Sunday, March 20, 2011

Radiation From Japan

The week after the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami have had Americans watching the events unfold in horror.  The explosion at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima and the threatened melt down of the reactors created a near panic in some Americans thousands of miles away.  I am not downplaying this event and the potential damage to the reactor core with release of large quantities of radiation is certainly a disaster.  But we need to understand that the risks vary depending upon proximity and exposure and people in the United States are at the very low end of the risk pole.

I was dismayed when U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin endorsed the idea that the public should stock up on potassium iodide as a "precaution".  What was she thinking? 

First of all, the only think that iodine helps prevent is thyroid cancer.  Radiation poisoning affects the entire body's DNA and iodine does nothing to protect us.

Second, the risk of any clouds of radiation reaching the U.S. in amounts large enough to cause problems is almost zero.  OK, I didn't say "Zero" because scientists never use the "Z" word.  Nothing in life is absolute, but even the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 did not cause any uptick in cancer in the rest of the world or Europe.

The risk of nuclear radiation on the human body depends upon the amount of exposure and the length of time you are exposed.  The workers who are bravely working in the reactor have still not reached levels that are unsafe.   People outside of the evacuation radius of 12 miles are considered safe and Americans have been advised to stay 50 miles away.  That is good advice.

The panic and stockpiling of iodide tablets is just like the Cipro stockpiling during the Anthrax scare or the Tamiflu shortage during the H1N1 scare.  Neither of them materialized and the nuclear scare will not either.  Instead of being afraid, we should get educated and empower our legislature to make environmental decisions that will benefit mankind in the future.

At this time officials have confirmed 7,197 deaths in the earthquake and tsunami aftermath.  The Japanese people have shown their resilience and strength during this awful disaster as written about here.

86 comments:

Pissed Off Patient said...

AMEN! The panic has been driving me nuts. It's so illogical.

However, I did realize as a result of Japan that my hubby was in the fallout zone for Chernobyl. More than 50 miles, but right on the border of Ukraine.

That worries me now!

M

FYI: Word verification: Suing log.

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Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

Nice post and good to have you back. When I read the newspaper, it seems like the world is full of biblical plagues on one sort or another. Trying times.

Steve Heilig said...

Toni - good one.

We are doing a conference call on this topic with two leading figures next week:
http://www.healthandenvironment.org/partnership_calls/8885
Radiation and Human Health: In the Shadow of the Japan Disaster

Date/Time: Monday March 28, 2011 at 11:00 a.m. Pacific / 2:00 p.m. Eastern

Jonathan said...

As you've illustrated, people are notoriously poor at characterizing relative risk, and it goes both ways: people overestimate risk, as in the radiation risk to the US from Fukushima; and people underestimate risk. My favorite example of the latter is an old friend of mine who is an ER doc, and despite regularly witnessing the ravages of motorcycle accidents in the ER, he refuses to give up his motorcycle. Rationality, I think, is a weak spot of the human condition.

remax richmond va said...

The threat of radiation exposure in Japan is creating a different kind of fallout on the U.S. West Coast that you mention in this blog.

abnormalfacies said...

Thank you for posting this Dr. Brayer. I took a little time out of my studies this week to help drown out the nonsense as well.

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I think everyone has to go to extremes and then everything settles back down. Thanks for the post

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