11.04.01 - What is the risk of radiation exposure from Japan's leaking nuclear plants?
Summary: Many people in the United States are concerned about the radiation from nuclear power plants in Japan. Should they be worried?
 
 

Radiation exposure comes from various sources. Recently there has been a scare about such radiation coming from nuclear power plants in Japan.

Today's danger and risk

As of April, 2011, there is no reason to be concerned unless you live in Northern Japan close to the nuclear sites. There is no need for anyone in the United States to take iodine pills. If you live near a nuclear facility and concerned that in the future some earthquake or natural disaster could occur, you could keep a bottle of iodine or iodide in the house.

People do not realize that there is a significantly higher risk by getting in the car to go to a store to buy iodide, driving on the road, inhaling pollutants, possible car accident, etc., than the exposure risk of infinitesimally small amount of radioactive iodine in the air from the Japan fallout.

Japan has decided to raise its assessment of the accident at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant from 5 to the worst rating of 7 on an international scale, putting the disaster on par with Chernobyl.

March 31st, 2011

Trace amounts of radiation has been found in milk in California and Washington state, 1/5000 of the dose considered to be unsafe.

Radiation levels in a Japanese village six miles outside the evacuation zone exceed one of the criteria for evacuation.

Highly radioactive iodine seeping from Japan's damaged nuclear complex is making its way into seawater farther north of the plant than previously thought. The coastal Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, located 140 miles (220 kilometers) northeast of Tokyo, has been leaking radiation since a magnitude-9.0 quake on March 11 triggered a tsunami that engulfed the complex.

Japan nuclear meltdown radiation concern

Despite the nuclear crisis in Japan, it is doubtful that enough harmful radiation would flow several thousand miles to the West Coast of the United States such as California, Oregon and Washington state and be concentrated enough to cause problems.

The United States is "not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity," the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has stated. Even with the radiation levels around the plant being at Chernobyl-like levels, Japan's disaster will not pose a health hazard to the United States.

Radioactive iodine gets into the human body not necessarily by inhaling but by eating contaminated food. It falls to the ground, cows eat it and make milk with radioactive iodine.

Very little comes from inhalation (it has a half life of 8 days). The epidemic of thyroid cancer and other cancers around Chernobyl could have been mostly prevented if the Russian government had stopped children and adults from drinking locally produced milk. Radioactive iodine comes in the body mostly through food grown on contaminated land and from milk by cows who have grazed on such land.

Iodine and potassium iodide

Some experts claim taking potassium iodide or iodine supplements may reduce the risk for thyroid cancer from exposure. I still need to review this topic more to know if taking iodine pills, including in the form of potassium iodide, are of any benefit or perhaps could cause side effects that are worse than not taking them in the first place. Iodine is recommended only for children and pregnant women during acute radioactive iodine exposure in the setting of a nuclear disaster.

It is not recommended for people over the age of 40 since the risk of developing thyroid cancer takes several decades after radioactive iodine exposure. For persons older than 40 years of age, the risk for radiation-induced thyroid cancer is extremely low, while the potential side effects of supplementation are much higher. Adults over 40 therefore do not need to take potassium iodide as prophylaxis for exposure to I-131.

Potassium iodide is medicinally supplied in 130 mg tablets for emergency purposes. The nutritional requirement for iodine is only 150 micrograms or 0.15 mg of iodide per day.

Potassium iodide is a form of iodine used in tablet form. You can also get iodine from sea kelp. The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Japan had distributed millions of units of stable iodine to evacuation centers near the damaged nuclear plant.

Iodine pills are only effective at keeping the thyroid gland from absorbing radioactive iodine which can cause thyroid cancer. It does nothing to prevent other side effects of a nuclear fallout. They are not a radiation antidote and offer no protection against radioactive elements such as caesium.

Some radioactive materials are readily absorbed by the body and linger there. Radioactive iodine, for example, goes to the thyroid gland, and strontium to bone, and they emit radiation inside the body that over time can lead to cancer or leukemia. Other radioactive materials, like tritium, pass quickly through the body.

What to take if you suspect exposure to radiation

Few studies are available to determine what supplements alone or in combination and in what dosages are ideal to take when one suspects exposure to radiation. Until more definitive research is done, I think the following should be considered. There are countless other pollutants, pesticides, toxins, etc., in our environment that can cause health problems, and, as of now, radiation from Japan should be your least concern if you live in the United States or live several hundred miles away from northern Japan.

Antioxidants of all types could be of benefit. There are so many of them including the common vitamins C and E, alpha lipoic acid, acetyl l carnitine, carnosine, acetyl l cysteine, and others. It is difficult to predict which one or which combination and in what dosages would be most effective:

  • Broccoli sprout extracts could be of benefit.
  • Calcium D glucorate supplements should be considered.
  • Carotenoids are substances found in plants that have antioxidant and anti-tumor benefits.
  • Citrus bioflavanoids can be helpful.
  • Curcumin (an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound found in the spice turmeric) may help protect against radiation-induced damage to the skin. Consider eating more curry.
  • DIM or diindolylmethane is a substance naturally found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.
  • When an indole 3 carbinol supplement is ingested, it converts in the gut into diindolylmethane.
  • Garlic, preferably raw, has potent anti-cancer and anti-infection substances.
  • Ginger has been shown to protect rodents from radiation induced sickness and death.
  • Flavonoids are substances found in plants that have antioxidant and anti-tumor benefits. Add different spices to your recipes.

Food, diet and lifestyle suggestions as treatment for radiation exposure or to minimize the harm:

  • Try to get deep and good sleep.
  • Follow a healthy diet rich in nutrients including plenty of fresh vegetables and juices, along with a number of culinary spices. I would also consider eating more berries, such as blueberry, blackberry, acai, and others. Mushrooms are known to have anti-cancer potential and adding these to your diet could be of benefit.
  • Try not to panic and keep a low stress demeanor, high stress can make things worse.

Worst case scenario

A meltdown in Japan would be harmful to the local environment. Should there be a release of radiation, and should winds blow in the wrong direction, residents of Japan would be affected to some degree. But the effects almost certainly will not go far beyond the borders of Japan.

Sources of ionizing radiation

People may be exposed to ionizing radiation from several sources:

Natural background radiation comes from cosmic rays from our solar system and radioactive elements normally present in the soil. This is the major contributor to worldwide radiation exposure.

Medical radiation comes in the form of diagnostic x-rays and other tests, as well as from radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is currently used to treat some types of cancer and involves dosages many thousand times higher than those used in diagnostic x-rays.

The average radiation exposure a person gets from natural sources is about 3 millisieverts; in the United States, a person typically gets a total of 6 millisieverts because of medical diagnostic procedures and other man-made sources of radiation. The limit for occupational radiation exposure among workers who deal with radioactive material is 50 millisieverts.

A chest X-ray delivers a dose of about .02 millisieverts, and a CT to the abdomen carries 8 millisieverts. These procedures don't last very long; prolonged exposure would be more dangerous. High-dose exposure, above 500 millisieverts, has been associated with leukemia, breast, bladder, colon, liver, lung, esophagus, ovarian, multiple myeloma, and stomach cancers.

Radiation levels in Japan nuclear plant

March 17 - Radiation levels at the plant were between 100 and 400 millisieverts, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said. To put that in perspective, in the United States, a person typically gets a radiation dose of 6 millisieverts per year. That dose would quickly dissipate with distance from the plant, and radiation levels quickly fell back to levels where they would be no immediate public health threat.

 

United States radiation levels

March 18 - Tiny amounts of radioactive particles have reached California, about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening.

March 17 - Low concentrations of radioactive particles are heading eastwards from Japan's disaster-hit nuclear power plant and are expected to reach North America in days. Lars-Erik De Geer, research director at the Swedish Defence Research Institute, says that the levels were not dangerous, he predicted the particles would continue across the Atlantic and eventually also reach Europe.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) reported that monitors have not detected an increase in radiation along the Southern California coast.

By Ray Sahelian, MD.

Although we strive to provide you with relevant and reliable information on this news blog, the views and opinions expressed in the news stories posted on this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Amazing Health or Amazing Discoveries. The AH News Blog is intended only as a service to provide you with interesting health-related news or to keep you abreast of events and attitudes of our current day. The postings are not intended to be an official statement or recommendation of Amazing Health or Amazing Discoveries. The reader should make his or her own judgment as to the usefulness of the information provided here.
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