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Sensationalism

The story is that honey is contaminated with nuclear radiation. OMG! Panic. The press loves them a scare story. Radiation is scary because most people don’t understand it, can’t sense it, and know it can kill. Look at the facts, and understand them. Then you can see how ridiculous it is:

The highest level of contamination was detected to be 19.1 becquerels per kilogram. A becquerel is one decaying atom per second. So in this case, there were 19.1 atoms decaying per second in each kilogram of honey. The average American eats half a kilogram of honey per year.

The atom that is responsible for this detected radiation is Radiocesium, or Cesium-137, which has a half life of 30.17 years. Nearly all of it decays by Beta emission (emitting an electron) into Barium-137m, which itself decays 153 seconds later by emitting a fast photon in the form of a gamma ray.

How much Cesium-137 is 19 becquerels? The average human contains 100 Becquerels of radioactive materials per kilogram, mainly due to Potassium 40 and Carbon 14. These are natural, background radiation sources, and are always around. In fact, there are a host of things in your home that are far more radioactive than this honey (source– PDF warning):

  • Coffee 1000 Bq/kg
  • Phosphate fertilizer 5000 Bq/kg
  • Ionization Smoke detector 3000 Bq

Anything that has Potassium and Carbon in it will contain radioactive isotopes of those two elements. Even the air itself. In short, 1 kg of honey is far more likely to present a danger of diabetes than it is a danger of radiation. This is just another example of sensationalist journalism.

But science! In this case, the press is using ignorance to scare people into reading their pseudoscientific nonsense.