While engrossed in news surrounding imminent euro economic collapse and nursing my leg on the Inflammation Superhighway, my attention was grabbed this week by an article on the BBC website entitled ‘What bananas tell us about radiation’ by Michael Blastland of GO FIGURE.
Since bananas are a natural source of radioactive isotopes, the article aims to reduce our fear of the effect of radiation by expressing it in terms of a ‘Banana Equivalent Dose’ (BED), which is a more understandable measurement than the more orthodox sievert. The radiation dose of one BED is roughly the same as 0.1 of a micro sievert.
The article lists a few examples of the amount of radiation exposure from various events, e.g. 10 minutes spent next to the Chernobyl reactor core after its explosion and meltdown is the same as eating 500 million bananas. Obviously, eating 500 million bananas would not be good for you.
Further examples include a mammogram (4000), flight from London to New York (400) (yellow in First Class, green in Economy), chest X-ray (200) and dental X-ray (50). Surprisingly, eating a banana is the equivalent of one BED but the real toe-curler is the revelation that sleeping with someone is the equivalent of half a banana. Now I might be going out on a small limb here, but isn’t half a banana rather pointless? At least when your partner’s ‘all aglow’ and their eyes light up you’ll know why.
Since I am as far from being a radiation or banana expert as is possible, I found the article interesting and served its purpose by adding perspective to an almost taboo subject in a relaxed and informative tone. The comments left by some readers however suggest another use for the bananas might be appropriate.
I quote a doctor from Scotland, “This article, while somewhat informative for the uninitiated, is rather misleading from a scientific perspective. The ‘banana equivalent dose’ is frowned upon by radiation protection specialists like me”. Getaway! ‘Aye, Captain, the Dilithium Crystals canny take any more – they’re gonna blow. It’s bananas down here!!’
Another expert from Edinburgh adds his humourless, po-faced and utterly unnecessary opinion citing Potassium-40, Strontium-90, Uranium 238 and Plutonium 239. I suspect he’s had a bad banana experience.
And so, on with other minor slip-ups in the news this week. It was reported that Oliver Letwin, Cabinet Office minister and advisor to the Prime Minister, has been in the habit of dealing with his constituency mail while on the hoof in St James’ Park then disposing of the letters using public waste bins.
“I have to apologise to constituents who have written to me. I shouldn’t have disposed of them in that way”, he said after having been found out. It’s that kind of insight and political nous that qualifies him for the job of advisor to the Prime Minister.
As with the complexities of radiation, it’s hard to understand the behaviour of those in power. I therefore propose a new yardstick by which to assess politicians’ grip on reality. The nana – a measurement of common sense failure by politicians that predicts the likelihood of their activities blowing up in their face and leading to a chain-reaction of their resignation from office.
The single unit ‘nana’ indicates an average par for the course slip-up, whereas a meganana is where the average politician will sit. For the real virtuoso displays of idiocy the term giganana is appropriate but will probably be shortened to either a ‘Fox’ or a ‘Letwin’.