A blog about science, medicine, media and the ramblings of Irish hack....

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Figuring Fukushima - On radiobiology and nuclear power

This post won't be as flippant as my usual outpourings given I'm not quite up to the Gilbert Gottfried singularity on offending people. Just a little discourse on radiation...

Unless you've been living in a bizarre time warp or have encased your head in concrete / attempted a home lobotomy, you can't have failed to notice that Japan is in the middle of a humanitarian crisis after a magnitude 8.9 earthquake and the resultant tsunami. The sheer scale of the damage done is unreal, and the human displacement staggering. Sadly, the death toll continues to rise. In the midst of all this chaos, the spectre of a nuclear accident has almost overshadowed the frankly immense natural disaster. A few people have asked me to explain the biological impact of Fukushima and radiation in general - I'll try to avoid a technical digression onto the design and just stick to the medical physics, given that's my limited sphere of knowledge. So here is the idiot's guide to radiation. I have included a few on my own humble thoughts on nuclear power at the end and links to how you can donate to Japan at the end of the post.

What exactly is radiation ?
Radiation refers to any energetic particle or waves which travel through a medium / space. Generally 'radiation' refers to what is called ionizing radiation - particles or waves with enough energy to knock electrons out of atoms / molecules. Ionizing forms include X-ray, Gamma rays, and Alpha articles. Radiation can also refer to non-ionizing forms of radiation, like radio waves, microwaves and visible light. The concept that visible light is a form of radiation strikes some people as strange given the often times negative associations of the word radiation but it is utterly true to say. Radiation is all around us all the time and has been since the dawn of humanity.

Good God! Radiation EVERYWHERE!!

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