Japan, Radiation and You

Image of Radiation Monitor in Japan by raneko on flickrLast month, Japan was hit by one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded, and was subsequently hit by a deadly tsunami. While the magnitude 9.0 earthquake was incredibly destructive, the bulk of the 13,000 casualties were caused by the tsunami. Japan, which experiences frequent earthquakes, has some of the strictest building codes in the world, meaning that the majority of the country suffered little earthquake damage. However, there is no way to prevent a tsunami short of building massive walls around the entire coast. As a result, a large region of Japan was devastated by the torrent of water.

Unfortunately, several nuclear power plants were caught by the tsunami, and were all damaged, the most serious case being the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The tsunami cut off power to the plant, which meant that they were unable to cool the nuclear fuel. If the nuclear material ceased to be cooled, it would melt through the nuclear reactor and spill into the environment, spreading deadly radiation throughout the vicinity. However, the power plant did not experience a total meltdown due to the courageous work of the power plant’s workers, firefighters, and Japanese military forces. However, radiation did leak into the environment, although it was not a significant amount.

However, many people across the Pacific Rim fear the radiation, despite the infinitesimally low risk it poses. Radioactive particles have been dispersed into the Pacific Ocean and into the atmosphere, but in very small amounts. They will indeed reach the West Coast of the United States, but it’s nothing to be concerned about. Radiation is measured in sieverts, which are abbreviated as “Sv”. A location near the Fukushima plant measured 3.6 mSv (millisieverts), which is significant, but not dangerous. To get radiation poisoning, you would have to receive a dose of 400 mSv at once. Only trace amounts of radiation will reach the United States,

Radiation is fairly common; we are exposed to small amounts of it every day. Here are a few statistics to compare the partial meltdown at Fukushima to:

  • Radiation near the Fukushima plant – 3.6 mSv
  • Living in a brick/concrete/stone building for a year – 70 uSv (microsieverts, 1000 uSv = 1 mSv)
  • Flight from New York to LA – 40 uSv
  • Radiation from the sun, stars in one day – 10 uSv
  • Eating a bananna – 0.1 uSv
  • CAT Scan – 5.8 mSv

Here’s a link to the awesome vblog of Hank and J0hn Green where Hank explains Japan’s recent nuclear disaster.  And if you follow these links, you can find library materials on radiation, tsunamis and earthquakes.

Eric, Teen Advisory Group
Northeast Branch

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