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

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters 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.
Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmakingi
X
Bernard Shusman
May 24, 2015 2:55 PM
According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.
Video

Video Effort Underway to Limit Damage from California Oil Spill

Cleanup crews are working around the clock to remove oil from the waters off the coastal city of Santa Barbara, in California. About 380,000 liters of oil may have leaked out before a rupture in an onshore, underground pipeline was discovered Tuesday. The environmental disaster hit the popular West Coast resort area before the Memorial Day weekend. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports investigators have yet to determine what caused the incident.

VOA Blogs