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    The Hellscene of Fukushima Scare Blogs Beckons

    Written by

    Michael Byrne

    Editor

    lazlo-photo

    Do a quick Google search right now for “Fukushima ocean radiation.” The results are a crime-scene: maybe an actual link of reported, accurate journalism per page. Most everything else is panic-click blogs, catatonic antiestablishmentism, magically real takes on actual science reporting. You’ll find a couple of The New York Times articles in there, a couple of Reuters’ links, but usually above them will be a couple of pieces of reblogging art winning the traffic race over the source material simply by mangling that source material beyond recognition to something much, much scarier and conspiracy-minded.

    It creeps me out to no end that this is how any number of my peers pursues information. I know just from having a Facebook account that a good number of them do and a good number of those went to very expensive and forward-thinking institutions of learning. Yet, among those beautiful brains there are many that will select RT or Natural News over anything with some slight concern for reality.

    An event like Fukushima is the second-coming for shitholes like those mentioned above. It has radiation, a thing boasting like an entire page of different units covering some different aspect of a phenomenon so general in our world it barely has meaning as a single word. Tell me, otherwise, where does a sentence like “Radiation will reach the United States west coast” have meaning? It has plenty of meaning on panic-click sites, but absolutely zero in reality. Finding some specificity to a claim like that and, with it, a primary source is nearly impossible just out and out Google searching.

    Finally, I came across a pretty decent fact sheet at Deep Sea News put together from actual scientific reports (references and everything) covering radiation levels after the disaster across the Pacific Ocean. The site’s author, Dr. Kim Martini of the University of Alaska, writes, “Practically, what does ten thousand or a million times less radiation mean? It means that these models estimate the West Coast and the Aleutians will see radiation levels anywhere from 1-20 Bq/m3,while Hawaiian Islands could see up to 30 Bq/m3,” citing three different studies published in the Environmental Research Letters, the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, and Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers.

    A fourth study,  released in 2012 via PNAS, examined existing radiation levels in 2011 off the coast of Japan. The peak was 325 Bq/m3, excepting one powerful and anomalous eddie (a water trapping current phenomenon).

    These are the numbers I was hunting at the beginning of all of this and I got sucked into the sewage. I was looking for them such that we might try some natural radiation equivalencies, which seem to do well at putting radiation (which is just some stupid particles ditching an atom, like the ones making your computer run at this moment) in perspective. For this we have the famous banana equivalency. Bananas usually contain about a half gram of potassium, which is radioactive. Bananas contain enough potassium that’s kicking off enough radiation via beta decay such that truckloads of them have been known to set off safety alarms.

    You yourself are pretty reactive and there’s a base level of radiation everywhere. In no place are you safe from radiation. Such a place would have to be entirely devoid of any stuff whatsoever and in my opinion that is not a place at all. But the banana has better answers for the simple reason that it’s really radioactive for its size.

    katerha/Flickr

    Let’s talk about Dr. Martini’s worst-case west coast 20 Bq/m3. What is that? It’s the number of Becquerels—the number of decays a single nucleus undergoes in a second—we’d find in a single cubic-meter of water lapping at the British Columbian coast. (In real-world terms, figure a cubic-meter is about the size of an airplane bathroom plus a little.) Your body is worth about 4,960 Becquerels just based on its potassium constituency. The banana alone will deliver about 15 Becquerels, and Forbes did the big banana math for the Fukushima disaster: 76 Million Bananas total.

    Finally, I should mention fish. There seem to be a great number of people that believe the myth that Fukushima cost Earth an entire ocean’s worth of fish. Another PNAS paper did the math for us: a Pacific Blue fin tuna caught off the California coast is going to deliver a half-banana's worth of radiation to your system. That measurement took place in 2011, and the study notes follow-up measurements in 2012 found about half of the 2011 dose. That would be equivalent to a quarter of a banana or an entire potassium-poor apple.

    The point is this: stress smarter. Stress about where you’re getting information—know the difference between a study published in Science or Nature and a study in Medical Hypotheses. Some sources are really better than others, and some are 100 percent worthless. Or, just try to keep in mind that there’s a whole realm of the internet interested mostly in terrifying you to either make money or get you to buy into an ideology. I’m not totally sure which is worse.

    @everydayelk

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