salt, bananas, and nuclear power plants in Japan

So what do these three things have in common? Well, they’ll all kill you if you eat enough of them. And regardless of where you are in the world, it’s not terribly likely that any of them are going to give you cancer.

I’d love to explain this in detail, but the fact is, I’m not an expert on radiation. Or bananas. The best I could do at this point is just take stuff off Wikipedia or other random websites and add my own biased viewpoint and pretend like I knew what I was talking about.

Which, apparently, is what most media sources in America are doing.

Seriously, I am extremely disappointed by how the American media has reported events in Japan. At one point CNN had a neurologist discussing the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant as if he were some kind of authority on the matter. And yeah, obviously a neurologist is an expert in neurology, but to be perfectly blunt the guy knew about as much about nuclear power and radiation as, well, me.

And if that doesn’t trouble you at all, I don’t know what will.

Honestly though, it really seems like all the “news” articles coming from American sources have been over-the-top sensationalism. For example, I read an article from the BBC about how they had upgraded the severity level of the incident from 4 to 5, which put it on the same level as the Three Mile Island meltdown. An accident that has been conclusively confirmed to have killed all of zero people. But reading the exact same story from an American source it was more like, “OMFG IT’S AT LEVEL 5!!!!! THAT’S ONLY 2 LESS THAN CHERNOBYL!!!! WE’RE ALL GONNA DIEEEE!!!!!!!! Stay tuned for more at 11.”

Great reporting, assholes.

Oh and by the way, if you leaned a little closer to your monitor to read that last sentence, you just got about as much of a dose of radiation as you’re likely to get from Fukushima.

The media just loves this story. Because I know that for me personally, radiation scares the CRAP out of me, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. And while the media just thrilled because these stories get them more listeners, viewers, page clicks, or whatever, the fact is, people are actually getting sick because they’re freaking out and overdosing on iodine. And here in China everyone is buying up all the salt they can, either because it’s iodized and they mistakenly believe this will somehow protect them, or because they’re afraid that any future salt that comes from the ocean will be radioactive (which is irrelevant because the salt most people buy in the store here doesn’t come from the ocean). And yeah, the salt panic in China has nothing to do with the American media, but it just shows what happens when people get scared and irrational.

For another example, check out the radiation forecast from the New York Times. The best part, of course, is the arbitrary units. As near as I can figure, the amount of radiation that is actually hitting America is at absolute maximum one tenth of what’s coming from Japan, and what’s coming from Japan isn’t enough to kill anyone, so…yeah. But to look at the picture, it’s like an inevitable wave of 16-bit pixilated DEATH is sweeping across the ocean and annihilating most of the west coast.

Ironically, one of the best resources I’ve found on this subject is from the webcomic xkcd. Here he’s posted a radiation dose chart that gives the relative amounts of radiation from different sources in a clear and straightforward manner. It really helps put things into perspective. And yeah, of course things aren’t that simple. For one thing, there’s a big difference between types of radiation, the nature and danger of various radioactive particles, and the severity of the effects, but again if I were to go into any more detail than that, I’d just be repeating what I read off Wikipedia. If you’re really interested you should just read it for yourself there, rather than getting it filtered through my intermittently functional brain.

Speaking of Wikipedia, their article on the current incident seems pretty damn good, and a hellova lot better than most news articles I’ve read on the subject.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat some salted bananas.


About Critical Awesomeness
I'm a 32-year-old American with a PhD in chemistry and a green hat. Only one of these two things is really important.

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