Someone is wrong in the MSM about radiation

Almost anyone who has spent any time on the internet in blogs or chat rooms has run into this famous cartoon from XKCD:

Duty Calls

Well now, the cartoonist has taken on a new subject – showing how wrong some the MSM radiation claims have been by trying to show the radiation issue as a matter of scale. This may help some people overcome their worst fears of radiation by helping them understand how much a part of normal everyday life it is.

click to see full size


The story behind the chart here:

h/t to Ric Werme


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TFN Johnson

Text too small to read: can’t be important….

Hector Pascal

In another geological life, I collected a series of drill samples through the uranium ore body at Honeymoon Well in South Australia. Being a dutiful Senior Research Scientist at CSIRO Division of Exploration and Mining, I reported my bag of samples to the Site Safety Officer. He brought his geiger counter and checked me out. It’s OK he said, no problem, then passed the counter over the bricks outside my office. The bricks were more radioactive than my uranium samples.

There’s a complete lack of perspective in the media regarding reporting this sort of stuff (as well as other such as CO2 levels etc). For instance, they’re currently blaring that “radiation from Fukushima reached the US West Coast!”.
Digging just a little (LA Times), a single monitoring station detected an augmentation in Xe-133 to the total level of 1/10⁶ of the background radiation, which can be from Fukushima. Xe-133 has an half-life of 5.3 days and is used in medicine.


The funny thing is that the MSM somehowe figure that the medical effects of radiation are unknown or mysterious. Or that the dose effect ratio is not known. We use radiation daily in the medical community not just in radiology were new modalities are also increasing the radiation dose like high resolution CT (radiation dose equal to around 2000 chest x-rays), but for treatment and conditioning in cancer patients where we give large doses like 2 Grey total body irradiation. The long and short term effects of this are well studied. But I guess that the MSM are as usual more interested in confusing and scaring than in explaining and educating.


Background radiation is a fact of life.
If you live in parts of Cornwall, Dartmoor in Devon, Cumbria, parts of Scotland etc, you will be subject to relatively high dosages and if you live in a house made of granitic rock, you are also more exposed to background radiation.
In Britain, now that they teach not a lot about b*****r all, scaring people is quite easy.
Radiation can cause cancer, it can kill, it is not a joke but the MSM + BBC hype and ‘upping’ the fear factor [Fukushima disaster] – is sheer skin crawling shock horror journalism of the most base ethos, now, they all trawl the depths with the National Enquirer.
We all live with radiation.
Get real……………. and remember, in the end, who can you sue? – God?

I built these graphs from radiation data posted by the Nuclear Energy Institute and various other sources.
Daiichi Site Interior
Daiichi Site Perimeter

JPA Knowles

The highly active isotopes will decay rapidly but my concern is that 1) some chemicals will be taken up in the food-chain and 2) the reactors will remain difficult to decommission for many years.
I vaguely remember only one reactor at 3 Mile Island costing over 900 million dollars. Some local high radiation spikes are the least of Japans worries.
Thnks for the post. It’s good to have some perspective.
I hope this accident makes design engineers sharper and causes the retirement of all Boiling Water Reactors. I’m amazed they were still running them. Like vinyl record hi-fi systems of the early 70s they should have been replaced long ago with something vastly superior.

Mike McMillan

So eating one banana is equivalent to sleeping with two people. Life is full of tough choices.

TomTurner in SF

The Ann Coulter column of March 16, 2011 may have been the first public voice on this topic: (printer friendly version; the standard version is presently at her home page before it moves to archives on March 22, 2011):

There are areas with hundreds of mS/year natural background radiation, and no ill health effects have been observed on local population. So that 100 mSv/year limit “clearly linked to cancer” is dubious at least.
Or it is so, that local people subjected to high natural doses produce some kind of resistance and the same dose forced on someone else in short period of time makes harm, but we learned that it does not matter on time and intensity, but on total sum. Perhaps not.

Of all the hypes i’ve seen, the nuke failure of Japan beats them all. Another bit of perspective:
The things survived a major earthquake, a tsunami, multiple chemical explosions and still there’s no real danger.
In the world hundreds of nuclear reactors (quite a lot of them of very iffy design) active for decades producing of terawatts of reliable green energy and all that happened were 3 major incidents, of only 1 was a real catastrophe.
Pretty good odds in my risk-analysis

Martin Hale

Text too small to read: can’t be important….

Sounds like someone needs some new web browsing tools. Firefox and the Quick Page Zoom brought the chart up to a size even my old eyes could read.
And yes, the press are immensely fond of presenting dangers in such a way as to maximise sales and minimise clarity of information.

The thing that drives me crazy is the inability of the media to distinguish between “radiation”, “radioactivity” and “radioactive contamination”. They seem to be either stupid or lazy (or both). You would think over 50 years they would have learned something. Apparently not.


NPR employs a reporter with a PhD in Physics. He is currently covering ” … the global economy for NPR’s multimedia project Planet Money.”
Radiation safety is complicated and difficult to explain. Saying that the dose received is “less than that from a chest x-ray” or “less than that received on a New York to LA airplane flight” may be factual but when used over and over again to calm fears in the face of screaming headlines, a reasonable person becomes skeptical. This is seldom a case of one dose fits all and the public wants and deserves a clear explanation.
This New York Times article appears to be factually correct …
Several Plant Workers Are Ill, but Radiation Risk in Japan Is Seen as Low for Now
… but is headed by a photo of obviously sick people lying in a jumble of sheets on the floor of a hospital with the caption, “Patients evacuated from a hospital near the Fukushima Daiichi plant were treated on Sunday for possible radiation exposure.”
The body of the article includes the statement, “The sorts of numbers I’m seeing are not the sort that could be linked with radiological symptoms,” which is not the message we get from the picture and caption. Confusion ensues.

C.M. Carmichael

There are thousands of people dead from the quake and tsunami, and there are media making comparisons to 3 mile island. I seem to remember the death toll was quite small at 3 mile island, from radiation anyway. The biggest outcome was a shutdown in nuclear energy growth for 3 decades. How many people have died in the oil and gas fields in threee decades? I bet more people die in cars on their way to anti-nuke protests than have ever been killed in the nuke industry. People have no notion of scale, our local anti- nuke, clean air groups have meetings about vague ( imagined) health threats from nearby industries. The highlight of these meetings for me are the regularly scheduled ” ciggy” breaks so both sides can go outside and worry about their health over a ” butt”.

Tom in Florida

Two different commentators on FoxNews referred to “a radiation plume” and “a cloud of radiation” coming towards America. They also interviewed a person who was from a company that sold geiger counters. Such nonsense.


Hello world, I live in Truro………thats in Cornwall don’t you know.

John Silver

Radiation created all the species on this planet. Therefore, radiation is God.
Worship the Alpha and the Gamma.


Well, Japan just got saved by Gaddafi.
The BBC couldn’t push enough of their, “we’re all going to die” stories about Fukushima. They had us on the edges of our seats, just waiting for the inevitable meltdown.
Then Libya came along, and there hasn’t been a peep about Fukushima in the last two to three days.

That graph may be accurate but it’s useless. Entirely too much information and too many numbers in one place, and those green squares don’t convey meaning, even to me as a graph-loving nerd.
It’s certainly not going to teach anything to a layman. And the “science correspondents” of the media, who might be able to cook it into digestible narrative form, aren’t interested in providing actual facts.

Steve Keohane

TomTurner in SF says: March 20, 2011 at 4:20 am That is an interesting concept. I have wondered if the descendants of the northern European population have lower lung cancer rates from smoking tobacco relative to African descendants because of the smokey cave dwelling. Perhaps it is due to the cave dwelling, but the inherent radiation rather than the smoke.


On Fox News last night (Saturday 3/19), they had an interview with a proponent of nuclear power and someone from a “Physicians for Social Responsibility” or some such organization. The latter began his contribution with the claim that “(t)here is no safe level of exposure to radiation”. I muted the TV at that point. Utter nonsense has no place in a discussion of important policy issues like nuclear power.

If I did my math correctly, you would have to be at a town near the Fukushima plant for 1715 days, or 4 years and 255 days, before you would get the radioactive does of one CT scan.

P. Solar

“producing of terawatts of reliable green energy”
What the fukushima is green about an ever growing mountain of toxic waste that we still have not worked out what to do with?
“and still there’s no real danger”
so I guess the poor sods trying to stabalise three nukes threatening a totoal melt-down and hundreds of tons of overheating spent fuel are wasting there time then.
silly sods.

Jeroen B.

@ TFN Johnson: click on the image. That brings up the source image which is clearly legible. If it still isn’t, your browser has probably resized it and if you have a cursor over it it should look like a small magnifying glass with a + on it. Click once. The image will nowe overrun your browser windows causing some scrollbars to appear but that shouldn’t be a problem – and you should now have a perfectly legible image.
Hope this helps!

Less cancer or congenital heart malformations after being exposed to low dose radiation a must read, real life data:
An extraordinary incident occurred 20 years ago in Taiwan.
Recycled steel, accidentally contaminated with cobalt-60 (half-life:
5.3 y), was formed into construction steel for more than 180
buildings, which 10,000 persons occupied for 9 to 20 years. They
unknowingly received radiation doses that averaged 0.4 Sv—a
“collective dose” of 4,000 person-Sv.
Based on the observed seven cancer deaths, the cancer
mortality rate for this population was assessed to be 3.5 per
100,000 person-years. Three children were born with congenital
heart malformations, indicating a prevalence rate of 1.5 cases per
1,000 children under age 19.
The average spontaneous cancer death rate in the general
population of Taiwan over these 20 years is 116 persons per
100,000 person-years. Based upon partial official statistics and
hospital experience, the prevalence rate of congenital
malformation is 23 cases per 1,000 children. Assuming the age and
income distributions of these persons are the same as for the
general population, it appears that significant beneficial health
effects may be associated with this chronic radiation exposure.

How ironic is it that the google ad says not to eat bananas? Funny how the google ads are always telling us what to do… Never asking, always making demands. Sound like children? You bet. Arrested development.

Lonnie E. Schubert

Dead at 8 Sv? Not necessarily. Some liquidators received as much as 16, and some at over 10 survived, at last years.
I’m working from memory. This is the closest reference I can find at the moment.

David L

At Fermilab they had (may still have) a display set up in the lobby with a Geiger counter mounted next to a turntable that contained various items. I don’t remember them all, but I do remember a brick and peanut butter. The brick made some noise, but the peanut butter set that Geiger counter off like crazy.

Bill DiPuccio

Also see the table I compiled on “Health Effects of Ionizing Radiation.” This table shows the health risks posed by different levels of radiation by bringing together information from several reliable sources.
The table can be viewed/downloaded from, “Science Et Cetera” (under Radioactivity):
Studying and measuring nuclear radiation is an avocation of mine and I own radiation detection equipment.
It should be noted that even though the levels of radiation on the west coast are no cause for concern, inhalation of radioactive particles (e.g., Radon, fallout) does increases the health risk by many times over simple ingestion. That’s why comparisons to eating a banana are, so to speak, apples to oranges!


In most issues that involve fear, the media is simply cutting and pasting, or reading scripts on the air, provided by friendly fear mongers the particular media happens to approve of.
The days of most media organs having someone on staff who would take the time to actually critically review a particular issue are long gone.
Look at the NYT, for example: Has Revkin ever actually critically reviewed an issue involving CO2, the environment or population?
No. He is Malthusian on population, orthodox Greenpeace on environment, and unless he changed his mind in the past few days, still has not read any of the excellent reviews on climategate.
He is left with repeating provably wrong claims on population, cutting and pasting crap from WWF and Greenpeace marketers, and echoing the hype of the AGW promoters.

Ian W

Whether out of ignorance or intent, it looks like the main stream media, including those champions of sophistication CNN and Fox News, have descended to the level of the ‘Penny Bloods’ of the mid-1800’s.
Truth always being trumped by ‘shock horror!’.

The industry we collectively refer to as “the media” is just that. An industry. It is a profit driven industry. The product being sold is advertising or more precisely, the number of eyes watching or reading. Bringing more eyes to the story brings more advertising dollars. While many in this industry are probably good people who would like to be responsible, etc., that is not the purpose of their work. Their work is done to sell soap. Nothing more and nothing less. And we should not give them extra credibility by being surprised when they do just that. They sell more soap by being spectacular. I am only surprised by the media when they manage to report something accurately. I am rarely surprised by the media.
PBS, The BBC, CBC radio (Canada) etc., are also reliant on bringing eyes to the message. Their ability to get rent from others is dependent on whether they are seen as relevant, which means they need viewers.

Pamela Gray

Radiation schmadiation! The scar on my lip from the removal of a cancer was NOT caused by nuclear energy radiation. It was caused by the Sun.
If all these media people are truly worried about fall-out, they need to put their panic into perspective in terms of their coverage of solar-caused cancers, WHICH is nonexistent coverage in my opinion.
My gawdamighty, I can’t whistle anymore after I had that spot removed! AND! When I put lipstick on, that spot shows up even more! Where is the media coverage over that???? Where is the outcry over solar cancer I want to know! Media bias is what that is.
They don’t care a rat’s hind-end about my lips or that the Sun is far more powerful than Japan’s reactors regarding my lips. That’s the liberal media for you. My lip just doesn’t matter.
Vote the Sun OUT I tellya!!!!!!!! And anyone who wants to disagree with me can kiss my scarred lip. She said facetiously.

j ferguson

Thank you for sharing the most useful graphic I’ve seen in many years.

Eric (skeptic)

Actually just ate a banana before reading this, I am so screwed. What is missing in the discussion of doses is radioisotopes in water, food or air. All the doses shown in the chart assume that you can get the dose and leave the area. But if your water contains radioisotopes that you ingest, then those could stick around in your body and cause various problems. The most well known one is isotopes of iodine since they travel to the thyroid.
An important counter to that is that there is plenty of radioactive material in our bodies that dates from the formation of the earth, e.g. potassium 40. We are accustomed to those radiation sources and can repair almost any genetic damage that they cause. Also it has been shown that a small amount of radiation is better than no radiation due to stimulation of the immune system.

To P. Solar:
You said:
“and still there’s no real danger”
so I guess the poor sods trying to stabalise three nukes threatening a totoal melt-down and hundreds of tons of overheating spent fuel are wasting there time then.
You are right. IFF those people stopped working, there would be some real danger. Not sure of your source that there would be a “total melt-down”. Does that term even have a meaning? Fortunately, they seem intent on doing their jobs.
That being said, I am thinking that terrorists around the world are taking note of this. They are taking nuclear power plants off their list of juicy targets. What I get from all this is it is extremely hard to cataclysmically damage a nuclear facility. Bombing, flying planes into them etc., will not likely cause anything worse than some excited news readers at CNN. Until the weather gets bad or something else distracts them.


Many in the media quickly changed the headlines on Fukushima from crisis to catastrophe with comparisons to Chernobyl and TMI. Much of the media reporting has focused on Fukushima at the expense of reporting on the tsunami related 20,000 dead and missing, 340,000 homeless, and millions without heat, electricity, or running water. The people of Japan need our help and the media should facilitate aid to our friends in Japan as was done after the 2004 Asian tsunami. The FCC has a web form for reporting this type of inaccurate and alarmist reporting. Search for FCC and complaints. The form comes up. You have to fill in specific incidents by media outlet and date/time. The Congressional Energy and Commerce communications subcommittee might like to hear from the public on this issue. A few thousand complaints to the FCC might cause the FCC to stir, a hundred thousand might encourage them to say something. A few hundred complaints to the Energy and Commerce Committee communications subcommittee about the FCC allowing this to continue might result in something being done.


“We can now say, there cannot be a safe dose of radiation. There is no safe threshold.”

Patrick Davis

“Steve Keohane says:
March 20, 2011 at 5:20 am”
Nope! It IS due to smoke, more so the real pollution from burning carbon based fuels, charcoal/wood etc, carbon particulates, ie, soot. CO2 and methane released in the burning process is completely irrelevant.


All the little blue squares combine to make everything on the blue side = 60 microsievert.
Which carries to the green side (top left on green), which adds to the green.
All the green squares, plus the blue squares combine to 75 millisieverts and carry down to the brown squares.
Anyway, gotta go….a banana is waiting to be eaten followed by a few brazil nuts….which will add to the already-inhaled thorium……not to mention the asbestos (currently killing some three thousand a year in the UK)…..I won’t even mention the CT scan and the three ordinary chest X-rays…..nor will I mention that I’m about three million times more likely to be killed on the road than by radiation (3200 deaths on UK roads per year….average)
Newspapers, what are they like ?
AND they don’t even make good toilet paper anymore….too glossy !

Patrick Davis

“John Eggert says:
March 20, 2011 at 6:48 am”
More likely they would use a “dirty” bomb and not target something that would not be affected by a fuel-laden 767 etc. Plenty of highly radioactive sources available in hospitals, Universities etc.


In one episode of the TV drama, “House,” the puzzling illness of the show was the radiation sickness a patient was suffering from due to unknowingly carrying the hot source from a beta gauge around. Toward the end of the show, in a reversal of the usual calming comparison with x-rays, the doctors explained his dosage as the equivalent getting 50,000 chest x-rays. (Or for WUWT readers, ten million bananas. : )

Great graphic! I was able to enlarge it in MS Explorer by first clicking on it, and then clicking randomly on the ensuing image. (Usually there is a transitory “enlarge me” icon when the image is automatically reduced, but for some reason that didn’t come up. Also, View said the image was already 100% even though that was not true.)
However, the fully legible enlargement credits it to an otherwise unidentified “Randall Munroe”, with help from a senior reactor operator are Reed Research Reactor identified only as “Ellen.” The disclaimer says “It’s for general education only. If you’re basing radiation safety procedures on an internet PNG image and things go wrong, you have no one to blame but yourself.”
So while this graphic puts things in perspective and shows which questions to ask, government agencies and Congressional investigators should not be staking our lives on it.

Philip Peake

That illustration would be best presented as a sort video, something like this one that you have probably seen before on the scale of planets and suns:

I wrote a small article for friends and acquaintances who were worried by media reports of a cloud of radiation sweeping across the Pacific, on its way to decimate the West coast of America:
BTW: I find it interesting that when it really matters, people don’t trust the government at all. I wonder why that might be?
And as for “Experts” … well, there is another short article on the same site as the fallout article on that topic.

M White

“Several places are known in Iran, India and Europe where natural background radiation gives an annual dose of more than 50 mSv and up to 260 mSv (at Ramsar in Iran). Lifetime doses from natural radiation range up to several thousand millisievert. However, there is no evidence of increased cancers or other health problems arising from these high natural levels”
Please specify milli or micro, this seems to have confused the media. To me mSv means millisievert. The link uses millisievert.
“Since the sievert is a relatively large value, dose to humans is normally measured in millisieverts (mSv), one-thousandth of a sievert.”


Why bother with hospitals and/or universities ?
Just wander into a nuclear plant in the US and then out…..loads missing…

Wondering Aloud

Hey! Someone put me in a cartoon!

M White

From the BBC – 100 mSv/yr, Lowest level at which any increase in cancer is clearly evident
So Ramsar in Iran is a dangerous place to live at 260 mSv/yr.

On further reading, Randall Munroe is the famous cartoonist of His friend Ellen is a student at Reed College, and senior reactor operator at Reed Research Reactor.