nuclear devices.

6.    Occupational exposure
Add 44 mrem if you work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory as a radiation worker, or your occupational dose from your job.

7.    Radiation from different medical treatments
If you have X-rays of the arm, hand, foot, or leg, add 1 mrem.
If you have Xrays of the chest, add 6 mrem.
If you have X-rays of the pelvis/hip, add 65 mrem.
If you have X-rays of the skull/neck, add 20 mrem.
If you have barium enemas, add 405 mrem.
If you have upper gastrointestinal tract radiography,    add 245 mrem.
If you have dental X-rays, add 2 mrem.
If you have CT (computed tomography) scans, add 110 mrem.
If you have a plutonium-powered pacemaker, add 100 mrem.
If you have a thyroid scan, add 14 mrem.
If you have porcelain crowns or false teeth, add 0.07 mrem.

8.    Depending on your lifestyle, place of residence, here are more factors to add:

If you travel by air plane, add 0.5 mrem per hour in air.
If your luggage is inspected, add 0.002 mrem.
If you live within 50 miles of a coal-fired electric utility plant, add 0.03 mrem.
If you live within 50 miles of a nuclear reactor, add 0.01 mrem (not counting Japan).
If you smoke 1/2 pack of cigarettes per day, add 500 mrem.
If you smoke 1 pack of cigarettes per day, add 1,000 mrem.
If you smoke 11/2 packs per day, add 1,500 mrem.
If you smoke 2 packs per day, add 2,000 mrem.
If you have a smoke detector, add 0.008 mrem.
If you live in a stone, adobe, brick, or concrete building, add 7 mrem.
If you wear a luminous wristwatch, add 0.06 mrem.
If you use a gas compression lantern, add 6.2 mrem.

9.    Average annual dose from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, add O.1 mrem.
The museum notes that this dose is, “a small fraction of the amount the public receives from some consumer products and our natural environment.” And it clarifies that a mrem, or millirem, is one thousandth of a rem.

So, you’ve added up your annual dose, but what does this mean in terms of health?

“Radioactive materials give off ionizing radiation that can alter the chemical makeup of human tissue,” the museum display notes. ‘The amount of damage depends  on the amount of radioactivity.” (And the time, distance and shielding involved, see above).

‘It’s clear that very high exposures such as those experienced at Chernobyl can be fatal,” the display continues, noting that 31 people died within the first few weeks at Chernobyl after receiving radiation doses in excess of 1,000 rems, and that many others, who were exposed to doses of 100 rems, have a 1 in 100 chance of developing cancer.

“It’s very difficult to determine at exactly what level exposure to radioactivity becomes dangerous,” the display states, noting that worldwide the number of fatalities over the next 50 years were estimated to be as high as 17,000. (Again, this was before the March 2011 triple disaster in Japan.)

The display observes that a 1991 study by the International Atomic Energy Agency measured no increase in any radiation-related illnesses in villages near the site.
“But the study did not look at the highest-risk populations closest to the site,” the display added, noting that there were no fatalities in 1979 at Three Mile Island, when reactor failure allowed “small amounts of radioactive water and steam to be released from the containment structure.”

“Exposure levels to folks nearby were less than 100 millirem per year, which is about one third of the normal background yearly dose,” the display observed.

It also noted that strontium and radium are biologically active, which means they can migrate to bone tissue and stay there a long time. And that radioactive iodine can replace the stable iodine which is very important to human health. “Radioactive iodine is taken up by the thyroid and can pose a significant health risk.” (Hence the rush on potassium iodine, even though radioactive iodine degrades fairly fast, and the radioactive risk can be combated by banning fishing and the consumption of seafood for a period of time as Japan is already doing.)

The display clarifies that exposure doesn’t make you radioactive, but it can cause biological harm, and that medical X-rays are by far the largest artificial source of radiation for the average American.

For more information, you can also check this chart from the Public Domain here


This is a very useful article, thank you. I'm saving it for future reference.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 7:53 am

Glad you found it helpful.Today's news includes the fact that the International Atomic Energy Ageny has found high levels of radiation outside the Japanese evacuation zone: http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/asiapcf/03/30/japan.nuclear.iaea/index.html

Posted by sarah on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 12:17 pm
Posted by sarah on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

And Japan Times reports that lots of ideas are being floated to staunch the radiation leaks. These include storing tainted water in tanks, and covering the reactor sites with fabric shrouds: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/

Posted by sarah on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

My co-worker Adam also pointed me to an item about the Petkau effect, named after a scientist named Petkau, who was measuring the way that a dose of radiation would rupture a cell membrane, when he found that weaker doses can also destroy membranes. <!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 <![endif]-->

" This was counter to the prevailing assumption of a linear relationship between total dose or dose rate and the consequences," notes an entry that you can read more about by checking out this Wikipedia link:

<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 <![endif]-->


Posted by sarah on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 3:43 pm

Since this article is written in the context of the Japanese nuclear disaster it appears to me to be an anti-nuke scare piece. Just what are we Americans supposed to do at this time with minuscule amounts of radiation from Japan being recorded?

“We can protect ourselves from the effect of ionizing radiation by applying three principles: time, distance and shielding,” the display states.

So, are you saying that we have to wait, say, 30 years, the half-life of cesium-137...or more? Where will we pass the time? The antipode of Sendai is a few hundred miles off the coast of Uruguay. And will we have to wear lead suits for 30 or more years?

C'mon! The subject here is about the natural and artificial radiation we are exposed to during our life on Earth. Also noted in your article about Three-Mile Island: “Exposure levels to folks nearby were less than 100 millirem per year, which is about one third of the normal background yearly dose,” the display observed.

You say "Anyways, I'll update this post, when we get more information about the size and nature of the leaks, which are thought to have occurred when seawater was dumped on the overheating reactors."

If massive amounts of radiation from Fukushima reach us in California, we are doomed.

Posted by DanC on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

Let's remember that this information is being provided via a nuke lab with a vested interest in lying about health dangers. Three Mile Island was much worse than we were told, and by extension worse than these materials claim.

And there is another option besides lead for fending off at least radioactive iodine. If you feel your thyroid might be low on iodine, take potassium iodide or sea vegetable supplements.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Mar. 30, 2011 @ 6:28 pm

My starting point for writing this post was wanting to understand radiation. I don't know about you, but it's not something I work with or think about every day. Recent events in Japan changed that. And when I saw that potassium iodide was selling out in California, I went to Google Earth, drew a line between Japan and the West Coast, and determined that 5,000 miles lies between us. So, it seemed to me that the most immediate concern was for folks who live near the reactor. But then I wanted to remind myself how radiation works, so I took a detour to Los Alamos, while in New Mexico. Yes, Los Alamos is in the "nuke business", as one commenter puts it. But that doesn't mean, to me at least, that I should discount their scientific explanations of how ionizing radiation works.

Posted by sarah on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 10:55 am

The problem is that Los Alamos and most other nuclear engineers and scientists focus on levels of exposure to the actual waves of radioactivity coming from radiation sources and hitting one from the outside, while downplaying the true and far more serious danger of radioactive pollutant releases leading to directly breathing in, or otherwise ingesting, even one particle of a radioactive substance.

Just so much as one particle (especially of plutonium) is enough to massively raise the likelihood of a person contracting cancer or leukemia.

So all of this focus on levels of exposure is simply a deceptive and dangerous distraction.

Los Alamos knows all this full well and purposely perpetuates the deception.

By focusing on 'levels of exposure' to ambient radiation they can incorrectly compare nuclear accidents to taking airline trips, getting x-rays, and 'background' radiation, while totally avoiding the -core- problem of being exposed to ingesting extremely dangerous toxins internally (so dangerous that, like dioxin or asbestos, there is no safe level of exposure to them whatsoever).

And this is what makes even the tiniest amount of pollutants reaching California from Japan, vitally important to understand, as a very serious and unacceptable danger.

So, your article is an obvious first step, but, that step done, we now need to dig far deeper.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

"At that level, a person would have to drink 1,000 liters of milk to receive the same amount of radiation as a chest X-ray," said Dr. James Cox, radiation oncologist at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center."

Cox was quoted saying this in the context of today's reports that radiation has been found in milk in California: <!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 <![endif]-->http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/31/radiation.us/index.html?hpt=T2

Posted by sarah on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

Right on. This is precisely the point. Cox's equivalent comparison of external exposure to x-rays, and drinking particles internally through milk, is a totally spurious, outrageous and worse, purposeful, deception.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

So, yes, Eric, we do need to keep on digging, while brushing up our understanding of the science behind the problem.

Posted by sarah on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 <![endif]-->

I just got a helpful response from the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s communications department regarding my recent visit to the Bradbury Science Museum. I’d sent them a number of questions, including asking if the display was up-to-date.


“Yes, it was freshened up last summer,” their communications spokesperson replied.


I also asked if it was possible that in future the display will include a new category related to the crisis in Japan.


“ It is unlikely that any time soon the museum would change or add text to the exhibit to include a Pacific Ocean fish exposure,” the LANL spokesperson replied. “This might depend on how soon we receive actual hard data on that exposure, which is likely to be minuscule, but no determination has been made at this time.”


In a recent Time magazine article, the author used millisieverts to measure the biological risk of exposure to radiation, and stated that acute radiation sickness begins at 1,000 millisieverts. I asked LANL to clarify how that compares to BSM's use of millirems?

” 1 Sievert equals 100 Rem, so 1 millisievert = 100 millirem. There is a good explanation at http://hps.org/publicinformation/ate/q2779.html ,” the LANL folks replied.


They noted that in my references to sources of annual millirem dosage received, I’d mentioned "a very small dose from Los Alamos National Laboratory activities." They clarified that this statement may be misleading, since they wouldn't want readers to infer that everyone everywhere receives a small dose of radiation from Los Alamos.

“Our exhibit notes that Laboratory activities contribute about 1/10 millirem to the public - to a person who lives in Los Alamos year-round,” they clarified. “ It doesn't apply to someone living in say, the Bay Area, let alone a person who lives in the Bay Area and doesn't visit Los Alamos (or the nearby Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for that matter).

So, I'm updating the blog post to reflect this point, and hope it didn’t cause undue concern.

Posted by sarah on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

If you are freaked out by news that radiation has been detected in Berkeley, it's worth checking out the website that the Department of Nuclear Engineering at UC Berkeley has put together to answer frequently asked question. You can check it out here: http://www.nuc.berkeley.edu/node/2044#doseequiv

Posted by sarah on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

I can see I'll have to be more specific.

Here's the fundamental difference between external and internal radiation exposure.

When you receive an external exposure because you are near an accident, or a microwave emitter, or a piece of uranium, etc, you are receiving streams of particles which hit your body, some entering it, and with some of those striking cell DNA and making changes. However, once you move away from the emitter, those alterations stop happening.

However -internally- once you ingest or inhale even one molecule of a radioactive substance, it fixes itself into a cell of your body, and continuously releases radiating particles at ground zero to your DNA, directly into that cell and into neighboring cells, in perpetuity, until the molecule itself decays.

This is why it is totally inaccurate to compare a single external exposure like an airline flight to a continuous internal exposure, such as an inhaled molecule of plutonium fixed into a cell of your lung tissue.

External exposure generally has to be extensive and repeated, to cause sufficient cell mutations to trigger something like cancer. (Although it is very important to note that even one small temporary external exposure to ionizing radiation -can- cause disease. And the process is cumulative, so the more you avoid temporary external exposures like flights and x-rays, the better.)

But -internal- exposures, since they are in continuous direct contact for a very long time with specific cells into which they have become lodged, can far more easily lead to disease.

So the measure of danger from an internally lodged radioactive molecule, is a -completely- different question to the severity of an external exposure to emitted particles, the latter which increase in danger the closer you are to them, the higher their number, and the longer you stay near them.

Those who compare internal and external exposures with the same perceptual yardstick, are either being purposely deceptive (usually the case) or need to be better educated on the profoundly different health effects of internal exposure.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

Hence the ban on milk, vegetables and fishing in Japan, right now, I guess.

Posted by sarah on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 5:30 pm


And we even have reason to be concerned here as well since it is showing up in our food, is therefore in the air as well, and only one particle ingested can be a serious problem.

It is totally unfair that this stupid archaic industry has even put us into a position in which we have to worry about this outrageous intrusion on our bodies...

Posted by Eric Brooks on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

Japan Nuclear Fallout Radiation Found In San Francisco Rainwater 18,100 Times Above Drinking Water Limits


"Despite countless reassurances that no harmful levels of radiation from the Japan nuclear fallout would hit the US from the EPA, the University of Berkley in California is now reporting that rainwater in San Francisco water has now been detected at levels 18,100 times above federal drinking water standards.

Again, with just about all other news of the radiation hitting the US, the news is once again reported to the public over a week after it was first detected."

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 10:14 pm

Is today April Fools Day?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2011 @ 10:26 pm

Today is April Fool's Day, yes. But the news from Japan continues to be no joke: authorities admitted today that Iodine-131 had been found in groundwater near the compromised reactors, and that many employees had been  working in the power plants without personal dosimeters:


Posted by sarah on Apr. 01, 2011 @ 11:36 am

Government Under Fire as Radiation Is Found in Milk, Rain

"Radiation from Japan rained on Berkeley during recent storms at levels that exceeded drinking water standards by 181 times and has been detected in multiple milk samples, but the U.S. government has still not published any official data on nuclear fallout here from the Fukushima disaster.

...The EPA’s tardy response to widespread alarm about radiation in rain and the air has been sharply criticized by Daniel Hirsch, a nuclear policy lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"It’s troubling that the EPA has to date not provided any precipitation data of its own, while measurements that have been made by states and others across the country are indicating somewhat surprising elevations of iodine-131,” Hirsch said Friday.

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/12cPx)

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2011 @ 12:05 pm

On March 23 I was on my bike in the rain for several hours and got drenched because I was afraid to cancel a doctor's appointment because he would have found it outlandish that I suspected that SF may have been experiencing a radioactive "rainout."

Now it turns out the rain water had 18,100% of the legal limit of Iodine 131.

To put that in perspective, Sarah, the link you pointed to said that the groundwater at Fukushima was 10,000% above limits, and NASA thought that was so high as to be unlikely and made the Japanese test it again.

That is about half the amount of radiation detected in the rainwater falling on SF on March 23.

Words cannot express my deep, deep anger at the EPA for not warning me to stay out of the rain on March 23.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

I was in Safeway yesterday and noticed the soy milk was on sale. At the checkout counter the person in front of me put a gallon of milk on the conveyor belt-thing. My eyes met with the eyes of the Safeway cashier and we expressed a weird kind of non verbal communication as I put my half gallon of soy milk up for check out.

The point being that soy milk is on sale at Safeway ha ha!! Starting to like them.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 02, 2011 @ 12:33 pm

'Don't freak out' seems to be today's official message. If there is one thing we have learned from this disaster, it's how little the average person truly understands radiation and its potential dangers.

Posted by sarah on Apr. 04, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

Oh wait that was 10,000 times normal not 10,000% of normal.

Will I have to learn percents now every time it rains until this is all over?????

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2011 @ 5:33 pm

Today's bad news is that the Tokyo Electric Company is draining radioactive water into the ocean from its damaged nuclear power plant. And that more radioactive water is pouring into the ocean through a leak in a pit inside the plant.

The "good" news? "Mixing radioactive water with uncontaminated seawater can lead to a rapid decrease in radiation levels," according to an analysis from the International Atomic Energy Agency that's reported in today's New York TImes: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/04/05/world/asia/20110405-japan-....

The ugly truth? "The short term concern from radioactive water would be iodine 131, owing to 'possible enrichment in the marine food chain.'"

In other words, as small fish get eaten by bigger and bigger fish, the problem grows (much as mercury's tendency to bio-accumulate has led to warnings against eating tuna and other top level predators). 


Posted by sarah on Apr. 05, 2011 @ 10:15 am

Fukushima Internal Emitters

An ill wind comes arising
Across the cities of the plain
There's no swimming in the heavy water
No singing in the acid rain

Absalom Absalom Absalom

Posted by NadePaulKuciGravMcKi on Apr. 05, 2011 @ 11:58 am

To give credit where it is due.

Neil Peart, the lyricist and drummer for the band RUSH, wrote:

"An ill wind comes arising
Across the cities of the plain
There's no swimming in the heavy water
No singing in the acid rain

Absalom Absalom Absalom"

as part of the song 'Distant Early Warning'
on the album, Grace Under Pressure

The full lyrics can be read at:


Posted by Eric Brooks on Apr. 05, 2011 @ 12:27 pm

Eric, you do a lot to call your credibility into question, but a solid knowledge of Rush takes the fucking cake.


Posted by Guest on Apr. 05, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

As RUSH and Peart have evolved as artists over time, their thinking has progressed far beyond their early and simplistic libertarian Rand-esque roots.

You write them off too casually.

The lyrics on Grace Under Pressure speak for themselves.

But we are veering off topic. If someone at the SF Guardian will write a blog about the inanities and failed philosophy of Rand, maybe we can pick up this thread in a more on point forum ;)

Posted by Eric Brooks on Apr. 05, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

Meanwhile, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is claiming that the leak of radioactive water has stopped.

"The news was a bright spot amid a series of setbacks Japanese authorities faced Tuesday, including the detection of radiation in a fish and news that the water gushing into the Pacific had radiation levels millions of times above the regulatory limit," CNN reports.

Posted by sarah on Apr. 05, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

Today, Japan Times notes that seawater radiation limits have shot far past their limits, and discusses the implications for marine life and the fishing industry: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110406a1.html
The New York Times discusses how the US is worrying that measures being taken to keep TEPCo's compromised plant stable pose new threats. These include the fear that containment structures used to store contaminated water could rupture during aftershocks, and that there could be more explosions in the plant, because cold seawater used to cool the reactors contains a lot of dissolved oxygen. As a result, nitrogen is being injected into the plant for the first time since March earthquake/tsunami.

Posted by sarah on Apr. 06, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

In the United States, internal Nuclear Regulatory Commission documents reveal doubts around safety measures at nuclear plants:<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 <![endif]--> http://allthingsnuclear.org/

Posted by sarah on Apr. 06, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

And an article at New American media explores whether Japan was hiding a weapons program inside its compromised nuclear plant:


Posted by sarah on Apr. 06, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

Today, as a 7.4 earthquake hit Japan, U.S. sources say that the core of the compromised Fukushima Daiichi plant probably leaked: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/07/world/asia/07japan.html?_r=1&hp

Posted by sarah on Apr. 07, 2011 @ 9:56 am

Contamination from Fukushima nuclear plant spread around the entire Northern Hemisphere in the two weeks following the March 11 disaster:



Posted by sarah on Apr. 08, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

And according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the EPA is internally debating relaxing radiation exposure limits now so that it can claim current post-tsunami exposures are safe...



Posted by Eric Brooks on Apr. 08, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

Didn't we all already know this somehow?

"Japan Nuclear Crisis: Officials Raise Crisis To Highest Severity Level, 7, On Par With Chernobyl"


"...NISA officials said one of the factors behind the decision was that the cumulative amount of radioactive particles released into the atmosphere."

Posted by Guest on Apr. 11, 2011 @ 8:50 pm

Folks probably weren't surprised today when Japan announced that the crisis at its Fukushima nuclear plant was at a Chernobyl level: http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110413a1.html

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But it's shocking to discover that itinerant workers were among those braving high radiation levels: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/world/asia/10workers.html



Posted by sarah on Apr. 12, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

Europeans warned to avoid drinking milk or eating vegetables due to high radiation levels


Posted by Guest on Apr. 12, 2011 @ 5:38 pm



A Rainout is the process of precipitation causing the removal of radioactive particles from the atmosphere onto the ground, [1] creating nuclear fallout by rain. The rainclouds of the rainout are often formed by the particles of a nuclear explosion itself and because of this, the decontamination of rainout is more difficult than a "dry" fallout.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 13, 2011 @ 8:12 am