Answer to Question #9686 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Pregnancy and Radiation — Flying

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


I am wondering if flying now, after what happened to the reactors in Japan after the tsunami, is more risky than before the catastrophe. I am flying one month after the tsunami from the United Kingdom to Poland with a two-year-old and I am pregnant so I am not sure if it is safe now. I am thinking about canceling the flight. We know that the reactors are releasing radioactive gases into the atmosphere and traces of iodine have been detected in the United Kingdom.


Any radioactivity from the Japanese nuclear plant event will be far less than the very small exposure to radiation that everyone receives from cosmic rays while flying. The flight from the United Kingdom to Poland will expose you, your child, and your fetus to an extremely small amount of radiation. See a discussion about cosmic radiation on our RadiationAnswers website. Your risk for birth defects or miscarriage is not increased over the background risks that all healthy pregnant women face.

The background risks for pregnant women with no personal or family history of reproductive or developmental problems is 3% for birth defects and 15% for miscarriage. All pregnant women face these risks, which we cannot yet prevent.

Good luck with your pregnancy.
Robert Brent MD, PhD

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 5 April 2011. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.