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How much radiation is safe? And how do you put into perspective the additional radiation from Fukishima?

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04/03/2011 02:30 PM
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How much radiation is safe? And how do you put into perspective the additional radiation from Fukishima?
Here is a link, forward to me by a friend, that provides an easy to read chart on radiation levels.

[link to www.informationisbeautiful.net]

It really helps to have a tool that puts those numbers into perspective. The benchmarks that I gleaned from the chart are (roughly):

10 uSV = average daily dose from air

400 uSV = average annual dose from food
2000 uSv = average annual dose from air (800 NYC; about 30,000 India - from another website)

100000 uSv = annual dose at which increased lifetime risk of cancer

It is not clear what the long term cumulative effects are of low level radiation. You have to assume that if radiation is stored in the body, then the internal emitters will continually increase over your lifetime. So, if you are ingesting 400 uSv at birth, then you have accumulated 20,000 uSV potentially emitting inside your body at age 50. Of course, if the half-life of radiation is less than a year, there would be little or no accumulation.

One way to look at it is that there is threshold of 100K uSv (above which there is increased risk of cancer) and that the threshold is the size of the glass you can fill each year before getting sick. That glass is all ready filled up 2% with the average annual dose from air, which would be higher at higher elevations. Let's say in Denver and the foothills, the average dose is 2-3 times the radiation at sea level (flight from NYC to LA is 4x) or 4-6% of the threshold (could be higher because of the uranium in the mountains). Then food increases the dose by another .4% (not much, except it accumulates). If there is fallout from Fukushima, that number would obviously be a lot higher and likely would continually increase. The chart does not mention water, which could be another source.

So, the analogy is that we are starting with a situation where the glass is about 4-10% full to start. Fukushima will start filling the glass to higher levels each year. The question is how much. The strategy would be to minimize exposure to radiation; that is to cut back on those things that will have the greatest impact. Each person will need to be more strategic about what levels of radiation they are exposed to and balance it with the basic trade offs of functioning in daily life (or survival). What we don't know yet is how much the Fukushima plant is or will add to our annual exposure. It is impractical (and unhealthy) to remain indoors all of the time; but there will have to be tradeoffs.

The chart mentioned above was really helpful. I was looking for a way to get a basic handle on the levels of radiation. It helped me to try to create a model (the "glass is half empty") to try and put the current situation into perspective. I get the sense that most people are not ready to deal with radiation exposure; they treat it as either as an exposure event (e.g., bombing or major leak) or it doesn't exist at all. I'm trying to find the right balance and adapt my behavior and lifestyle accordingly.

A few adjustments I am starting to make:

- drink charcoal to absorb toxins, reduce the load
- avoid going out in the rain (more likely to contain fallout from Fukishima)
- use charcoal filtered masks for exercise (not easy to do in Boulder unless you remain inside)
- store water in bottles in case there is a major fallout for short periods
- create decontamination area for removing outside garments upon entering house
- try not to wear shoes or bring outside garments in the house
- use HEPA filter to clean the air;
- look for filters designed to filter radiation from water
- look for/buy charcoal filters for air vents; seal cracks

These are just a few ideas...it will take time to refine them, and make them practical to use everyday. I am not a nuclear scientist and, obviously, have no idea if any of the observations or suggestions above are accurate. It is just my way of trying to get a handle on how to adjust to new world.

If you have any comments or other ideas, please post them on this thread.


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