The radiation levels in Tokyo are elevated. We are now hearing that elevated levels are also being found on the West Coast. Should we worry?
Well, it depends on how paranoid you are. If you live in a brick house, have granite counter tops or spend time in your basement, you might want to think about changing your lifestyle. These all give off elevated levels of radiation.
Lots of things give off natural radiation. It's a fact of life. The cumulative reading of it is known as "background radiation." What is being reported in the news is typically the increase above background. The increase is very small and barely detectable right now on the West Coast (the most sensitve equipment can barely detect it).
To put things into perspective, at the current elevated levels in Tokyo (assuming that they stay elevated for an entire year) a resident who lived there for that entire year would receive 474 microsieverts. In comparison, those fleeing the country and heading to New York will receive about 100 microsieverts in just 15 hours from the plane ride itself.
As a nuclear worker I strive to keep my exposure as low as possible. My limit is 50,000 microsieverts/year. However, in a busy year, I usually get less than 10,000. Much, much greater than what people are being exposed to in Tokyo.
I'm not implying that the levels should be ignored; they just need to be put into perspective. I fly over 100,000 miles per year. My exposure from flights each year is usually greater than what I pick up working in the plants.
Here are some questions that I got the other day: