Radiation Reality Check

Radiation in Perspective

I’ve covered this ground more times than I care to recount but a recent piece from Discovery News gave me the sudden urge to repeat myself, again.

So here’s the shocking news: radiation is all around us. We are inundated by it every single day of our entire lives. It isn’t killing us; it isn’t man-made; and, only an infinitesimal amount of it comes from nuclear power plants and uranium mines.

Radiation is simply the process of elements (a.k.a. the building blocks of everything in the universe) shedding particles (a.k.a. the tiny things that make up every element).

Radiation is the most common, naturally occurring phenomenon in the entire universe. Our bodies are constantly exposed to this radiation from everything we encounter in our lives – our food, our water, the earth, rocks, trees, buildings, you name it. (Here’s where I caution my anti-nuclear friends to think twice before hugging that tree.)

And the most astonishing thing is that radiation isn’t scary or dangerous. Our bodies are designed to be exposed to it every single day without any harm to our health.

Many routine activities expose us to radiation, such as airline travel, medical x-rays, eating food and even standing next to another human being. That’s right, even your spouse is slightly radioactive! The sun is radioactive, and so is the Earth, and that pretty granite countertop in your kitchen.

Does this ever-present shower of radiation mean we should tremble in fear or run around like Chicken Little, anxious and paranoid that the sky is falling down on us?

No. The minimum annual radiation exposure linked to an increased lifetime risk of cancer is 10,000 mrem, which is a hefty dose of radiation. How hefty, you might ask?

That’s the equivalent of having 1,000 medical x-rays in a year – almost 3 every single day.

That’s more than 1,400 times the radiation exposure you would get from living near a uranium mine for an entire year.

You would have to fly from Los Angeles to New York City and back 2,000 times in a single year to rack up that kind of radiation dosage.

In short, it’s not easy to get cancer from radiation exposure. You would have to deliberately try to make it happen.

Let’s bring this perspective into our understanding of nuclear energy and uranium mining. It would help all of us cut through the emotion and make our decisions based on facts instead of fear.