Radioactive radiation: consequences for health

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Radioactive radiation has massive health consequences

Man does not rule over nature, but nature over man. The terrible events in Japan make one thing particularly clear: there is no one hundred percent security in nuclear energy. Japan has security standards similar to those of the Federal Republic of Germany. And yet not all risk factors could be considered in advance. Many are now wondering what health consequences can arise for the human organism after a reactor accident. We try to give some answers.

Dose and time span of great importance
If people are exposed to high doses of radioactive radiation, numerous and sometimes serious health problems can occur. According to the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, it is of great importance how long and in what period of time the human body was exposed to radioactive radiation. For example, if people are exposed to a high dose of radiation within a short period of time, the body can be compensated much more poorly than if the same dose is given over a longer period of several years.

Radiation sickness leads to rapid death
If the body is exposed to a massive radiation dose of over 500 millisieverts within a very short time, the disease usually leads to the patient's death just a few hours or days after the radiation contamination. The sufferers suffer from serious symptoms: the skin shows severe redness, the skin cells gradually dissolve. In addition, there is hair loss and acute anemia. In general, the higher the dose, the more serious the effects, the faster symptoms appear and the longer the recovery period. With increasing radiation exposure, the chances of survival of the patients decrease rapidly. If the dose is somewhat lower, you can still try to flush blood cells damaged by blood transfusions from the body.

Consequences with high radiation exposure
Even if the ionizing radiation exposure is lower than the preceding value, long-term consequences can develop with equally drastic effects. Since secondary illnesses from radiation exposure are less researched and controversial, it is sometimes quite difficult to establish a direct connection between the occurrence of an illness and the previous radiation.

A very common complication is thyroid cancer. After the atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 and after the super-meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, scientists and doctors were able to determine that thyroid cancer is a very common complication, especially among children, adolescents and the elderly. For this reason, the Japanese government is trying to distribute iodine drugs to the population in the vicinity of the nuclear power plants in Fukushima for prevention. However, these tablets only work if there has been no contamination before. The thyroid is the organ that mainly needs iodine. Since the body cannot produce iodine itself, iodine must be ingested through food. If the air is now contaminated with radioactive iodine, an attempt is made to administer iodine in tablet form and in high doses as a preventive measure. This is to prevent the contaminated iodine from settling in the body's own cells. The body is flooded with iodine so that the excess and contaminated job is eliminated again. However, the protective effect only lasts a few days after ingestion. Iodine can only reduce the risk of thyroid cancer to some extent. Iodine cannot protect against the outbreak of other diseases. A frequent occurrence of thyroid cancer was also found in the area around the dilapidated Asse nuclear waste storage facility in Lower Saxony, for example.

Another common complication is acute leukemia. Here too, a context between sustained radiation exposure and increased incidence of blood cancer has been scientifically confirmed. In addition to other malignant cancers and tumors, the cardiovascular system may also be damaged and serious eye infections may be provoked.

Damage to the genome
Radioactive radiation can also damage the human genome and, as a result, lead to serious malformations in children ("radiation-induced mutations"). This was observed, for example, after the atomic bombs dropped during the Second World War. In a report drawn up in 2006, the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed out that in addition to the physical consequences, mental disorders are also a possible secondary illness. The investigations were based on studies that were carried out in the vicinity of the Chernobyl reactor. (sb)

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Video: Biological Effects of Radiation


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