What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

How Does Radiation Affect the Body?

April 16, 2011, 12:00 AM

What's the News?

This week Japan raised the severity of the Fukushima meltdown to a 7, the highest on the international scale, and admitted that the total amount of radiation emitted from the still-leaking reactors could ultimately surpass that of Chernobyl. They also disclosed the news that 28 plant workers were exposed to high radiation doses. 

What's the Big Idea? 

Four different types of radiation are emitted during a nuclear accident like the Fukushima meltdown: iodine, cesium, strontium, and potassium. Physicist Michio Kaku, spoke with Big Think this week about these different types of radiation and the effect each one has on the human body. Like Chernobyl, he said, the main problem has been radioactive iodine: "That’s why people have been taking potassium iodide pills—to flood the thyroid glands." But potassium iodide pills are not "radiation pills," he added. They protect against just one byproduct—iodine 131—not against cesium, strontium, or the extremely dangerous plutonium.

Below are these four different radioactive isotopes, their half-lives, and the types of cancer with which they are most often associated.


Half Life: 8 Days
Site of concentration: Thyroid Gland
Linked to: Thyroid Cancer


Half Life: 29 years
Site of concentration: Bone marrow (including, teeth)
Linked to: Bone cancer and leukemia


Half Life: 30 years
Site of Concentration: Equal distribution throughout body, though eliminated fairly rapidly through the urine.
Linked to: Solid tumors, i.e. liver, kidney, and pancreas cancers.


Half Life: 24,000 years
Site of Concentration: Lungs and other organs
Linked to: Lung cancer


You already have a bit of Chernobyl in you, and soon you'll probably have some of Fukushima in you as well. "When the Chernobyl accident happened some of the iodine went around the world several times," says Kaku. "In fact, you, I, everyone—we all have a piece of Chernobyl in our body, but it’s microscopic, therefore, not dangerous." People in North America probably have little to fear from Fukushima, but some experts forecast that up to 200,000 in the surrounding areas may die from an increase in cancer over the next 50 years. 


How Does Radiation Affect t...

Newsletter: Share: