Radiation 101: What is it, how much is dangerous, and how does Fukushima compare to Chernobyl?


This is the second post in a series about radiation, Chernobyl and Fukushima.  See the April 4th post below for a tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

Our last blog post about Chernobyl generated a lot of interest among our friends, but seemed to raise more questions than it answered.  Many people asked for more basic information about radiation and more comparisons between Chernobyl and Japan, and safe levels versus dangerous levels.  In light of that, we have compiled this follow-up post.

First Things First – What is Radiation (in plain English)?

In our last post, we showed lots of pictures of this little yellow Geiger counter that we used to measure radiation.

So what is this thing measuring?  Basically, it’s measuring both particles and waves in the air around it.  Some radiation is transported via particles that can easily be blocked by a piece of paper, or a jacket.  Other types of radiation exist as waves, that can move straight through a wall.  This devise is measuring both, (two types of particles and one wave) and it’s adding them up to give us a total level of radiation.

The level of radiation is expressed as an amount of radiation (in a unit called Sieverts) per hour of exposure.   So if the Geiger counter reads 0.22 microSieverts per hour (as it does in the photo above) that means I received .22 microSieverts of radiation while having my hour-long breakfast in Kiev.

The New York Times has a nice article providing a bit more detail about these three types of radiation and other terms commonly associated with radiation. (Click to Article)

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