The Truth About Dangerous Radiation Levels

Our brains don’t understand abstract units very well: how much is a thousand pounds? But we can process data in relative terms pretty well: a thousand pounds is about five guys, or a half of a car. Because of this and the recent news about radiation leakage in Japan, xkcd made a very helpful infographic illustrating radiation absorption in relative terms. The SI unit of absorbed radiation is a sievert, abbreviated Sv, and the graphic shows how much radiation is absorbed under various circumstances, in terms of that unit. Some highlights:

  • Eating a banana gives you more radiation than living within 50 miles of  a nuclear power plant for a year
  • Using those ancient not-flat monitors for a year is equivalent to 10 bananas, or living within 50 miles of a coal power plant for 3 years, or a nuclear one for 11 years.
  • A flight from NY to LA is 4x the normal daily radiation a person is exposed to, also equivalent eating 400 bananas (about a truckload), or getting 8 dental x-rays.
  • 11 days of radiation nearby the Fukushima nuclear power plant that got damaged by the Japan earthquake, is about the same as the flight from NY to LA.
  • The natural potassium in our body over a year is like 10 of the NY-LA flights, or 3 months near the Fukushima power plant.
  • Smoking a pack of cigarettes is like spending two weeks at the Fukushima Town Hall after the accident.
  • Living in a stone, brick or concrete house gives you more than twice the radiation legally released by a nuclear power plant.
  • The daily radiation at Fukushima is a little more than that from a mammogram
  • The lowest radiation level in one year that’s clearly linked to increase in cancer is equivalent to:
    • 4 weeks at Fukushima
    • about 18 chest CT scans,
    • 33 mammograms, or
    • Smoking 913 packs of cigarettes in a year (~18 packs a week)
    • eating one million bananas. That last one would be over 2700 bananas per day.

Updated May 22, 2011 to include info about cigarette radioactivity.

Via Slashdot


  1. Cigarettes Are Radioactive | Apt46 - pingback on May 22, 2011 at 11:23 pm

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