News / Asia

Radiation Levels In Japan Causing Concern in Other Countries

Mother and daughter receive radiation exposure scanning in Fukushima, northern Japan Friday, one week after a massive earthquake and tsunami, March 18, 2011
Mother and daughter receive radiation exposure scanning in Fukushima, northern Japan Friday, one week after a massive earthquake and tsunami, March 18, 2011

As the nuclear crisis continues in northeastern Japan, the government is telling people near the damaged Fukushima-Daiichi reactors to stay indoors. The US government is warning Americans already in Japan to stay at least 80 kilometers away from the reactor site. Many people in the U.S., China and Russia are reportedly stocking up on potassium iodide pills to protect themselves against any wind-borne radiation. While there are many uncertainties about the public health situation in Japan, much is known about the health effects of radiation.

Tens of thousands of people in Japan have been scanned for radiation exposure by medical teams wearing white suits and carrying Geiger counters. When radioactive iodine enters the body, it settles in the thyroid. Children are especially vulnerable.

When the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in Ukraine exploded in 1986, people living nearby were exposed to unusually high levels of radiation.  Experts say more than 6,000 children developed thyroid cancer as a result of that exposure.

"Radioactivity is bad for children because it can damage DNA and affect the way cells divide. And children have cells that divide more rapidly than adults because they are growing," said Dr. Edwin Lyman, who is with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Confusing terminology

Health experts now know that some of these cancers could have been prevented if the children had taken potassium iodide before being exposed to the radiation.

Unless a person is scanned, it is impossible to know how much radiation the body has absorbed.

The terminology can also be confusing.

"One way of measuring is through rem,” said Dr. John Soh, chief of radiation oncology at the Cleveland Clinic. “Another way is the sievert. And because the seivert is a very large unit, we typically measure things in milliseverts.  And just to give you an idea, a chest x-ray is about 0.2 milliseiverts," Soh stated.

Dr. Soh says the average person should not be exposed to more than one milliseivert per year.  If a person were exposed to 17 seiverts or 1,700 rem, it would likely result in a fatal cancer.

Thursday morning, Kazuo Ymanaka, a spokesman for the Japanese power plant, sought to reassure a frightened populace that the radiation levels around the damaged reactors were going down. 

"The changes in the level of radiation as of March 17, today at 9:30 was 3,786 microsieverts per hour. An hour later at 10:30, it went down to 3,750 microsieverts, a bit lower than previously," he said.

Hourly exposure crucial

Professor Robert Baker from Texas Tech University has studied the radiation effects around Chernobyl.

"The amount of radioactivity that kills humans is a substantial amount. If you don't get that much radiation, then the effect for the rest of your life is not easily measured," Baker said.

What counts is not only the amount of a one-time, immediate exposure, but how much radiation a person is exposed to per hour, or regularly over weeks and months.  An exposure of four or five seiverts per hour could require a bone marrow transplant.

A review by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the highest radiation levels so far at the Fukushima plant have been around 400 millisiverts, rates that are high enough to cause radiation sickness within two or three hours. That level quickly dropped and other readings have been far lower.  And the levels also drop quickly the farther away from the damaged plant the measurements are taken.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid