A couple of days ago, I wrote about the difference between detectable radiation or contamination and dangerous levels of the same two widely discussed phenomena.
Aside: Many people remain confused about the difference between radiation and contamination. If you will forgive an old sailor for some blunt language, here is how one of my early mentors explained it to me. His exact quote remains burned in my memory banks – “Ensign, radiation is the stink, contamination is the shit.” I hope that helps you to keep the difference between the two terms clear.
A couple of years ago, I ran into that mentor who, at the time of our interaction, was a first class petty officer and the leading engineering laboratory technician at the D1G prototype where I first qualified to operate a reactor. He is now an executive in the nuclear industry.End Aside.
In my last article about radiation and contamination I spoke about the many orders of magnitude (powers of 10) that can be measured and how the units can be quite confusing. I also recognize that, since the invention of the pocket calculator, there are fewer and fewer people like my grandmother, who loved doing math in her head and amazing us with that ability.
I thought the below graphic did a great job of illustrating the difference between the dose that one might receive from breathing air containing the radioactive material measurements reported in the Pacific Northwest and a dose that can be received from a common medical procedure. Credit Sandi Doughton of the Seattle Times for working hard to get the story right and provide valuable context along with the reported readings.
I hope Sandi and her employer do not mind me using the graphic provided by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to illustrate a post congratulating them on good reporting.