21 March 2011

Radiation Irritation

With the drama unfolding at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant (or 福島第一原子力発電所), the fear of radioactivity has ratcheted up many notches.  I think this fear is largely irrational, and thus a phobia, and furthermore in need of rational information.

I have worked with radiation in the past, mainly 35S-labeled methionine, which has a fairly short halflife of about 3 months.  But I know my way around a geiger, have used dosimeter badges, and been responsible for radioactive waste.  I used it in the lab for pulse-chase and other radiolabelling experiments. The whole experience has so far made me much less concerned about radiation.  My exposure to all the safety procedures and day-to-day grind showed me that although there is risk, it is managed risk.

However, most people do not have such a positive exposure (get it?).  Radiation causes mutant spiders and cancer, and is dangerous.  This is all true, but the risk is overblown.  We can't even get Kick-Ass to be a reality, let alone Spider Man.

As usual, datanerd and comic stripper Randall Munroe has put together a well-sourced chart detailing the risks.  I like seeing how the levels from a mammogram are right between three-mile island and Fukushima I.  And how coal plants are worse than nuclear plants.  Plus seeing how your significant other may be trying to kill you with ionizing radiation from their body is nice.  Another fun tool from the EPA tells you your yearly dose in mrem.  All you people scared about fallout reaching the U.S. better move out of your brick houses.  Unless they're fallout shelters.

Ok, you may say this is all fan and dandy like sour candy, but you are a worrywart and just have to do something other than getting a new watch and throwing out your smoke detector.  You don't care for the charts, you just know that it's in the food supply and you want no part of it.  Well, then stop drinking milk.  Especially if you're young.  It happened before, so why not save the cows and yourself from being hurt and opt out?

And screw potassium iodide.  Unless you are at Fukushima I working on the reactor, it does nothing good for you, and may harm you.  If you want something shown to help eliminate radioactive material from the body, and has no bad effects (and in fact tastes great and is very healthy), eat some seafood.  Not sea meat, sea vegetables.  Sea meat does nothing for you.  I'm a fan of dulse flakes on mac and chreese.