Visual and audio guides to radiation risk


Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Over the past three weeks, we have been inundated with numbers and estimates of risk posed by radiation from the earthquake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.

It can be hard to put this risk into perspective. My colleague Peter Wehrwein has done it with words. If pictures or sounds help you absorb complex information, here are three good resources for understanding radiation risk:

A cartoonist named Randall Munroe who blogs at has put together a terrific illustration that visually explains radiation exposures and risks. (The image above is just part of the chart.) Beginning with tiny boxes representing the smallest radiation exposure—sleeping next to someone, or 0.05 millionths of a sievert—Munroe builds up to a fatal dose of 8 sieverts, and shows a lot in between. (A sievert—abbreviated sV and pronounced SEE-vert—is a measure of the biologic effect radiation has on people and the possible harm it can cause.)

Adam Ragusea, a reporter and associate producer for Radio Boston, took Munroe’s chart and translated it into sound. Radio Boston airs on WBUR, one of Boston’s public radio stations.

Another excellent visual representation of the possible harm caused by different doses of radiation comes from Ellen McManis, a senior reactor operator for the Reed Research Reactor, which is owned and operated by Reed College in Portland, Oregon.


  1. health

    The story is interesting, thank you, but makes no mention of how hydration and race day temperature affects the runner as far as hitting the wall. I would be interested in the influence on running by these factor on different individuals. In my case the warmer the tempeture the quicker I hit the wall granted I did not count calories intake before the marathons. Also the effect on the amount of training miles i.e. how much is enough.
    p.s. how can individuals access the formula ?

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  2. Priscy

    Thats so cool

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