Fukushima and Flying – Apples and Oranges

This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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The latest group to join the chorus reassuring the public that the amount of radiation reaching North America from Fukushima are aviation organizations. They claim that increased amount of radiation is no greater than the amount that a person would receive when flying across the continent! This is like comparing apples to oranges!

The average Canadian is regularly exposed to 1.7 to 3.0 mSv of radiation per year and most don’t get cancer. However, some people do get cancer from "normal" exposure to radiation. Roughly 20% of lung cancer is caused by entirely natural exposure to radioactive radon and an estimated 20% of leukemias are from "normal" background radiation. Certainly almost everyone knows that increasing exposure to cosmic rays from the sun also increases the incidence of skin cancers. Still, the number of people who get cancer is low compared to the hundreds of thousands who don’t.

Through studies done on airline pilots, there is evidence that the greater the number of air miles traveled, the greater the chances of developing cancer!

The difference, which is egregious, is that the traveler or the sunbather makes a choice to expose him- or herself to greater risks; his exposure doesn’t affect his neighbour who doesn’t travel or sunbathe. In the case of radioactivity released from a nuclear power plant accidentally or intentionally (as Pickering does regularly), the population has both no knowledge of the risk and no choice in the matter of exposure.

The other difference is that exposure to cosmic rays is limited to the actual time that the traveler is in the air. The effects may linger but the radiation does not. The radioactive particle of iodine, cesium or any of the 48 other potential emissions absorbed through eating or breathing is not limited to the moment of exposure. The particle is the "gift that keeps on giving" releasing radioactivity until all its atoms have decayed to their stable non-radioactive end product.

Certainly aviation organizations know the difference between apples and oranges! It is ingenious if not a little dishonest.

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