Surprising how much radiation there is around really

Concerns that contamination from the Fukushima Daiichi plant had spread to Tokyo subsided on Friday after high levels of radiation recorded along a street in the city were linked to old bottles of radium stored beneath the floorboards of a nearby house.

Researchers had recorded radiation of 3.35 microsieverts per hour along a street in Setagaya ward, a higher level than in some parts of the 12-mile (20km) exclusion zone around the nuclear plant.

An investigation traced the contamination to several bottles that had been stored in a cardboard box beneath an empty house.

It\’s not just that this has nothing at all to do with Fukushima.

Rather, that given the hysteria over Fukushima there are people all over Japan wandering around with Geiger Counters. And they\’re finding all sorts of little hotspots of radiation.

Some of them, possibly, might be to do with Fukushima. But those that are not do show quite how prevalent radiation is and are thus something of a problem for those who say that even a teensie bit makes people fall over dead.

If, in possibly the first time ever that near an entire nation has actually been checked for hotspots, we find hotspots that don\’t seem to have been doing any harm for however long, we do need to conclude that these low levels haven\’t been doing very much harm, don\’t we?

26 thoughts on “Surprising how much radiation there is around really”

  1. Ah, science vs hysteria. It’s one of the few things that has tempted me towards socialism (unsuccessfully) – “If people really believe X, how can they be trusted to make economic decisions for themselves”. But as I grew up, I realised the flaws in that approach and tacked back towards liberalism (classical).

  2. Barring a possible hormetic effect of low doses, radiation is always bad for you. More radiation equals more bad. Period. End of.

    That said, we have radiation in the environment that we cannot by any means eliminate, so we have to tolerate the bad that causes. There are also lots of things we do that increase our exposure as a side-effect of the good thing we want from said thing, such as flying, using CT scanners, living in Aberdeenshire, or building nuclear power plants (OK, not much exposure from the latter, except when they blow up). And I’d question the joys of living in Aberdeenshire but each to their own.

    So we just need to know if we are happy with the tradeoffs for each of these extra exposures. All extra exposure means extra risk and we have to acknowledge that, and work out if the extra risk is worth it. People saying teensy bits make you fall down dead are of course wrong, it’s however also wrong to suggest there is no harmful effect of said teensy exposure. There certainly is, the problem being you can’t tell which particular subatomic particle tearing through your DNA, when, where you were, and with so many keV was the one that actually gave you your cancer. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen though.

  3. Tim

    Just after the accident, I bet a year’s supply of lollipops that the death toll from radiation would be zero.

    Haven’t read anything that is going to change my mind. Yet all we are hearing about is the radiation. The MOTOGP riders didn’t want to ride in Japan because of the radiation! And on and on and on.

    What about the nearly 20,000 dead (really dead), communities obliterated, land contaminated by other (non-nuclear) contaminants and salt water, familes destroyed, children orphaned…. The real tragedy has been sidelined in favour of a hysterical pseudo-scientific campaign.

    Nuclear power has its dangers. The plant was hit by a double whammy, is clearly dangerous and needs adequate care in dismantling. But that seems to be it.

    How many thousands of survivors will need help over real tangible fears, material and personal losses and loneliness. And due to what? Not what the press keeps telling us.

  4. I read an interesting study that found the immune system strangles most cancers at birth (or shortly afterwards). This might explain why small hotspots don’t show up in the cancer statistics – the immune system copes up to a certain threshold. Bigger or hotter spots overwhelm it, so the cancer risk starts to go up past that threshold.

    There’s no good science behind hormesis, by the way You can’t raise the threshold by exercising it because it’s limited by other factors (one of which is the damage an overactive immune system does to you).

  5. Probably, but I would LOVE to have some nuclear waste in my hall cupboard. Take a suitably sized can of glassified high-level waste, wrap it in lead, wrap it in concrete and you’ve got a lovely little thermal source. Stick it under the hot water cylinder and watch your (gas/electricity) bill plummet.

  6. “Barring a possible hormetic effect of low doses, radiation is always bad for you. More radiation equals more bad”: i.e. more is always bad for you except when it isn’t. Who could disagree? .

  7. We can conclude that when you have lots of people walking round with instruments to detect supposed hot spots of radiatin, you will find more supposed hot spots of radiation.

  8. @dearieme: I’ve also heard that barring a few low dosage beneficial effects water will also kill you, if you ingest too much, or immerse yourself in it for more than minute or two. I propose all water be removed from public access and made available to secure State authorised facilities only.

  9. “the problem being you can’t tell which particular subatomic particle tearing through your DNA, when, where you were, and with so many keV was the one that actually gave you your cancer. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen though.”

    Isn’t this akin to saying you don’t know which aeroplane you fly in will plummet to a fiery doom, so therefore every flight you take means more bad?

    Feel free to whack this no-nothing around the head with your atomic knowledge, but isn’t it true that the average person spends every hour of every day absorbing radiation yet dies without ever developing cancer?

  10. It’s entirely possible to dismiss the overhyped green terror of nukulur atomics while acknowledging that the less ionising radiation you are exposed to the better. The potential for nuclear power plants to increase population exposure to ionising radiation is something that clearly goes in the “negative” column. It’s clearly not a very important negative in this case, it’s probably going to cause less damage than the overreaction to it, and in the wake of the tsunami is clearly getting vastly disproportionate attention paid to it. But pretending it isn’t a potential bad is to fight pseudoscience with non-science.

  11. So it’s moved from being:

    “More radiation equals more bad. Period. End of.”

    to:

    “a potential bad”

    I’m glad we were able to talk you round.

  12. Hormesis may be scientifically unproven but lots of scientists believe in it.
    And once you look round, there are examples all over the place: water, protein, carbohydrate, exercise, liberty (?x), oxygen, CO2, speed…
    Incidentally, oxygen produces ionising radiation in metabolism, so we’re probably used to it after several hundred million years.

  13. Bilbaoboy has the right of it: the earthquake and tsunami was a grotesque human tragedy which ripped apart human lives on a scale that would, if thought about too intimately, drive one quite mad. The Fukushima incident was a footnote to a footnote in an appendix somewhere. Perhaps the reason it was given such prominence was that the scale of the genuine disaster was too huge to be adequately encompassed in a news story, but this doesn’t make it any less spurious.

  14. More radiation is more bad. It’s simply that in the normal run of events at nuclear power stations, the extra radiation is trivial and the benefits from having the plant outweigh the costs. It looks like, even with what happened at Fukushima, the cost imposed by actual radiation leakage is going to be very small, certainly minuscule compared to the cost of the (over)reaction to it. This is the argument to use against fearful greenies, that the harm caused to people by said radiation is minimal, almost certainly neither measurable nor even calculable, not fatuous untruth that said radiation poses zero risk to those who might come into contact with it.

    By the way, I’d like to see a reference for the “oxygen produces ionising radiation in metabolism” claim.

  15. JamesV:
    my remark: “oxygen produces ionising radiation in metabolism” claim.
    From Oxygen, by Nick Lane. Chapter 6 has the subtitle: Oxygen poisoning and X irradiation: a mechanism in common.
    As the O2 molecule splits you get free radicals and radiation.

  16. Yes oxygen metabolism and ionizing radiation both result in the production of free radicals at a cellular level. However there is no ionizing radiation produced by the splitting of an oxygen-oxygen bond, it is a purely chemical process, not a nuclear one.

  17. “The Fukushima incident was a footnote to a footnote in an appendix somewhere.”

    Alas, it was wearing a cape and sported huge fangs, as well as wearing a traffic cone with a bright yellow flashing light, so naturally everyone focussed on it.

  18. Just a question: in the weeks after the disaster we were told about the (undeniably) very brave safety workers in the power plant and how they were all going to die in the following few weeks. Has any of this actually happened? How is their general health. I’m just curious.

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