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Radiation Measures 

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In response to Dr. Richard Stepp's comments about the "sievert" ("Screaming Atoms and Headlines," March 31): The sievert uses a "weighing" factor that gives different values for different types of radiation and different types of exposed tissue. In this way they attempt to use a single measurement to cover all radiation. The sievert is only relevant regarding health risks from acute exposure and does not take into account the long-term cancer risks from internal emitters. The sievert treats all radiation as though the substance that emitted it were not present. In that way, the sievert is a misleading measurement for the long-term health risks of pollution from a nuke plant.

Dr. Stepp's comparison of the radiation dose from Fukushima to a drive to Blue Lake on a sunny day would probably not be accurate, measured in sieverts, unless you drove a convertible with the top down. The roof of the vehicle will shield you from most cosmic radiation. In the convertible, however, you might well get a sunburn. A sunburn is a dangerous radiation burn that may cause cancer at some point in the future.

On the other hand, Dr. Stepp is correct in that the radiation from Fukushima is quite dilute by the time it arrives here. Coal-fired power plants here in the United States pump far more radioactive uranium into our atmosphere than we will likely encounter from Fukushima. Multiple carcinogenic toxins in our environment make it very hard to pin down specific events to the cancers they cause. However, as our exposure to these carcinogens increases, so does our cancer rate.

Finally, if I choose to drive to Blue Lake on a sunny day, I take my life in my own hands. If I breath plutonium from Fukushima, get lung cancer and die, that's manslaughter, no matter how far-flung or dilute it was when it got here.

John Hardin, Redway

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