How dangerous is radiation really?

You know how they tell you that nuclear radiation has insane half lives that basically means that when anything is contaminated, it takes thousands if not tens of thousands of years to decay to safe levels?

Why doesn’t that work out in the real world?

For the first time since the 2011 disaster, all of the rice harvested in Fukushima Prefecture this year has passed radiation tests and now can be deemed safe for consumption, according to local officials.

Virtually all of the rice harvested in Fukushima in 2014 – or some 360,000 tonnes – has been checked for radiation and met the national standards of less than 100 Becquerel’s per kilogram, Reuters reports.

“The fact that the amount of rice that does not pass our checks has steadily reduced in the last three years indicates that we’re taking the right steps,” said Fukushima official Tsuneaki Oonam, who heads the department that oversees Fukushima rice farming.

Authorities began testing all rice grown in Fukushima prefecture in 2012, although the amounts harvested over the past years were insignificant. More 190 testing devices are used throughout the prefecture to ensure rice’s safety standards.

Before you come up with an easy answer, how about Hiroshima?


Doesn’t quite look like it used to “only” 7 decades ago


Somehow the radioactive contamination gets dealt with a lot faster than the laboratory measured “half-life” that we were all told exists.

For decades during the cold war we were told that any place where a serious nuclear incident takes place becomes uninhabitable for … centuries?  Longer?

Japan exported its first rice following the disaster last August – a 300-kilogram batch was delivered to Singapore. Fruit exports to Malaysia also resumed last year, according to officials, while in 2012 Fukushima peaches and apples were exported to Thailand.

Something’s not right.


– RT



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  • Peter Maguire

    I’m pretty sure the reason Hiroshima was still habitable is because of the height of which the bomb was detonated releasing the majority of the radiation into the atmosphere.

  • Carl

    If you look at photos of Chernobyl it is now it is all just forest area so lots of growth there as well.

  • twr

    There was a good doco a couple of years back that looked into the dangers and suggested they weren’t anywhere near as bad as they were made out to be. The wildlife round Chernobyl for example is pretty happy.

    • Bazar

      The wildlife around chernobyl is short lived…

      The wildlife that returns the soonest are the forms of life that reproduce faster than the radiation kills.

      I believe there are plenty of studies showing this.

      And even the wildlife that is living there, often have abnormalities. Smaller brains, eye cataracts, and other deformities.

      Chernobyl might provide amazing pictures of wildlife thriving where man has left, but they have their own problems.

      • TSD

        I agree that none of the animal there have the same sort of lifespan as
        humans so we must be more careful, but the current state of the
        environment there is really quite surprising.
        The animals and plant life have been found to be surprisingly healthy, look into the studies of the wolf population and their health issues or lack thereof. Humans conducting the studies still have to where radiation patches and limit their exposure time as per the first sentence but nature is progressing quite well.
        Of course those pushing causes do tend to skew findings one way or the other but that’s the case with everything.

  • El Diablo

    You probably wouldn’t want to be standing in the middle of the Chernobyl reactor core anytime in the next few hundred years, but beyond that the level of radiation reduces dramatically.

    I found this radiation dose chart very helpful to understand radiation levels:

    • Andy Brown

      Good chart.

  • rangitoto

    The radiation also gets dispersed by wind and rain. It’s not just a matter of half life.

    • James M

      Yeah it sort of reminds me of those McDonalds cheese burger videos on YouTube where some one leaves one in a cupboard for a year only to return to a cheese burger that looks almost identical to the day they bought it.

      Go stick that cheese burger in the garden and see how long it lasts

      • Backdoor

        I’m not surprised at the longevity of McDonald’s cheese burgers. With all the additives included it is a wonder they can be digested.

        Well, I presume they can be digested, I have never looked to see.

  • Murray Smith

    Still think I’d wait a few thousand years, before having a stir fry rice, that might fry itself.

  • TSD

    Nuclear scaremongering is easy so the media do it and sell papers. Unfortunately it takes away from the potential of clean energy as people are pathologically scared of it. Not saying there aren’t risks but remember that the plant itself stood up to the strongest earthquake we’ve known, it was unfortunate that the ensuing tsunami topped the wall of the backup generators leading to the rest.

    It’s kind of like asbestos, people are terrified of the very mention of it. Not many realise that NZ has high natural levels of it and a painted asbestos wall in your house/office etc is probably going to give you less risk the going for a long drive through the country. Once again, not to be trivialised but we need to look at facts not feelings.

    By the way, a great doco to watch is the Wolves of Chernobyl, quite interesting.

  • Dave_1924

    No crater it was air burst 500 or 600 metres up. The Hiroshima A bomb was comparatively a small one to today’s devices in terms of explosive energy and while it had 50 kilos of uranium in it only around 1 kilo actually was involved in the fission event, so it didn’t do the damage it could have.

    There was a lot of radioactive dust and it came back down as contaminated black rain

    Even though the bomb from a technical standpoint didnt work 100 per cent, the impact on the citys population was horrific and prolonged though the radiation levels dropped away pretty quickly.

    Was in the city 4 days ago and the peace museum was an eye opener as to the suffering involved…. never again is my fervent wish…

  • Gillie

    We’re living on a nuclear reactor. 90% of the earths internal heat (essential for life) is fuelled by radioactive decay.

    • mike

      Shhh don’t tell Russell… he’ll demand that we shut it down!

      • Bartman

        Oh no, first a Royal Inquiry to ascertain how the National Government snuck that development past the voters unnoticed.

  • Rick H

    There are a few groups of mainly elderly women living in their own houses inside the “dead zone”.
    Been there since a few months after the evacuations.
    It seems the ones who live there outlive those who remain away by a decade.
    The Discontentment, sense of no use, depression etc kills them quicker than the radiation.

  • This is a good article in a field which is often misunderstood.

    The “half life” of any radioisotope is the time in which half of the material decays, a process by which the nucleus of a radioactive atom emits particles and changes into a different chemical element.

    This is a widely misunderstood matter. A crude analogy may be mde with a fire. A hot fire will burn through its fuel a lot faster than a smouldering one. Likewise, the shorter an element’s half life, the greater the radiation it emits. Very long lived isotopes, such as uranium 238 (which has a half life of 4,500 million years) emit so little radiation that they can be handled without particular precautions being taken against their radioactivity. Conversely, short lived isotopes can be intensely radioactive; for example, polonium-210, which has half life of 138 days and which emits so much radiation that a silver mirror of polonium metal coated onto a substrate, can become red hot through decay heat.

    Of course the position is far more complex than this as there are different types of particles emitted (alpha and beta particles and gamma radiation) and each isotope has its own characteristic energy levels which range hugely, but this is not the place for a scientific lecture.

    It is absolutely true that the effects on the environment have been wildly overstated by anti-nuclear activists. After intensive studies of Hiroshima survivors mathematical correlations were devised by which the impact of any activity which released ionising radiation to the environment could be assessed. These correlations were conservative and assumed a linear dose-response relationship, so that, if there were statistical evidence that a particular exposure to radiation caused an increase in mortality by one additional cancer death per ten people, the effect of a lower dose was inversely proportional — ie: if the dose were just one tenth, there would be one additional death per 100 people and so on. This linearity is observed when there are large doses of raditation, but there is no scientific evidence that low additional doses of radiation have such effects. However, for planning purposes thet are assumed to do so. This is the origin of the claims that, for example, at least 8,000 people have died because of Chernobyl. Nobody can point to 8,000 deaths; indeed, known deaths are well under 100.

    I, too, have visited the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb museum. The chief cause of death in the case of a nuclear bomb is through the effects of the blast. Nuclear bombs emit large amounts of thermal radiation. This is the reason they are detonated at altitude. However, as noted in the photo, Hiroshima is doing well today and indeed, the Mazda factory extends into the area that was within the blast radius in 1945.

    Opponents of nuclear technology and nuclear power in particular never make appropriate comparisons with other forms of energy generation. The risk to individual living in close proximity to a nuclear power station can be appropriately compared to the risk of death arising from the smoking of a single cigarette at any time in a lifetime — miniscule. No human activity is without risk. It is appropriate to make a realistic and accurate assessment of that risk and compare it to the benefits derived.

    • Kopua Cowboy

      This sort of well thought out, rational reply is why I visit WhaleOil. Cheers!

    • TSD

      Thank you Philip