The World Health Organization Issues Guidelines to Minimize Radiation Exposure in the Aftermath of Japan’s Nuclear Crisis
The World Health Organization has issued a new set of guidelines to minimize radiation exposure in the aftermath of Japan’s nuclear crisis. The levels of radiation around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant on 18th March were about 600 to 800 mSv per hour. Millisievert per hour (mSv) is a measure of radiation used by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. The alert level around the plant has also been raised to 5. To minimize the harmful effects of such high levels of radiation which can cause multiple deleterious effects on children and young adults, the WHO has recommended the following:
- Radioactive cesium and radioactive iodine present in the air may contaminate the food and water on contact. Radioactive iodine tends to collect in the thyroid gland and can lead to thyroid cancer. Taking potassium iodide pills reduces the uptake of radioactive iodine by the thyroid gland, thereby protecting the gland from its harmful effects.
- Rescue workers and the people employed at the nuclear plants are at an increased risk of exposure to nuclear radiation which can lead to skin redness, falling of hair, acute radiation syndrome, burns, leukemia and other type of cancers.
- Avoid consuming food and dairy products from the vicinity of the nuclear plants as their surface may be contaminated by radioactive material in the air or in the ground water.
- When returning from a place exposed to nuclear radiation, remove your clothes and shoes just after entering your house, seal them in a plastic bag and keep them away in a secluded area to prevent exposure to your family members.
- Shower using warm water and soap. Inform the government authorities for proper disposal of your contaminated clothes.
- If the government authorities have asked you to stay indoors, stay in a room with minimum ventilation and switch off any heating or cooling system in the room.
- Food that is plastic or tin wrapped cannot be contaminated easily. Therefore, protect vegetables and animal fodder by covering them with plastic sheets and tarpaulins.
- Avoid fishing, hunting or venturing into forest areas for collecting food items.
Effect of Radiation on Human Beings
When the nucleus of an unstable atom decays, it releases ionizing radiations which on coming in contact with human body, produce burns and cancers and can even lead to death. The damage produced by radiation depends up on:
(a) The amount of radiation,
(b) the potential of the radiation to produce damage, and
(c) the organ affected.
The amount of radiation absorbed per gram of the body is measured in “rads.” “Rems” is its equivalent in men. Exposure to 5- 20 rems produces late effects like chromosomal damage, 20 -100 rems leads to decrease in white blood cells, 100- 200 rems can cause vomiting and diarrhea and decrease in body’s immunity, 300 rems and above may lead to damage to the cells of the nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract besides causing hair fall. Exposure to doses above 1000 rems may lead to acute illness and can prove fatal.
Taking into consideration the amount of ionizing radiations around the nuclear plants in Japan, following the damage caused by the massive earthquakes, it is best advised to follow the WHO recommendations and protect yourself from the harmful effects of the radiations.