Similar Fears of Radiation

March 23, 2011

Before I begin this evening, I’d like to tell you a little about my background. I’m definitely a science guy. I majored in engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, I used to read science fiction stories, Michael Crichton in particular, and I fancied myself knowing a little about a variety of scientific fields. That having been said, I knew the basic principles of nuclear physics, and what was involved in making a bomb versus a power plant. When I made the decision to live in Japan, the recruiter offered me a position in Hiroshima, and I… wait for it… asked: “What about radiation?”

Maybe some of you reading this think it wasn’t an unreasonable question. After all, everyone knows the name of Hiroshima and the impact it had, or rather, what impacted it. You know that when a nuclear bomb detonates, the people in the vicinity who aren’t vaporized are exposed to lethal levels of radiation, resulting in burns, loss of hair, higher risk of cancer, and mutation in unborn babies, to name a few problems. But what you may not realize is how short-lived that radiation is, and how I should have kicked himself for asking such a stupid question. If you were to leave the same amount of fissionable material (i.e. uranium or plutonium) intact in the middle of a populated area, that area would be in trouble for years. Why?

We have to look at the definition of fissionable material for that, but I really don’t want to get into the physics of it here. Sufficed to say, there will be plutonium releasing radiation longer than anyone will live due to the effects of it. Why doesn’t this happen when a nuclear bomb is detonated? It does, to an extent, but the thing about a bomb is… it blows up. Nearly ALL of the uranium and plutonium used to create the bomb is detonated and released as energy in the form of a giant explosion. After a little time (weeks?), there wouldn’t be anything left to release radiation. Thus Hiroshima is the thriving city Japanese know it to be today. Home of the Carps baseball team, okonomiyaki, and the floating shrine at Miyajima.

Now let me clarify what’s going on in Japan following the recent earthquake and tsunami. There is radiation. Yes, there is.

BUT IT’S NOT LIFE-THREATENING. IT’S NOT EVEN LIFE-SHORTENING.

This could change, of course, based on what happens in Fukushima during the containment and cleanup, but it’s highly unlikely. Everyone in the media, from CNN International to Japanese TV, to those in nations receiving Japanese imports, are blowing things way out of proportion.

Why?

Because “radiation” has such a negative connotation. People hear that word and can’t think straight. We’re being exposed to radiation right now! You’re exposed when you get an x-ray, or take a long flight at a high altitude, or live in a different part of the world: radiation from the sun hits the Earth continuously, but our atmosphere blocks nearly all of it. As the atmosphere isn’t homogenous, different parts of the world receive slightly different doses on a daily basis.

I see all this US news coverage of California residents stocking up on anti-radiation pills like kelp, and I can’t help but laugh at their stupidity. I can understand the fear, but the ignorance…

Here’s something everyone needs to know: NO ONE OUTSIDE JAPAN IS IN DANGER FROM RADIATION. A plume is not going to eradicate all life in Los Angeles. Even Japan is mostly safe at the moment. Things could change, but no one in Tokyo has anything to worry about from Fukushima.

So, to sum up, Nancy Grace is a complete idiot:

2 Responses to Similar Fears of Radiation

  1. Andrea on March 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    I think it’s good that you’ve cleared that up. We plan to spend a month in Japan at the end of the year and must admit the thought crossed our minds that in the event of a meltdown (which doesn’t seem likely now – it has been hard to keep up and I don’t know much about it) we would not be able to go to Tokyo. Some people and organizations in the news media often speak incorrectly – very annoying and damaging.

  2. Dan on April 16, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    I was web searching for exactly this information, but couldn’t find it. Finally I came across your blog and I had my answers. Also had a good laugh as Bernie the weatherman tries to educate a loudmouth CNN reporter.
    Dan, EFL teacher in central Tokyo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to OAT



Created by Webfish.

Need Advice on Living Abroad?

Thinking of teaching English in Japan? Volunteering in Thailand? Backpacking around New Zealand? If you're looking for some insider tips on the places to go and the people to meet, check out my consulting services. If you just have a few questions, no worries: email me.