Putting Radiation in Perspective

There’s a lot of confusion and panic circulating in light of the events at Fukushima Daiichi. I won’t comment on the general state of safety in the nuclear industry (except to say that I feel perfectly comfortable going to work every day at one of Fukushima’s sister sites), but I think there is a dire need for clarification and context when it comes to the general public’s understanding of radiation dose and what it actually means.

To this end, several artists have posted very helpful visualizations. Next door at Mad Art Lab, Steve tells us about the BEM (Banana Equivalent Dose). This is a great (and amusing) way to think about our everyday radiation exposure from sources most of us would never have considered.

Over at XKCD’s “blag”, Randall has created a nifty visualization comparing radiation exposure levels of everything from sleeping next to someone, to the current daily estimated dose at Fukushima, all the way up to the level that WILL KILL YOU. He emphasizes that he is not a nuclear scientist and his chart should not be taken as absolute scientific truth, though he did collaborate with an expert, and this really is one of the best treatments of the topic I’ve ever come across, as far as putting the numbers into a readily understandable context.

Happy banana eating!

Related Articles


  1. It is a nice visualization, until you read the entry for cellphone use (under the group of blue boxes) and get… that… song stuck in your head. :(

  2. Thank you! My daughter had a CT scan several years ago and I have been beating myself up over it ever since. Did she really need it? Did I ruin her chance for a healthy reproductive life because I OKed the test? Ultimately, she didn’t have anything serious. Maybe they would have done an exploratory laparotomy if they didn’t have the benefit of the CT scan, which carries an even greater risk. I’ll never know for sure.

    In any case, the visualization puts her exposure in more perspective for me and does provide some comfort.

    That being said, a CT scan is not completely benign and the pros and cons should be considered carefully before going ahead. I wish I had known that when I made the decision for my daughter.

  3. Thanks for the info. There is way too much hysteria associated with ‘radiation’, and perhaps not enough with natural disasters.

    My concern over Fukushima is the inherent safety of the reactor complex. Over the last week I have read that it was ‘ageing’ and ‘would not be approved now’. Also a whistleblower has come forward claiming that the Japanese regulatory bodies were biased towards the nuclear industry.

  4. This past year I had 4 cat scans. My own doctor was concerned as she pointed out its cumilative. I ended up with serious surgery, and the cat scans were very important, but my doctor also pointed out that well …I’m older …
    However, she believes that with younger people the overuse of cat scans is a real problem. She has one new patient with severe migranes. Whenever the patient would have a migrane with her last doctor (and this was perhaps every other month for a severe attack) would order a cat scan to cover his butt. My doctor pointed out that 6 cat scans a year for 5 years in a very young woman was not a good thing. Doctor over use of radiation is a problem as doctors don’t want to be sued. (young men with kidney stone problems are often also cat scanned too much). Radiation may not kill you, but…it’s not something you want to sniff at either. My main problem with nuclear power is the cost. And the stupidity of the powers that be. More clarity, and less days of “oh no danger, it’s in control, seriously we’ve got this…” would have been welcome. Once public trust is lost, the nuclear industry has put the nail in their own coffin.

  5. I believe nuclear fission is not only a safe way to generate electricity, but that it is one of the safest, by far. That is not to say it is the answer to our world’s future energy needs. But it has its place, while we transition to enhanced solar and nuclear fusion.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button