Radiation Chart Update

Ellen and I made our radiation chart in the early days of the Fukushima disaster. I intended it to provide context for radiation exposure levels reported in the media.  I included a few example doses from monitoring sites around Fukushima (the only ones I could find at the time). But our main goal was to give people a better understanding of what different radiation levels meant.  It wasn’t a guide to what was happening at Fukushima because neither of us had hard data on that.

I’ve recently corrected a few things on the chart (the old version is available here). In particular, I’ve changed the mammogram dose from 3 mSv to 0.4 mSv, based on figures from this paper.  The other figures seem to hold up, and I’ve made only small corrections elsewhere.  I’ve added a few more Fukushima-related doses where I could find data, but they’re examples only—not full coverage of the effects.  Specifically, I added total exposure figures over the weeks following the accident for Tokyo, a typical spot in the Exclusion Zone, and a station place on the northwest edge of the zone that got a particularly heavy dose. Those data came from here (Google cache of now-dead MEXT page) and here.

Unfortunately, the disaster has progressed beyond simple radiation releases—there’s some amount of contaminated water, and radioactive material potentially getting in food. When radioactive material is ingested, the effects get a lot more complicated, and depend on what isotopes are there and how they’re processed by the body. Ellen’s page has a bit more information about that.

For reliable information on what’s happening in Japan, including discussions of the contamination levels, there are two sites Ellen and I recommend. One is the MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering hub, which posts periodic articles explaining aspects of the disaster, and the other is the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Fukushima Accident Update Log, which has detailed measurements from a variety of sources.

Note: Some people questioned the side-by-side comparison of short- and long-term doses.  It’s true that they’re not always the same, and I mentioned this in the intro note on the chart. Combining the two sacrificed precision for simplicity, but I don’t think it was a huge stretch—most regulatory dose limits are specified in terms of a total yearly (or quarterly) dose, which is a combination of all types of exposures.  And for those low doses, the comparison is pretty good; the place duration becomes important is up in the red and orange zones on the chart.

121 thoughts on “Radiation Chart Update

  1. Thanks for a really good infographic Randall. One of my colleagues and I were wondering if you’d consider doing a poster version of this (and no, we don’t work in nuclear safety…)

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  2. I’ve heard on the news and radio lately that the authorities in Japan undersold the magnitude of the nuclear disaster (big surprise.) With the recent data coming out about the continuing disaster, I was wondering if you’re going to update the chart? It’s an awesome infographic regardless, so thanks for sharing!

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  3. Love the chart but I’m wondering if you have addressed this glaring issue?
    The following was originally posted here:
    http://thesingularityblog.net/archives/2722

    ”INACCURATE DOSE CHART:
    The Sieverts value presented for an hour beside reactor 4 at Chernobyl is grossly incorrect by a factor of a 1000.
    Heres why- If one follows the reference link to the website where, we are led to presume the creators sourced their information, we can clearly see the blog source quotes 5-6 MICRO Sieverts per hour at the reactor yard not the 5-6 MILLI Sieverts this ‘Dose chart’ suggests.
    ”In the yard of the power plant the dosimeters ticked measurements of 500-600 microröntgens per hour, or 5-6 micro-Sieverts.”

    Even the data from the blog suggests the maximum dose one can recieve outside the reactor itself is in the infamous ‘Red Forest’ which the blog source says is 10 milli Sieverts/1 Roentgen per hour-

    ”The current radiation levels can be from one röntgen to ten milliröntgens per hour”.

    But most importantly, as above, for the yard outside the reactor the blog uses the value 500-600 MICRO Roentgens which on conversion is 5-6 MICRO sieverts, NOT THE MILLI VALUE PRESENTED IN THIS CHART.
    Here is their reference that clearly shows they got the SI prefix wrong.
    Is there a way to contact Xkcd.com concerning this inaccuracy? My only aim is to present the truth.

    This is their source in question:

    http://blog.vornaskotti.com/2010/07/15/into-the-zone-chernobyl-pripyat/

    Janos the creator of the above blog, has confirmed that you cited him in error.

    Even though I’m pointing out this error, I am a fan of your chart despite the inaccuracies.

    Keep up the good work, and I would appreciate an update when alls well and done!

    Regards,
    Tom

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  4. I might not be the first to notice, but there is what seems to be a prefix error on the chart. It’s in the field with the green boxes, third from the top. It says “40mSv” but is graphically represented as 40μSv. No biggie, but might be something to correct. :)

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  5. Not sure if you’re still checking it, but in case you are – think I’ve spotted an error. In the red boxes, “Approximate total dose at one station… ” is labelled as 40mSv but has 2 boxes = 20mSv

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  6. I found a typo: the “Extra dose to Tokyo” – should probably be 40 µSv, not 40 mSv

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  7. I’d like to second Sarah’s request for a poster-scale version. Would buy in a heartbeat. Thanks for all your great work, Randall.

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  10. PLEASE sell both versions of this poster. A normal version and a BANANA version. My credit card is ready. Love your sites!

    Lauren

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  11. Pingback: Radiation Comparison | Physics with Mr McGregor

  12. I notice that the Tokyo exposure is listed as 40 mSv, and displays as less than the entry above, which is 60 uSv. Then later down the chart, it says 1 mSv = 1000 uSv. I assume the Tokyo exposure is a typo, and should be 40 uSv instead of 40 mSv.

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  13. Jul. 9, 2013 – The former head of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has died of esophageal cancer. Masao Yoshida died at a Tokyo hospital on Tuesday. He was 58 years old. […] The utility’s officials say Yoshida was exposed to about 70 millisieverts of radiation from the time of the accident to his resignation. They say it would take at least 5 years for esophageal cancer to develop after exposure to radiation.

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  15. I see a very minor error on the chart. In the quadrant located in the lower RH side of the chart, the first comment is listed as having 40mSv and there should be four (4) small red boxes, not the two (2) shown since each small red box represents 10 mSv.

    Love your site ! ! And I ESPECIALLY loved this Chart ! !

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  16. Specifically, I added total exposure figures over the weeks following the accident for Tokyo, a typical spot in the Exclusion Zone, and a station place on the northwest edge of the zone that got a particularly heavy dose. Those data came from here (Google cache of now-dead MEXT page) and here

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  17. The following table includes some dosages for comparison purposes, using millisieverts (mSv) (one thousandth of a sievert). The concept of radiation hormesis is relevant to this table – radiation hormesis is a hypothesis stating that the effects of a given acute dose may differ from the effects of an equal fractionated dose. Thus 100 mSv is considered twice in the table below – once as received over a 5-year period, and once as an acute dose, received over a short period of time, with differing predicted effects. The table describes doses and their official limits, rather than effects.thanks

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  19. The radiation is everywhere in nature. It can be non-ionizing radiation (eg, radio waves, light, microwaves) or ionizing radiation (eg X-rays used for medical diagnosis, gamma rays used for therapeutic purposes).

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  21. Hi! I am a high school teacher and would love to have this image printed as a poster for my classroom, as I am teaching a unit on radioactivity when we come back from spring break. Would it be possible for me to obtain the image file? Even if not, thanks for this great teaching tool!

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  22. Oops. Sorry, didn’t realize that I can just right-click and hit “save”. Science teacher, but definitely not a computer teacher.

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