Re: How to become irradiated at 30 000 feet.

From:         kls@ohare.Chicago.COM (Karl Swartz)
Organization: Chicago Software Works
Date:         22 Apr 94 11:29:46 
References:   1
Followups:    1 2
Next article
View raw article
  or MIME structure

[I almost rejected this for sci.aeronautics.airliners as being too far
off the focus of a technical discussion, but upon some reflection it
does post some potential concerns for airliner design.  Please note
that followups have been redirected to alt.folklore.urban, though I'll
consider any reasonable followups that anyone might choose to submit
to sci.aeronautics.airliners.  Karl, moderator of s.a.a.]

D.M.Procida writes:
>My friend- who, I might add, is afu-conscious- tells me that he heard ...
>on a trans-Atlantic flight, one receives substantial doses of radiation.
>This is because there is much less atmosphere above to absorb the nasties.

Concerns have been raised in the past, primarily by unions such as the
AFU, about the radiation dangers of commercial jet flights.  Note that
there is less atmosphere above you at 39,000 feet regardless of where
you happen to be -- New York to Los Angeles is probably just as bad as
a trans-Atlantic flight.  One might make a case, however, that the
planet's magnetic field sufficiently concentrates radiation near the
polar regions to add to the risk.  This would slightly elevate the
risk on trans-Atlantic flights, as well as some trans-Pacific flights.

>I presume the radiation in question is gamma radiation, by the way.

The radiation is cosmic rays, of which gamma radiation is merely one
component.  It is, however, the most likely component to penetrate to
where it might do some damage, and also the most energetic.

>Anyway, he added that this dose is so strong that a single trans-Atlantic
>flight is as good as living next door to a nuclear power station for the
>rest of your life ...

"As good as" is perhaps more appropriate here than you intended.
After the Three Mile Island accident, radiation measurements were
taken one mile away from the power station and inside the chambers
of the United States Senate.  The latter location had dramatically
higher radiation counts, at least an order of magnitude higher if I
recall correctly.  Granite is a great source of radiation, while
plain old concrete is pretty active too.  From a radiation stand-
point, living next door to a nuclear power station might easily be
better than simply going to work, never mind flying.  (At least as
long as nothing nasty happens to the power plant, of course!)

>why, in that case, don't the children of airline pilots all have the
>wrong number of digits

Perhaps because the veracity of the radiation claims is severely
strained?

>can aircraft be made out of lead?

Certainly.  I assume you've heard of a lead balloon as well.  Neither
one flies.  (Reminds me of a boat my father purportedly built when he
was a lad.  A budding structural engineer, he used enough nails to
keep the thing solid for all eternity.  When placed in water, it
promptly sank.)

>I'm quite sceptical of the *quantities* in this little piece of knowledge
>(though the idea seems about right). Any offers?

There are concerns, though as you suspect your friend's numbers are
way off, probably by several orders of magnitude.  I'd be interested
in hearing what, if anything, the manufacturers are doing in this
area, or if they even view it as a concern.  While lead is impractical
due to weight, there may be other steps which can be taken to reduce
the risks, if warranted.  Note that this should be a greater concern
with the HSCT, since it will undoubtedly fly at much greater altitudes
than current, sub-sonic commercial jets.  (Is there anything special
about Concorde or its operation to address any radiation concerns?)

--
Karl Swartz	|INet	kls@ohare.chicago.com
1-415/854-3409	|UUCP	uunet!decwrl!ditka!kls
		|Snail	2144 Sand Hill Rd., Menlo Park CA 94025, USA
 Send sci.aeronautics.airliners submissions to airliners@chicago.com