As the struggle to stabilize the Fukushima reactors continues, the media coverage has ranged from understatement to confused to wild overstatement to outright hysteria. It’s hard to know where to look for any actual, y’know, facts.
One of my favorite geek cartoonists, Randall Munroe of xkcd fame, has put together an excellent chart illustrating the strengths and effects of various radiation doses. Did you know that you are exposed to radiation when you eat a banana?
The above is a small piece of the chart, which manages to be informative and interesting at the same time. Of course, Munroe is not an expert and his chart is not meant to be taken as unquestionable fact, but it’s certainly more factual (and far less hysterical) than many other sources blanketing the internet and print press. I did enjoy his footnote:
Chart by Randall Munroe, with help from Ellen, Senior Reactor Operator at the Reed Research Reactor, who suggested the idea and provided a lot of the sources. I’m sure I’ve added in lots of mistakes; 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.
You might also be interested in this wonderfully simple explanation of how nuclear reactors work. Author Maggie Koerth-Baker says she wrote it in response to a reader, who emailed that “the extent of my knowledge on nuclear power plants is pretty much limited to what I’ve seen on The Simpsons.”
Yes, that describes most of us. We’ve all been getting a crash course lately, though.