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Explained: rad, rem, sieverts, becquerels

A guide to terminology about radiation exposure

Sometimes it must seem as though reports on releases of radioactive materials from Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear powerplant in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami are going out of their way to confuse people. Some reports talk about millisieverts while others talk about rem or becquerels, when what most people really want to know is much simpler: Can I drink the milk? Is it safe to go home? Should people in California be worried?

Dr. Jacquelyn Yanch, a senior lecturer in MIT's Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering who specializes in the biological effects of radiation provides some insight.

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