03.17.11

Everyday Radiation in Your Life

As workers risk their lives at the Fukushima plant, The Daily Beast puts their heroic deeds in perspective by comparing their exposure to the levels of radiation you incur from everyday items.

While the world watches the developments in Japan, the Fukushima 50 risk their lives trying to prevent the worst. According to the daughter of one of the workers, her father “…says he's accepted his fate… much like a death sentence."

Gallery: Fukushima vs. an X-Ray and Other Radiation Equations

The workers’ exposure to radiation has potentially lethal and long-term effects on their health—by some reports, they’ve been exposed to more radiation than an emergency worker should receive within a lifetime. To put levels in context—and educate people on how much radiation that encounter in everyday life—The Daily Beast calculated how the Fukushima workers’ exposure compares with everyday radon-emitters.

Some radiation exposure is unavoidable. The average American gets 360 millirems of radiation a year by doing mundane activities such as eating bananas and sleeping next to another person. Smoke a pack of cigarettes each day and your annual radiation exposure will quadruple.

But first, a general primer on radiation measures related to the Japan disaster. Reported estimates of radiation at the plant have fluctuated from 60 millirems to 1,000 millirems per hour and radiation of 75 millirem per hour was recorded at the site’s main gate on Wednesday morning. Radiation 100 feet above the plant has been detected as high as 25,000 millirems per hour (250 millisieverts/hr), the lifetime limit for American emergency workers.