Activities That Cause More Radiation Than Living by a Power Plant

June 17th 2016

Tricia Tongco

When you think of radiation exposure, you might think of neon green ooze bursting out of a power plant.

But the reality is that mundane everyday activities expose humans to more radiation than actually living next to a power plant (although a faulty power plant is a whole other story).

The term "radiation" is a broad one, but for the purpose of this article, we'll focus on ionizing radiation, which is the type of radiation that can "impair the normal functioning of the cells or even kill them," according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

PBS reported on what is considered a healthy dose of radiation:

"One sievert, the unit measurement for a dose of radiation, will cause illness if absorbed all at once, and 8 sieverts will result in death, even with treatment. According to the chart, the average person safely absorbs about 3.65 millisieverts (or 0.00365 sieverts) of radiation annually, through simple activities like living in a brick or concrete building (70 microsieverts a year) or sleeping next to another person (0.05 microsieverts)."

The chart that PBS described is a graph by Randall Munroe, a former NASA roboticist. To provide context, living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant for a year exposes a human to 0.09 microsieverts (there are 1 million microsieverts in one sievert), which falls significantly under the amount a human could safely absorb, according to Munroe.

Here are a few everyday situations that emit more radiation than living next to a nuclear power plant:

1. Eating a banana, 0.1 microsievert. 

2. Dental X-Ray, 0.5 microsievert. 

3. Airport Scanner, 0.1 microsievert. 

4. Flight from New York to LA, 40 microsievert. 

5. Mammogram, 3 microsievert.


You can view the full chart here and a list of the open sources here.