Nuclear Plume Paranoia
AMA Approved Radiation


I’m recording this message now because when you hear it, we’ll all be dead.  The iodine supplements won’t be enough to counteract the harsh dosage of radiation we’ve absorbed.  Or maybe not.

It’s been over a year since radiation overdrive.  I’m not talking about the one at Fukushimi Daiichi.  I’m talking about the one at Irvine’s Hoag hospital… in my gut.

I went for a CT scan at Hoag last March.  They didn’t find what they were looking for on the first try.  So, a week later I was back for another scan… or should I say two scans — one before a contrast dye injection and one after.

A few days later, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake smacked Japan.  As you know, that shake caused explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station where, at two reactors, the vats containing nuclear material were, as people in control like to say when things get out of control, compromised.

Radiation had escaped from its cage.  A nuclear plume rose above Japan and began wafting toward Los Angeles.  Fear it.  At least that’s what the talking head fools on our local news channels said.  Fear it.

The radiation from the plume, even though it was about a million times beneath levels that would be health threatening, was a great paranoia source to tap for TV advertisers.  People love to watch things that scare them.  In spite of safety assurances and announcements from government officials that we, in Southern California, faced no danger of radioactive contamination from Japanese vapors, fear mongering newscasters knew a good horror movie when they saw it.  Godzilla had been release.  Southern California was about to be radiated.  

Radiation, by the way, is a form of energy in waves.  High-frequency radiation — the bad kind — has enough energy to knock electrons off molecules.  This is especially bad for living things.  It can cause damage to cell DNA, which in turn can lead to cancer.  But let’s not get paranoid, yet.  There’s radiation everywhere. You can get radiation from radioactive compounds in soil, concrete, brick, and stone — like, say, your new granite kitchen counter.  You can get radiation from outer space when you get high — flying or visiting the High Sierras, that is.  The negative biological effect of radiation is measured in millisieverts.  On average, we’re exposed to about 6 millisieverts of radiation annually.  Six.  Half comes from background radiation in our environment, and half comes from medical tests.

Annual exposure to 100 millisieverts carries an increased cancer risk. Below that, your body's cells more than likely will heal themselves.

So where does the danger come from?  And what should we really be afraid of?

Let’s break it down:

A banana has one ten-thousandths of a millisievert.  It’s the potassium.  No worries.  Eat bananas.

A dental x-ray, 5 thousandths of a millisievert.

A flight from New York to Los Angeles, 4 one-hundredths.

A chest x-ray, one tenth.

Living at sea level for a year, one quarter.

Living in Denver for year, one half.

OK. Here’s where Nathan is concerned.  A CT scan dishes out 14 milliseverts.  Uh, oh.  I had three in one week.  Forty-two millisieverts for me.

By the way, if you were unlucky enough to be at the Fukushima Diiachi plant last March you’d have been be served as high as 400 milliseverts per hour.  That’s a bit more than CT scan, but as I said, even small levels of radiation exposure can impact cancer risks later in life. And these days everybody gets CT scans.  Since 1980, the amount of yearly scans in the US has risen from 3 million to 70 million.

So how radioactive was the nuclear plume — the source of paranoia one year ago? Why that would be one hundrendth of a milliserviert — about a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco’s worth.  Or, if you’re keeping score, one thousand times more radioactive than a banana.

And how radioactive were my three CT scans — which were, in case you’re curious, negative? About 4,200 times more radioactive than the nuclear plume.

So what’s up newscasters?  Where’s your paranoia for AMA approved procedures?  As I said, I’m recording this message now because when you hear it, we’ll all be dead.  Or maybe not.  Maybe, we’ll just be more paranoid.

— Nathan Callahan

First Broadcast March 16, 2012

© / Nathan Callahan / all rights reserved


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