Typically, when climbers decide to scale the mighty heights of Mount Everest, radiation is the last thing they are worried about. And yet, when they make it to the top, they are exposed to more radiation than a worker at a nuclear plant, a Scottish radiation expert has now revealed.
Radiation expert Bob Kerr decided to climb Mount Everest with a Geiger counter and see how the radiation levels change towards the top of the mountain. He began the adventure back in May, 2013 and climbed 26,000 feet. But at that altitude, he suffered partial blindness due to scarcity of oxygen.
He then beckoned his guide, the Nepalese Dorje Khatri, to go on and take the Geiger readings at 29,000 feet. The readings revealed that at such high altitude, climbers were exposed to 1 milliSievert (mSv) of radiation. This amount is five times more than what an average worker at a nuclear power plant annually experiences.
The higher levels of radiation at high altitudes is a result of direct, less distilled cosmic rays directly from space. Commenting on the phenomenon, Kerr later stated, “When chatting about my career in radiation protection I find that climbers, despite participating happily in one of the world’s potentially hazardous hobbies, share the general public’s emotional fear of radiation. They don’t realise that as they ascend into the heavens their exposure to natural background radiation from outer space – cosmic rays – increases.”
Although exposure to such high radiation carries many risks, very few of those exposed to it incur any serious problems. The rough estimates are that only 1 out of 10,000 people exposed to such radiation are expected to develop any fatal cancer. An exposure to a similar amount at ground level, however, can raise alarms as it exceeds the public dose limit defined by most countries.