True Or False? Popcorn Can Be Used To Test For Radioactive Contamination

True or False - Popcorn

True or False?

There was fear of radiation fallout in western North America following the massive 2011 earthquake that struck Japan, triggering a huge tsunami. The giant wave totally destroyed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. That resulted in billions of tons of radioactive debris being released into the atmosphere and ocean, from explosions caused after cooling systems failed. In Japan, this caused widespread panic among the citizens, and started a nationwide rash of hoarding of uncontaminated food and water. Desperate, people sought out cheap and simple methods to detect contamination.

After a disaster of that magnitude, people are vulnerable and susceptible, so when the rumor that microwave popcorn will indicate radioactive contamination began, supplies sold out quickly. Across the ocean, a similar panic about supplies of radiation detectors and potassium iodide (to prevent thyroid cancer) occurred in the U.S., after the Surgeon General added to the public’s panic, by saying it was ‘not an overreaction’ to stock up on iodine pills, causing stores to quickly sell out.

The logic for using microwave popcorn to detect radioactivity, is that supposedly if a package of microwavable popcorn is unwrapped and placed somewhere in a contaminated room, the popcorn will begin to pop. The problem with that logic is, radiation does not make the popcorn pop. The only thing that will make popcorn pop is heat. Popcorn is a type of corn called flint corn, with a moisture content of about 13.5%. Its tough outer layer resists internal steam pressure during the heating process, until 400 degrees Fahrenheit is reached, then the layer violently erupts, causing the kernel to expand, up to thirty-five times its original size!

True Or False? Popcorn can be used to test for radioactive contamination.

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