How Much Radiation is Lethal?


Most Americans receive an annual radiation dose of about 0.62 rem, just by going about their lives. Despite what Hollywood might tell you, radiation is a ubiquitous and — in small enough doses — pretty harmless fact of life for the vast majority of us.

But still, if that small annual dose we all get doesn’t hurt, how much radiation is lethal? How much radiation can humans be exposed to before things get dicey? Is it possible for radiation in cell phones and every day radiation to build up enough to do damage?

You’ve come to the right place. For the answers to all these questions and more, just keep reading!

What Are the Different Sources of Radiation?

Radiation is all around us. While the term itself might conjure images of mushroom clouds and nuclear disasters, the truth is you could probably reach out and touch a radiation source right this second.

For example, the gadgets you use every day all emit some low level of radiation. Cell phones, clocks, watches, lamps, and smoke detectors (which actually work because they contain a radioactive element) all kick out some harmless level of radiation. A good portion of that 0.62 rem we mentioned up top can be traced back to these kinds of gadgets.

But that’s not all. Even your tap water contains traces of radiation. That’s because it’s sourced from lakes and rivers that flow across endless layers of rocks and soil. Rocks and soil are another source of, you guessed it, radiation. It seeps out of the soil, into the water, and out of your taps!

If you were so inclined, you could buy trifield meter tools and go hunting for these benign sources of radiation yourself!

So How Much Radiation is Lethal and How Do I Avoid It?

Put simply, a dose of 400 to 450 rem received over a very short time will be enough to kill about 50% of people. When you consider that your average annual dose of radiation is 0.62 rem, you’ll start to realize how catastrophically unlucky you’d have to be to receive a lethal dose.

Still, in the unlikely event you need to worry about how radiation doses, remember three things: time, distance, and shielding. By spreading your exposure over a long period of time, increasing your distance from the source, and putting shielding between you and the radioactive material, you will reduce your risk of lethal exposure by a lot.

Chance of Superpowers: Low

So there you have it, now you know how much radiation is lethal and how to protect yourself against it. Whether you’re a worker in a radiation-heavy industry or a curious onlooker, we hope you’ve learned some key facts that will serve you well down the road.

But don’t go throwing your mobile phone away because someone said it’s a source of radiation!

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