The argument for nuclear: Fukushima radiation comparison

Recently, there’s been a lot of discussion on radiation, particularly from the Fukushima plants, along with comparisons to Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Radiation levels are often described as “ times the normal level” or “% over the legal limit,” which can be pretty confusing. Randall Munroe of xkcd attempts to put it all in perspective:

“Ellen, a friend of mine who’s a student at Reed and Senior Reactor Operator at the Reed Research Reactor, has been spending the last few days answering questions about radiation dosage virtually nonstop (I’ve actually seen her interrupt them with “brb, reactor”). She suggested a chart might help put different amounts of radiation into perspective, and so with her help, I put one together. She also made one of her own; it has fewer colors, but contains more information about what radiation exposure consists of and how it affects the body.

“I’m not an expert in radiation and I’m sure I’ve got a lot of mistakes in here, but there’s so much wild misinformation out there that I figured a broad comparison of different types of dosages might be good anyway. I don’t include too much about the Fukushima reactor because the situation seems to be changing by the hour, but I hope the chart provides some helpful context.

Radiation Dose Comparison Chart (

“Note that there are different types of ionizing radiation; the “sievert” unit quantifies the degree to which each type (gamma rays, alpha particles, etc) affects the body. You can learn more from my sources list. If you’re looking for expert updates on the nuclear situation, try the MIT NSE Hub. Ellen’s page on radiation is here.

“Lastly, remember that while there’s a lot of focus on possible worst-case scenarios involving the nuclear plants, the tsunami was an actual disaster that’s already killed thousands. Hundreds of thousands more, including my best friend from college, are in shelters with limited access to basic supplies and almost no ability to contact the outside world. If you’re not sure how to help, Google’s Japan Crisis Resource page is a good place to start.

“Edit: For people who asked about Japanese translations or other types of reprinting: you may republish this image anywhere without any sort of restriction; I place it in the public domain. I just suggest that you make sure to include a clear translation of the disclaimer that the author is not an expert, and that anyone potentially affected by Fukushima should always defer to the directives of regional health authorities.”

Taken from: Randall Munroe’s xkcd Blog: Radiation Chart

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Categories: Events, Health, Medicine, Science, Technology

Author:Andrew Beato

CEO, Chief Editor and founder of Intentious. Passionate comment enthusiast, amateur philosopher, Quora contributor, audiobook and general knowledge addict.

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4 Comments on “The argument for nuclear: Fukushima radiation comparison”

  1. James Hill
    April 8, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    A very interesting and informative chart. Interestingly, it appears people living near coal power plants are exposed to more radiation than people living near nuclear plants.

  2. April 9, 2011 at 2:24 am #

    I found it interesting and revealing that one flight under a day duration gives you 60 times the radiation of living next to these plants for a whole year. And that using a cellphone gives you “none” or negligible amounts.

    • April 9, 2011 at 2:27 am #

      Sorry, not 60 times, closer to 320 times. I was reading the thumbnail version wrongly


  1. How concerned are you about radiation from the Japanese nuclear disaster … | Radiation Report Blog - November 27, 2011

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