There's been a lot of fearmongering about the Fukushima incident, comparing it to (or its being "worse" than) the Chernobyl incident. Make no mistake, it is a very serious situation, and warrants careful attention. But with words like catastrophe, radiation & radioactivity being bandied about with reckless abandon, there's a lot of unnecessary anxiety out there. These words have a lot of emotional baggage attached to them, and tend to cause irrational overreaction.Time for some reason. For starters, look at this:
Sources and distribution of average radiation exposure to the world population
(Source: WHO: http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/env/en/)
That's a lot of natural radiation! What is radiation though? And how does it relate to radioactivity? Further below are some resources I found useful in trying to get a grip on all this. In a nutshell:
- radiation is and always has been around us;
- the danger is all about the dose received over time;
- comparisons to Chernobyl are not helpful, and even that event, the worst nuclear accident in history, doesn't appear to have had the health impact we have been led to believe it had;
The links below are a good starting point to help you learn about the differences between the Chernobyl and Fukushima incidents; hopefully you'll also find out what the following mean:
- Radiation, the different kinds and their effects on health;
- Radioactivity, how it's measured and what is meant by "half-life".
- Radiation dose
These concepts aren't beyond anyone of average intelligence. You don't need a physics degree to get an understanding of the basics (I certainly don't have one!) but once you have a grasp of these ideas, the situation seems less frightening. And that can only be a good thing.
http://iaea.org/newscenter/news/tsunamiupdate01.html - IAEA's daily updates on the Fukushima situation:
http://resources.nei.org/documents/japan/FactSheet_Chernobyl_Fukushima_4-12-11.pdf - Comparison of Chernobyl and Fukushima incidents
http://mitnse.com/2011/04/12/new-provisional-ines-rating-a-chernobyl-primer/ - Overview of the Chernobyl incident.
http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs303/en/index.html - WHO followup of Chernobyl health impact
https://xkcd.com/radiation/ - a very useful diagram charting relative doses from almost none (bananas!) to fatal, short term massive doses.
http://www.mitnse.com - MIT's Nuclear Science Engineering website, chock full of useful information on nuclear physics and technology.
http://mitnse.com/2011/03/16/radiation-introduction-and-radiation-status-for-fukushima -What is radiation? A good introduction.
http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/en/ - WHO on ionizing radiation
http://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/env/en/ - WHO on natural and manmade radiation