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Japan's power plant meltdown and radiation exposure
Japan’s Nuclear Accident
If you’re anything like me you have been watching the news reports of Japan and the failing nuclear power plants closely. Firstly my heart goes out to everyone that has been affected by the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. My heart also goes out to everyone who has been affected by the nuclear power plant leaks. I would love it if all the names of the brave scientists and other workers at the devastated power plants and the names of the brave fire-fighters and all the others that have and are placing their lives at risk to save the lives of everyone else in the country were rewarded with the status of HERO from the Japanese government and their Emperor.
Low levels of radioactivity, traceable to Fukushima, have been detected at monitoring stations in the UK including Chilton, in Oxfordshire, and Glasgow, in Scotland," HPA's Dr Michael Clark'
Traces of radioactive material from Fukushima in northern Japan have reached most parts of the northern hemisphere.
Radiation from the tsunami-damaged plant has been found in the United States, Canada, Iceland, Germany, China, and South Korea, but not in doses posing a health hazard
Radiation Accidents in History
A scientist at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory who is only named by the first letter of his surname Mr K received a fatal body dose of 45Gy of mixed neutron-gamma radiation.
It was reported that he was thrown to the floor by the blast and lost consciousness for a short time. Upon waking he turned on and off his plutonium mixing apparatus before running out of the room yelling “I’m burning up”. His co-workers helped him to the shower. It must have felt like he truly was burning up due to the high levels of radiation he had just endured which would have caused one assumes radiation burns. It wasn’t stated if his body had any radiation burns upon it.
He was rushed to the hospital. It is stated that he regained consciousness and at one point was experiencing euphoria then shortly before his death he became irritable and uncooperative then drifted into a coma and died 35 hours after his initial accident.
An employee of a uranium-235 recovery plant in Providence, Rhode Island a Mr P, received a head dose of 140Gy and a body dose of 120Gy whilst trying to extract fissionable material from uranium scraps.
It was reported that he was thrown to the floor by the blast, though he is reported not to have lost consciousness he was stunned for a time. He ran from the building towards an emergency shack though he ran straight into a 4 inch wide sapling on the way.
About 8 to 10 hours later he became alert, cooperative and euphoric for a time in hospital before becoming restless, anxious and disorientated before dying shortly afterwards.
The Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident reportedly had a few different people who due to the high levels of radiation they were exposed to found it impossible to perform their jobs. This included at least one fireman and a Soviet doctor who became infected with radiation poisoning whilst treating patients from the disaster area.
Scientists say that in comparison to these high level accidents that low level doses can cause less severe but longer lasting behaviour changes including fatigue. For example a person who was exposed to 10 Gy of radiation experienced fatigue and weakness for more than 210 days after his exposure to the radiation.
What are the effects of Radiation?
Retrograde amnesia – This is short term memory loss or an inability to recall recent events. A dose of 0.001 – 0.1 Gy can cause extensive retrograde amnesia. Five years after the Hiroshima attack many people still presented with this.
Malaise – This basically means the person doesn’t tend to care about anything or anyone. Some people don’t bathe, eat, drink or care for either their own or their children’s daily wellbeing.
Fatigue – This would be likened to having just run a marathon. Your whole body feels drained and you find it difficult doing simple tasks.
Drowsiness – You feel like you have not slept in ages.
General Weakness – Trying to do things takes a lot of effort as everything feels a lot heavier even a hairbrush is like picking up a 10kg weight.
Headache – These can go from a headache to the level of a migraine
Nausea – Feeling like you may be ill if you move around too much or eat or drink anything. Many times due to this feeling the intake of food and liquid lessens drastically. Scientists state that exposure is known to reduce food and liquid intake.
Vomiting – This is the next step up from just being nauseous. The mouth throat and the stomach may have many abrasions to it due to radiation. It is suggested that you should eat food that is easy to swallow and that will upset your stomach as little as possible.
Anorexia – This has been known to occur to some people due to the feelings of nausea and vomiting when they do eat or drink. Scientists say this is not normal but radiation induced anorexia has been noted.
Haemorrhage – Bleeding inside the body. This usually would only occur with high levels of radiation and is not always the case.
Insomnia – Not being able to sleep. Some people go the opposite way and just want to sleep all the time.
Early Transient Incapacitation (ETI) – This is what scientists call it when you can no longer do simple tasks. This can occur anywhere from between 5-10 minutes after radiation to around 45 minutes or even 4 hours later. Normally this will last for anywhere between 10-30 minutes before a period of recovery occur. Though it was always thought that only high levels of radiation causes these effects, recently scientists have found that even low levels can cause ETI or EDP in people. In high levels most people sadly will die in hours or days after exposure to the radiation.
Early Performance Decrement (EDP) – Scientists use this tern when you can still perform your normal tasks but not very well. This follows the same basic timelines as ETI.
Tinnitus – This is a ringing or buzzing sound in the ear. The threshold is around 10 mrad before damage may occur. People who received 40-50 Gy of either gamma or X radiation developed inflammation of the middle ear, temporary tinnitus and a temporary loss of hearing.
Cataracts – These can be small or can cause total blindness. Scientists say that the visual system is sensitive to radiation levels below 0.5 mrad. Scientific studies have shown that after 35 Gy of X radiations there were no effects for the first 100 days however after this time sight deteriorated until at day 210 people were blind. Another study showed that after 600 Gy Necrosis of rods and cataracts occur. Another study showed people had temporary lessening in visual sensitivity one day after exposure to 0.3-1.0 Gy of X radiation. Longer term changes of 20-36 days were reported in patients exposed to between 4-62 Gy of X rays.
Altered Taste Perceptions – Many people report a metallic taste to all food and drink or a metallic taste in their mouths. Many patients exposed to 36 Gy of X rays reported a metallic taste in their mouths.
Brain Damage – This is normally to the white matter of the brain. Recent studies using computed axial tomography (CAT) scans confirmed abnormalities not associated with the tumour under treatment in the brain. Radiogenic brain damage is scientifically accepted after doses of more than 15 Gy but may occur with smaller doses. Another recent study used silver to stain the brain and found punctate brain lesions within 3 days after 2.57 Gy neutron exposures. This is a dose that was always believed to be safe.
Radiation Burns – This is when burns and sores anywhere on the body or head. Normally this occurs when a person is in a blast area or exposed to extreme levels of radiation.
Euphoria – Some people experience feelings of extreme happiness for differing periods of time.
Anxiousness – Some people experience feelings that something is not quite.
Disorientation – many people become unsure of where they are and some don’t know who they are with. People may also misjudge distances and bump or crash into objects.
Coma – This is when a person falls into a deep sleep that no-one can wake them from. This is thought to be the bodies last defence mechanism of shutting down unneeded areas of the body and slowing down respiration, blood flow etc. to enable the body to attempt to heal itself.
Death – The worst case scenario.
The above are all the things that most scientists agree can happen to people who are affected by radiation. You may get more than one of these symptoms happening at the same time or in succession. Some of these only seem to occur if you have been exposed to very high levels of radiation.
Many people who survived Hiroshima, Nagasaki or Chernobyl have reported extreme birth defects in multiple cases. There were also many reports of terminal cancers affecting multiple members of families or towns and decreased intellectual capacity.
Is there a safe dose of radiation?
The safe doses of radiation are still under debate though it was estimated to be around 30-40 Gy if given in fractions. (Bit by bit). Spinal cord damage may occur with doses as low as 25 Gy. Scientists also state that the difference between a safe dose and an unsafe dose to the brain may be as small as 4.3 Gy.
Scientists also say that outside influences like the physical wellbeing of a person, exposure to cold, exhaustive exercise or high altitudes will alter the effects of radiation.
Scientists say that an unwell person, daily exhaustive exercise, exposure to cold (6°C) or less, or high altitudes 15,000 feet or more. Any of these things will cause radiation exposure to be more damaging and can reduce the time to death or increase the incidences of death from exposure.
We are probably all aware now that you can use pharmacological protectants like iodine tablets. Radiation enters the body and fills up any areas that are lacking in iodine. The tablets fill our bodies with iodine and don’t allow the radiation anywhere to settle. This is a great way to stop the air based radiation from entering our bodies. Masks also lessen the amount of radiation we breathe. It won’t stop the radiation from settling on clothing or uncovered skin so it is a good idea to stay covered from head to foot as it is easier to remove radioactive clothing than radiated skin.
Radiation also lands upon the ground making food uneatable so it is also good to eat out of cans etc. rather than fresh fruits and vegetables.
I do wonder if homes and stores within 50km of any nuclear power plant should not have lead and possibly concrete incorporated into their design. My belief is that this may help to protect people who live in these areas from any accidents for a time, allowing people to be safely relocated if necessary with minimal radiation effects.
Perhaps emergency radiation suits could be given to those within a 25km area of a plant as well though I doubt many governments would wish to fork out the needed money for this. Still it would minimise the human toll in the event of an accident drastically.
I assume all plants have alarm or siren systems to warn the population in the surrounding area of any accidents. At least this would give people a fractional warning to get out of the area.
Japan shuts down it's last nuclear powerplant
May 5th 2012 Japan shut down it's last nuclear powerplant. For the first time in 42 years Japan is free of nuclear power.
Thousands of Japanese people marched celebrating the switching off of the last of their nation’s 50 nuclear reactors. It was heartwarming watching this march on the news. There were lots of people waving banners that were shaped like giant fish. Why you ask ... the "koinobori’’ has become the antinuclear symbol. It is also the symbol for childrens day.
Ishikawa said "it is fitting that the day Japan stopped nuclear power coincides with Children’s Day because of their concerns about protecting children from radiation, which Fukushima Daiichi is still spewing into the air and water".
Lets hope that all these plants stay offline forever. Antinuclear Japan You Rock!