News / Asia

Japan's Nuclear Crisis Stokes Fears of Radiation Exposure

A man who was evacuated from the vicinity of Fukushima's nuclear power plants is screened for radiation levels in Nihonmatsu, northern Japan, March 14, 2011.
A man who was evacuated from the vicinity of Fukushima's nuclear power plants is screened for radiation levels in Nihonmatsu, northern Japan, March 14, 2011.


  • Listen to Kate Woodsome's interview on radiation with James Smith

Japan raised the severity of the Fukushima nuclear crisis from four to five on a
seven-point scale of international nuclear events.

Fears of radiation exposure has caused a run on salt products all across the region, including in China, where shoppers are buying sodium-rich soy sauce in the false-belief that it could protect them.

To understand the effects of radiation, and the protections against it, VOA's Kate Woodsome spoke with James Smith, an adjunct professor of environmental health at Emory University's School of Public Health in Atlanta, Georgia.

How do potassium iodide tablets help protect against radiation exposure?

“The whole idea with potassium iodide is to provide non-radioactive, cold, stable iodine to the thyroid in the body. If the thyroid gland has been saturated with this cold, stable, harmless iodine, then if the body happens to take in by breathing or by eating or drinking any radioactive iodine, it won’t be taken up in the thyroid. It will be excreted. We know from past experiences like Chernobyl, the radiation exposure to the thyroid gland can lead to thyroid cancer. So we want to prevent exposure at all costs, first by making sure we are monitoring for radioactivity, particularly radioactive iodine in the food and the milk. That’s where most of the radioactive iodine intake is going to come from as opposed to breathing it in the air.”

Listen to the entire interview

The situation in Japan is causing anxiety throughout Asia and the world. It has caused a “run” on soy sauce in China, where some think the salt in soy sauce could protect them from exposure to radiation.

“It’s not something I would recommend that they do. Presumably, what people are looking for is the iodine that happens to be in the soy sauce because it contains high levels of salt. And salt in most countries has iodine. But, you know, you might have to consume an awful lot of that to get the amount of iodide that you need.”

What are the health consequences of a high exposure to radiation?

“When we start getting in to the acute levels of radiation exposure, perhaps 1,000 millisierverts is where that begins. These acute effects can lead to death. Actually, about 4,000 millisierverts would be about a 50 percent risk of death.”

Are the Japanese workers trying to put out the fires at the nuclear plants exposed to that high level of dose?

“There is no reason for them to be exposed to that high of a level. However, they could have hundreds of millisierverts that they are exposed to. For volunteer doses, that means in order to save the life of a comrade or colleague at a power plant in case of some accident, it would not be untoward to have that volunteer to be exposed to as much as 250 or 500 millisierverts.”

What are some of the symptoms of radiation poisoning?

“The acute radiation syndrome phase would begin with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. And that could occur within hours, perhaps it might take days before that begins to occur. The greater the dose that the person is exposed to, the more likely those kinds of symptoms are going to appear earlier.”  

There are a lot of fears about radioactive plumes of smoke.  How far could that spread?

“It can spread very far. Normally here in the U.S., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses a 10 mile [16 km] protection zone to keep people out of that because of the concern that the plume can be so concentrated within 10 miles of a plant that the fallout from that could be harmful. The 50 mile [80 km] zone that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommends in some cases, like they are doing in Japan right now, is to make sure that people are not exposed to any high levels of radioactivity in a plume as well as not exposed to anything in the soil or  the food, the water, that could be contaminated. So the idea is outside that 50 mile protection zone, then you are safe to eat, and drink and be outdoors.”

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs