Nuclear radiation ‘the greatest public health hazard’

CNN: What is the health risk for people living near the Fukushima Daiichi plant?

Helen Caldicott: The risk cannot be determined with any accuracy yet, because it is not clear how much radiation has or is escaping. NPR reported last week that 17 workers have suffered what the Japanese government called “deposition of radioactive material” to their faces. And some plant workers have already been hospitalized for exposure to radiation, which means they received a huge dose of radiation.

Containment vessel may be leaking radioactive material

High levels of exposure can cause acute radiation sickness, a syndrome first recognized by the medical profession after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It can have terrible effects. In two weeks, victims’ hair begins to drop out. They develop hemorrhaging under the skin, severe nausea and diarrhea and may eventually die from bleeding or infection.

If a meltdown occurred at the plant, a large number of people could be exposed to high doses of radiation in this region, one of the most heavily populated in Japan. (After the March 11 earthquake, the Japanese government evacuated people living within a 20-kilometer radius to mitigate the possibility.)

Men exposed to such a dose would be rendered sterile, women would stop menstruating, and spontaneous abortions would likely occur. Babies could be born with microcephaly, with tiny heads and mental disabilities. Many people would develop acute shortness of breath from lung damage. In five years, there would be an epidemic of leukemia, and in 15 years, solid cancers would start appearing in many organs: lung, breast, thyroid, brain and bone.

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