View Full Version : Background radiation in perspective

03-31-2011, 10:25 PM
Radiation from the Fukushima disaster has increased radioactivity in Tokyo and produced measurable trace radiation in many parts of the world. Nonetheless, with radiation increased by the Fukushima disaster today's level in Tokyo is lower than background radiation in Hong Kong and many other parts of the world.


On a related note: if you believe that any radioactivity is bad for you (the anti-Coulter position) take a good hard look at granite counter tops or marble tiles that you may have in the house. Most varieties of granite produce radioactivity 100x that of background levels and a few varieties are sufficiently radioactive to reach unhealthy levels.

03-31-2011, 10:35 PM
It's certain types of radioactive isotopes such as iodine-131 and Caesium-137

03-31-2011, 10:48 PM
Regardless of the element from which the radioactive isotope is derived: ionizing radiation from one isotope is no more dangerous than that from another. What makes one isotope more dangerous than another is shorter or longer half-life and the amount of radiation produced. Iodine-131 is serious because of the concentrations produced in these reactor accidents. It has a fairly short half-life of 8 days. Caesium and plutonium are produced in much smaller amounts in these scenarios but have much longer half-life.

The chemical properties of these elements also contributes to potential health effects. Plutonium is a relatively mild chemical poison: it doesn't penetrate the skin well and can be washed off but is much more dangerous if inhaled or ingested. Iodine concentrates in the thyroid of growing children in the same fashion that radium is deposited to bones.

The Bigfella
03-31-2011, 10:53 PM
SICK veterans who took part in Cold War nuclear weapons tests in Australia cannot sue Britain's Defence Ministry, a court has ruled.

Britain's Court of Appeal said the veterans did not have enough evidence to prove their illnesses resulted from exposure to radiation.

Ten former servicemen had sought damages from the ministry, arguing that a low but significant dose of radiation during nuclear testing in Australia and on Pacific Ocean islands in the 1950s resulted in illnesses including cancer, skin defects and arthritis.

But the Court of Appeal said nine out of the 10 test cases cannot continue in court because the veterans launched the cases after the legal time limit expired and because the men could not prove that radiation - rather than the onset of old age - prompted their illnesses.

“We have no doubt that it will appear that the law is hard on people like these claimants who have given service to their country and may have suffered harm as a result,” Judge Janet Smith said in the judgment. She noted, however, that veterans exposed to radiation that might have caused them injury are entitled to a war pension.

The 10th case, that of Bert Sinfield, was entitled to proceed to trial. Mr Sinfield, who died in 2007, claimed damages for anaemia and lymphoma. The 10 were test cases among a group of 1011 veterans - most from Britain, though some are from Fiji and New Zealand.

Neil Sampson, a lawyer representing the veterans, said lawyers are considering taking the nine rejected cases to the Supreme Court.

He added that because the 1011 cases were all different, there was nothing to stop the others from suing.

Defence officials argued that the ministry took all precautions to protect servicemen from radiation exposure. It also said that in most cases, the men were exposed to no more than the background radiation they would have experienced in the UK.


What a load of codswallop. My uncle, who died of pancreatic cancer in his early 60's, flew Lincoln bombers through the atom bomb dust clouds to collect radioactive dust samples for the British scientists (Montebello Island tests). He said that when they landed, the scientists would come out in full protective gear to collect the dust samples... whilst Aussie servicemen in shorts and no shirt swept the plains down with brooms. The planes were dumped at sea because they were "hot".

Here's the only shot I could find of them cleaning the planes down


03-31-2011, 10:59 PM
I told ya it was dangerous.

The Bigfella
03-31-2011, 11:00 PM
It is... in big doses. We aren't seeing big doses.

03-31-2011, 11:28 PM
Servicemen got some big doses, especially during those first test blasts in the Pacific. If I recall the second thermonuclear test the US did turned out to have several times the expected yield and everyone considered to be in the closest "safe" zone got hit pretty hard. That included servicemen and islanders alike.

However we are not talking about trace amounts of radiation here. Scientist hadn't begun to understand the effects of radiation on biology at this time. The notion of a calculating a unit for equivalent dose radiation was a long time way. Roentgens and Sieverts were unheard of.

03-31-2011, 11:28 PM
Fair enough.
Chernobyl according to WHO killed fewer than 50 but...

03-31-2011, 11:32 PM
Chernobyl killed a lot more than 50 and they are not done dying yet. You have a pretty large area to the NW of Chernobyl that is currently evacuated and shouldn't be inhabited for another 300-1000 years. Some of the areas may be OK in 100 years. I hope the Fukushima wasteland is a lot smaller.

04-01-2011, 01:42 AM
This might help with perspective.

From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose):
A banana equivalent dose is a concept occasionally used by nuclear power (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power) proponents[1] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-0)[2] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-1) to place in scale the dangers of radiation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation) by comparing exposures to the radiation generated by a common banana (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana).
Many foods are naturally radioactive, and bananas are particularly so, due to the radioactive potassium-40 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potassium-40) they contain. The banana equivalent dose is the radiation exposure received by eating a single banana. Radiation leaks (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation_leaks) from nuclear plants are often measured in extraordinarily small units (the picocurie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picocurie), a millionth of a millionth of a curie, is typical). By comparing the exposure from these events to a banana equivalent dose, a more intuitive assessment of the actual risk can sometimes be obtained.
The average radiologic profile of bananas is 3520 picocuries per kg, or roughly 520 picocuries per 150g banana.[3] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-2) The equivalent dose (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivalent_dose) for 365 bananas (one per day for a year) is 3.6 millirems (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millirem) (36 μSv (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sievert)).
Bananas are radioactive enough to regularly cause false alarms on radiation sensors used to detect possible illegal smuggling (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smuggling) of nuclear material at US ports (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port).[4] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-3)
Another way to consider the concept is by comparing the risk from radiation-induced cancer to that from cancer from other sources. For instance, a radiation exposure of 10 mrems (10,000,000,000 picorems) increases your risk of death by about one in one million—the same risk as eating 40 tablespoons of peanut butter, or of smoking 1.4 cigarettes.[5] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-4)
After the Three Mile Island (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Mile_Island) nuclear accident, the NRC (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NRC) detected radioactive iodine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iodine) in local milk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milk) at levels of 20 picocuries/liter,[6] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-5) a dose (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dose_%28biochemistry%29) much less than one would receive from ingesting a single banana. Thus a 12 fl oz glass of the slightly radioactive milk would have about 1/75th BED (banana equivalent dose).
Nearly all foods are slightly radioactive. All food sources combined expose a person to around 40 millirems per year on average, or more than 10% of the total dose from all natural and man-made sources.[7] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-6)
Some other foods that have above-average levels are potatoes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potato), kidney beans (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kidney_beans), nuts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nut_%28fruit%29), and sunflower seeds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunflower_seed).[8] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-7) Among the most naturally radioactive food known are brazil nuts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brazil_nut), with activity levels that can exceed 12,000 picocuries (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curie) per kg.[9] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-8)[10] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-9)
It has been suggested[11] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-10) that since the body homeostatically regulates the amount of potassium it contains, bananas do not cause a higher dose. However, the body takes time to remove excess potassium, time during which a dose is accumulating. In fact, the biological half-life of potassium is longer than it is for tritium,[12] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-11)[13] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-12) a radioactive material sometimes leaked or intentionally vented in small quantities by nuclear plants. Also, bananas cause radiation exposure even when not ingested; for instance, standing next to a crate of bananas causes a measurable dose. Finally, the banana equivalent dose concept is about the prevalence of radiation sources in our food and environment, not about bananas specifically. Some foods (brazil nuts for example) are radioactive because of radium or other isotopes that the body does not keep under homeostatic regulation.[14] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_equivalent_dose#cite_note-13)

04-01-2011, 01:57 AM
The high cancer rates among people these days are not normal. They are due to nuclear tests in open air.

04-01-2011, 02:56 AM
There was some article a while ago that was laughed off, it claimed that skin cancer and lung cancer was caused not by the sun or by smoking, but by absorbsion of the skin and lungs of radioactive particulates since the first nuclear test (Trinity I believe). The article compared lung and skin cancer rates in heavy smoking, high solar radiation countries like Spain and Greece with light smoking low solar radiation countries which had higher incidence of the two cancers. The geographical difference was that these high cancer rate countries were all close to, and down wind from test sites. The Pacific Islands and the Mid US were prolific I believe. The danger of being radiated is not the same as having a radioactive particle obsorbed.

04-01-2011, 03:19 AM
They stopped open air testing for a reason.

04-01-2011, 04:40 AM
I lived in Salmon, Idaho as a kid from the late 50's to the mid 60's. I remember some of the older folks there who were convinced that the region was plagued by high cancer rates. One old son of a Welsh miner nicknamed Corny lived next door. He sold my Dad some questionable thorium mining stock that I still have around, somewhere. He was also convinced that the minerals in the ground were bad. It makes some sense. That mountain region of Idaho and Montana is rich in heavy metals. Gold, silver, copper, lead, cobalt, and thorium have been found in abundance. Thorium is radioactive.

We lived about seven miles out of town. Our well water had a sweet taste that a lot of of friends noticed when they came for a visit. In fact, a Jesuit Priest we knew would always bring a couple of empty gallon jugs along with every visit and fill them with our well water. He made his holy water from the stuff.

Must have been the lead in the spring water, I don't know.

I suspect there may be something significant about a lot of metals and weird elements in water but then again these people all lived their lives at altitudes well over 4,000' where cosmic radiation is stronger. We lived closer to 5,000'. Maybe altitude has a role to play. The Bannock and Shoshone that remained in the area seemed to live longer than anyone else, though.

When I look now at the daily RADNET plots for Sacramento I can't help but notice that the background radiation count has a sharp peak every day at about noon when the sun is closer overhead. It's all cosmic, man.

Corny died from pneumonia during the 70's just short of ninety years old. He quit smoking twenty years earlier but blamed getting gassed during WW1 for some of his health problems.

04-01-2011, 06:36 AM
John Wayne was a victim of the US nuclear testing program.
Reminds me of a slogan from the 70s:
Only a commie would object to being vaporised for democracy.

The Bigfella
04-01-2011, 06:46 AM
John Wayne was a victim of the US nuclear testing program.
Reminds me of a slogan from the 70s:
Only a commie would object to being vaporised for democracy.

Wayne had been a chain-smoker of cigarettes (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cigarettes) since young adulthood. In 1964, Wayne was diagnosed with lung cancer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lung_cancer), and underwent successful surgery to remove his entire left lung (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lung)[25] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marion_Morrison#cite_note-cr-24) and four ribs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ribs). Despite efforts by his business associates to prevent him from going public with his illness (for fear it would cost him work), Wayne announced he had cancer and called on the public to get preventive examinations. Five years later, Wayne was declared cancer-free. Despite the fact that Wayne's diminished lung capacity left him incapable of prolonged exertion and frequently in need of supplemental oxygen, within a few years of his operation he chewed tobacco and began smoking cigars until the day he died.

Among the 220 or so cast and crew who filmed the 1956 film, The Conqueror (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Conqueror_(film)), on location near St. George, Utah (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._George,_Utah), ninety-one had come down with cancer (41%), including stars Wayne, Susan Hayward (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Hayward), and Agnes Moorehead (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnes_Moorehead), and director Dick Powell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Powell). The film was shot in Southwestern Utah (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utah), east of and generally downwind from where the U.S. Government had tested nuclear weapons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapons) in Southeastern Nevada (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nevada), and many contend that radioactive fallout from these tests contaminated the film location and poisoned the film crew working there. Despite the suggestion that Wayne’s 1964 lung cancer and his 1979 stomach cancer resulted from this nuclear contamination, he himself believed his lung cancer to have been a result of his six-pack-a-day cigarette habit.[58] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marion_Morrison#cite_note-57) The effect of nuclear fallout on The Conqueror's cast and crew, and particularly on Wayne, is the subject of James Morrow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Morrow)'s science-fiction short story Martyrs of the Upshot Knothole.

thats from wiki

04-01-2011, 06:54 AM
This can still come back to haunt you many years after exposure. This effects me personally and several people I know.

Paul Pless
04-01-2011, 07:00 AM
It is... in big doses. We aren't seeing big doses.Or low doses over long periods of time, that's why medical workers monitor their exposure to low level radiation sources, also think about naturally ocurring Radon - now recognized as the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.

Paul Pless
04-01-2011, 07:03 AM
The high cancer rates among people these days are not normal. They are due to nuclear tests in open air.What about high fat diets? Exposure to increased non-radioactive polution? Pesticides? Stress? Exponential increases in the use of hydrocarbons? Etc. . . etc. . .

The Bigfella
04-01-2011, 07:03 AM
Isn't Radon a fairly common problem with carpet backing, particleboard, etc?

Paul Pless
04-01-2011, 07:06 AM
Isn't Radon a fairly common problem with carpet backing, particleboard, etc?Here in the U.S. its most associated with basements and superinsualted houses with low air turns per hour. Also the afore mentioned use of granite.

Is it not an issue in Australia?

Before our mortgage was approved our house had to be tested for Radon.

Paul Pless
04-01-2011, 07:10 AM
I heard an interesting report on NPR yesterday regarding the nuclear power safety. Both historically and recently since Chernobyl, more people have died mining Uranium than have died in nuclear power accidents. Kinda interesting.

Peerie Maa
04-01-2011, 07:12 AM
Isn't Radon a fairly common problem with carpet backing, particleboard, etc?

Radon is a problem in houses built over granite as it is a decay product from the radioactive isotopes in granite. It migrates to the surface and can be trapped and concentrated under the floors of some styles of construction.

Iodine and Cesium were mentioned earlier. The are problems because iodine will be absorbed and fixed in the thyroid. That is why iodine tablets are issued to prevent take up of the radioactive isotope. Cesium is a problem as it is chemically close to calcium, and so becomes incorporated into your bones.

04-01-2011, 12:59 PM
Two maps illustrating potential radon in the US.



04-01-2011, 02:13 PM
As said above, radiation isn't really the issue. Plutonium, a by-product of uranium fission, is benign until you take it into your body. If you breath it in, in small quantities(much larger than what is showing up from Japan) it will kill you. It's an alpha emitter, and those little particles do have mutagenic affects when in proximity to say lung tissue.

At this point, I'm not worried at all about the radiation reaching the Western hemisphere from Japan. I don't laugh it off, and it's good we're keeping an eye on it, but don't panic.