• Sannah van Balen

Q1. When would I come in contact with radioactivity?

Radiation is everywhere. As a matter of fact, you live every second of your life constantly surrounded by it; indeed, we live in a sea of radiation. We are bombarded by radiation from space, from the very earth we tread, from the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink – even from our very bones. It is as natural as it gets, yet, for some reason, we have come to fear it like no other. Here are some day-to-day scenarios of when you might come in contact with radiation (and don’t worry, medicine, nuclear waste and stuff like that will be coming in the next few days):


Bananas and nuts

Most of us enjoy bananas (well, not my brother growing up), and some of you know that bananas are full of potassium. However, what you might not know is that a small part of that potassium is naturally radioactive! The individual dose per banana is obviously not very high – you would theoretically have to eat something like 24,000 bananas to get the same radiation dose as the global average background radiation. Still, it is pretty bananas!


The award for the arguably “most radioactive food” goes to the Brazil nuts. The trees which grow these nuts can absorb small amounts of naturally occurring radium in the ground, and it gets concentrated in the nuts, making them the most radioactive food in the world. Nuts, isn’t it…



Flying high in the sky

Whenever the coronavirus pandemic goes away and we all can go back to flying back and forth, exploring our beautiful planet, you will find yourself bathing in some extra radiation. When flying at 10,000 meters above the sea, the atmosphere is much thinner and, thus, less protective of cosmic radiation which constantly bombards the planet. That also means that you will get an increased dose of cosmic radiation, the equivalent of about 800 bananas if you fly across the Atlantic. You might at this point wonder about the aircrews, and whether the fact they get quite a lot of radiation puts them in harm’s way? Well, there is some evidence of especially skin cancer being more common, but that’s first and foremost related to another type of radiation that many of them enjoy, lying on many exotic beaches around the world…


Sleeping next to another human

With everything radioactive, it should perhaps not come as too big a surprise that the human body itself is radioactive. Indeed, the same potassium that makes bananas radioactive is also found in our bones where, on average, some 6000 radioactive disintegrations take place every second. So, if you sleep next to another human for 8 hours a night for most nights of the year, you get way more radiation from this human than if you lived nearby a nuclear power plant – both doses being completely harmless! So the person sleeping next to you is literally some hot stuff, at least radioactively speaking…

Living near a nuclear power plant

Hollywood has done a great job at making nuclear power plants seem like rather scary places, and that the land surrounding it would somehow be full of wonky trees, two-headed cows and a general assortment of mutants, not to mention rather dangerous to human beings. However, with most thing’s Hollywood, taking a pinch (more often, a bucket) of salt to any such claims is a good idea. As a matter of fact, living nearby one of these atomic tea kettles – which job is to boil water – would give you a dose equivalent to eating two Brazil nuts. Yet, I somehow doubt that the horror film about the two Brazil nuts will be hitting the screen anytime soon…



- John Lindberg


References: https://scilearn.sydney.edu.au/fychemistry/calculators/radiation_dose.shtml https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/ionising-radiation-dose-comparisons/ionising-radiation-dose-comparisons https://www.epa.gov/radtown/natural-radioactivity-food https://www.bfs.de/EN/topics/ion/environment/foodstuffs/radioactivity-food/radioactivity-food_node.html

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