Things continue to unfold at the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan, but what does all of this mean to you? Below are a couple updates about the radiation threat gathered from sources reporting on the impact to Japan as well as the United States.
- Situation Overview – Early March – Joe Cirincione, Nuclear Security Expert, tells Fox News that “the worst case scenario is that the fuel rods fused together — the temperatures get so hot that they melt together in a radioactive molten mass that bursts through the containment mechanisms and is exposed to the outside. So, it spews radioactivity in the ground, into the air, into water”. When asked if this could threaten the U.S. he says: “Oh, absolutely. In Chernobyl, which happened 25 years ago, the radioactivity spread around the entire northern hemisphere. It depends how many of these cores melt down and how successful they are on containing it once the disaster happens”.
- Japan – March 28, 2011 – According to senior staff scientist, Ed Lyman, radiation expert on All Things Nuclear, radiation levels were measured outside the Fukushima evacuation zone . The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) confirmed the findings of the Toyota Electric Power Company (TEPCO) who measured two times higher than recommended evacuation levels radiation levels in soil samples outside the evacuation zonei.
- Japan – March 29, 2011 – Greg Laden, (PhD from Harvard), not only reports that the reactors are overheating, but is additionally concerned about the very radioactive water discovered in the tunnels under and outside three reactor buildingsii. Experts believe that the radioactive water is being absorbed into the neighboring soil as well as running into the Pacific Ocean.
- United States – March 28, 2011 – Jeff McMahon, contributor for Forbes, writes that the EPA announced high levels of iodine-131 were found in the rainwater in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Iodine-131 is radioactive and these levels surpass the maximum contaminant level (MCL) acceptable in drinking water. McMahon states that “Americans should continue to expect short-term contamination of rainwater as radioactive isotopes spread through the atmosphere from Japan”iii
These news agencies go on to say that they expect similar reports of radioactive contamination surpassing maximum levels across the nation. They also mention that US contamination does depend on the length of time that the disaster carries on. At this point I am failing to understand how officials can say that we are at little to no risk of harmful effects.
In order to understand this disaster, it is important to know what radiation does to the body.
What Radiation Does to the Body?
- Radiation can alter chemical bonds that change molecular composition and structure.
- It can cause mutations in human cells and DNA.
- Research has shown that even small doses of radiation can increase the risk of cancer and birth defects. As radiation doses increase, so does the risk.
- Thyroid and bone marrow have proven to be most sensitive to radiation while lung, skin, breast, reproductive and stomach issues also seem to be at great risk.
According to the Office of Health, Safety and Security, radiation affects humans in complex ways. Other factors like lifestyle, health and the surrounding environment in which one lives can contribute to how radiation alters a person’s DNA and/or cell activity.
What to do When Exposed to Radiation
Radiation experts like Dr. Kieran Murphy, a radiologist at the University of Toronto, suggest an inundation of antioxidants to the body could counter damage done by radiation by neutralizing free radicalsiv. Antioxidants are found in certain foods like fruits and vegetables as well as some supplements. Vitamins A, beta-carotene, C and E are essential and are recommended daily. Vitamin D has been shown in reducing the risk of cancer. These nutrients serve to detoxify large amounts of free radical build-up, which results from metabolism and environmental stressors like radiation poisoningv.
One of the most popular forms of protection from radiation is iodine. Specifically beneficial is potassium iodide which takes up receptor sites that would otherwise attract Radioactive iodine – 131 (“radioiodine”). Dr. David Brownstein, a specialist of all things concerning iodine, does suggest that having enough inorganic, non-radioactive iodine in our systems can block radioactive fallout from binding itself to our receptor sites. However it’s recommended to take iodine before radiation exposure. Brownstein states that the people most affected by radiation are those who are iodine deficient. The doctor recommends that iodine levels should be checked and balancedvi.
iLyman, Ed. IAEA Confirms Very High Levels of Contamination Far From Reactors. 30 MAR 2011. 30 MAR 2011 http://allthingsnuclear.org/tagged/Japan_nuclear.
iiLaden, Greg. Japan quake, tsunami, nuke news 13: When in doubt, throw a towel on it. . 30 MAR 2011. 31 MAR 2011 http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/03/japan_quake_tsunami_nuke_news_12.php#more.
iiiMcMahon, Jeff. EPA: Expect More Radiation in Rainwater. 28 MAR 2011. 30 MAR 2011 http://blogs.forbes.com/jeffmcmahon/2011/03/28/epa-expect-more-radiation-in-rainwater.
ivPark, Alice. A Possible Antidote for Radiation Exposure from CT Scans? 29 MAR 2011. 30 MAR 2011 http://healthland.time.com/2011/03/29/a-possible-antidote-for-radiation-exposure-from-ct-scans.
vBell, Stacey. Overview Of Antioxidants: Emphasis On Raisins. The Internet Journal of Nutrition and Wellness. 2010 Volume 10 Number 1
viBrownstein, David. Japan, Radiation Fallout and Iodine Recommendations. 12 MAR 2011. 31 MAR 2011 http://drdavidbrownstein.blogspot.com/2011/03/iodine-and-radiation-fallout-from-japan.html