Radiation is top of mind now, what with panicked Californians buying iodine tablets because of the (totally imagined) threat of fallout from the Fukushima meltdowns. You can kind of understand the panic: Whenever we hear “radiation,” we think of the horrors of Hiroshima and Chernobyl. And all the time, we’re totally ignorant of the fact that radiation is a natural part of life.
The good folks at XKCD have provided a great infographic putting things into perspective. It’s not gonna win any beauty contests, but in a remarkably straightforward way, it shows how teeny, teeny tiny all of the radiation amounts we’ve heard of in the news lately actually are:
Let’s look at the most salient section — the one detailing the amounts of radiation at play in the Fukushima meltdown and to which we’re exposed every day:
At the bottom of that chart, you can see that the radiation you’d absorb in one day within a 10 mile radius of the Fukushima meltdown is actually less than the typical radiation you absorb every year — and it’s also quite small compared to the amount that nuclear-plant workers are permitted to absorb every year, under typical safety guidelines. (Also note that the evacuations around the Fukushima reactor cover a 12 mile radius.)
Now, this doesn’t mean that anyone should linger in the area — but it does mean that for now, based on what we know, the radiation damage caused by the meltdowns has been minimal. And while workers are in a rush to keep the reactors from melting down, and the situation remains critical, there have been signs that the crisis is abating.