March 28, 2011

Radiation: the “Banana Equivalent Dose”

Filed under: Health, Science, Technology — Tags: — Nicholas @ 09:29

A link from wormme leads to this interesting article providing some basic information on radiation:

There is an interesting way of comparing different amounts of radiation, and we’ve now built up all the pieces to understand it. Nuclear physicists and safety engineers sometimes use a unit called the “banana equivalent dose.” This is basically how it’s calculated.

First you take a banana.

Like pretty well everything in nature, bananas are slightly radioactive. Because bananas concentrate potassium, they are more radioactive than a lot of other foods — natural potassium includes some part that is the radioactive isotope potassium-40. That means eating a banana, and thereby ingesting the potassium, adds a measurable radiation dose from the radioactive potassium-40.

Now, before you change to kumquats or something, it’s not much, and bananas aren’t the only source. Potatoes are another food that concentrates potassium. But it does mean we can usefully compare the total dose we get from a banana with other small amounts of radiation. The somewhat-joking term for this is the “banana equivalent dose,” or BED.

Okay, that’s the amusing part, but read the whole thing: it’s informative and non-sensationalized.

Part of the reason I’m posting links to articles like this is that there is a lot of misinformation on all things nuclear and the mainstream media is doing a flat-out terrible job of reporting.

I’ve lived within 10-20 km of nuclear power stations for more than a decade, and I’m not particularly worried day-to-day about the risks due to that proximity. I used to joke with visitors that we didn’t pay for electricity — the walls glowed after dark from the radioactivity. I stopped doing that when I realized people were taking me a bit more seriously than I expected.

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