Friday, March 18, 2011

Japanese Radiation Hits the US (at minuscule values)

The EPA announced today that radiation from the stricken Japanese nuclear reactor complex has hit the west coast of the U.S., though at extremely small values, far below natural background levels.

Today in Sacramento, radioactive xenon-133 was detected at approximately 0.1 disintegrations per second per cubic meter of air (0.1 Bq/m3; Bq is a becquerel), the EPA says, "which results in a dose rate approximately one-millionth of the dose rate that a person normally receives from rocks, bricks, the sun and other natural background sources. This validates a similar reading of 0.1 Bq/m3, taken from March 16 through 17 in Washington State."

They continue:
These types of readings remain consistent with our expectations since the onset of this tragedy, and are to be expected in the coming days.... Following the explosion of the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine in 1986 – the worst nuclear accident in world history – air monitoring in the United States also picked up trace amounts of radioactive particles, less than one thousandth of the estimated annual dose from natural sources for a typical person.
I don't know about you, but I feel better about all this when they give the actual numbers instead of vague qualifiers like "low."

So how small is a becquerel? According to Wikipedia: "...natural potassium (K40) in a typical human body produces 4,000 disintegrations per second, 4 kBq of activity. The nuclear explosion in Hiroshima (14 kt or 59 TJ) is estimated to have produced 8×1024 Bq (8 YBq, 8 yottabecquerel).


Michael Tobis said...

Superscript should be 24 for yotta, I believe.

David Appell said...

Corrected -- thanks.

Knappkin said...

People in the US have nothing to fear from this extremely tiny amount. I (like a considerable number of Americans) have more radiation than that in my basement at home from naturally occurring radon gas. No joke.