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Ashley Cullins/MEDILL

Numbers shown represent estimated radiation exposure in millirems caused by a variety sources. 

Nuked! Surprising sources of radiation

by Ashley Cullins
May 12, 2011

People who left the area surrounding the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan because of fear of radiation exposure could be in for a shock. According to nuclear experts, those people were most likely exposed to more radiation on their departing flight than they would have been if they stayed in Japan.

Roger Blomquist, a nuclear expert from Argonne National Laboratory, said that is just one example of how the common perception of nuclear radiation is inaccurate.

Brian Quirke from the Department of Energy agreed and added that people willingly inhale much higher levels of radiation while smoking than they would receive from exposure at Fukushima or the flight leaving Japan.

This infographic shows other surprising sources of radiation and puts exposure in perspective. The exposure levels are shown in millirems. To put them in context, 100,000 millirems is equal to one sievert. Exposure to one sievert of radiation may cause mild symptoms but exposure to six to 10 sieverts could lead to death.