The impact of the nuclear crisis on global health

By Helen Caldicott, Volume 4, Issue 2 2014, Australian Medical Student Journal

1 May 2014

Due to my personal concerns regarding the ignorance of the world’s media and politicians about radiation biology after the dreadful accident at Fukushima in Japan, I organized a 2 day symposium at the NY Academy of Medicine on March 11 and 12, 2013, titled ‘The Medical and Ecological Consequences of Fukushima,’ which was addressed by some of the world’s leading scientists, epidemiologists, physicists and physicians who presented their latest data and findings on Fukushima. [1]


The Great Eastern earthquake, measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale, and the ensuing massive tsunami on the east coast of Japan induced the meltdown of three nuclear reactors within several days. During the quake the external power supply was lost to the reactor complex and the pumps, which circulate up to one million gallons of water per minute to cool each reactor core, ceased to function. Emergency diesel generators situated below the plants kicked in but these were soon swamped by the tsunami. Without cooling, the radioactive cores in units 1, 2 and 3 began to melt within hours. Over the next few days, all three cores (each weighing more than 100 tonnes) melted their way through six inches of steel at the bottom of their reactor vessels and oozed their way onto the concrete floor of the containment buildings. At the same time the zirconium cladding covering thousands of uranium fuel rods reacted with water, creating hydrogen, which initiated hydrogen explosions in units 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Massive quantities of radiation escaped into the air and water – three times more noble gases (argon, xenon and krypton) than were released at Chernobyl, together with huge amounts of other volatile and non-volatile radioactive elements, including cesium, tritium, iodine, strontium, silver, plutonium, americium and rubinium. Eventually sea water was – and is still – utilized to cool the molten reactors.

Fukushima is now described as the greatest industrial accident in history.

The Japanese government was so concerned that they were considering plans to evacuate 35 million people from Tokyo, as other reactors including Fukushima Daiini on the east coast were also at risk. Thousands of people fleeing from the smoldering reactors were not notified where the radioactive plumes were travelling, despite the fact that there was a system in place to track the plumes. As a result, people fled directly into regions with the highest radiation concentrations, where they were exposed to high levels of whole-body external gamma radiation being emitted by the radioactive elements, inhaling radioactive air and swallowing radioactive elements. [2] Unfortunately, inert potassium iodide was not supplied, which would have blocked the uptake of radioactive iodine by their thyroid glands, except in the town of Miharu. Prophylactic iodine was eventually distributed to the staff of Fukushima Medical University in the days after the accident, after extremely high levels of radioactive iodine – 1.9 million becquerels/kg were found in leafy vegetables near the University. [3] Iodine contamination was widespread in leafy vegetables and milk, whilst other isotopic contamination from substances such as caesium is widespread in vegetables, fruit, meat, milk, rice and tea in many areas of Japan. [4]

The Fukushima meltdown disaster is not over and will never end. The radioactive fallout which remains toxic for hundreds to thousands of years covers large swathes of Japan and will never be “cleaned up.” It will contaminate food, humans and animals virtually forever. I predict that the three reactors which experienced total meltdowns will never be dissembled or decommissioned. TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) – says it will take at least 30 to 40 years and the International Atomic Energy Agency predicts at least 40 years before they can make any progress because of the extremely high levels of radiation at these damaged reactors.

This accident is enormous in its medical implications. It will induce an epidemic of cancer as people inhale the radioactive elements, eat radioactive food and drink radioactive beverages. In 1986, a single meltdown and explosion at Chernobyl covered 40% of the European land mass with radioactive elements. Already, according to a 2009 report published by the New York Academy of Sciences, over one million people have already perished as a direct result of this catastrophe. This is just the tip of the iceberg, because large parts of Europe and the food grown there will remain radioactive for hundreds of years. [5]

Medical Implications of Radiation

Fact number one

No dose of radiation is safe. Each dose received by the body is cumulative and adds to the risk of developing malignancy or genetic disease.

Fact number two

Children are ten to twenty times more vulnerable to the carcinogenic effects of radiation than adults. Females tend to be more sensitive compared to males, whilst foetuses and immuno-compromised patients are also extremely sensitive.

Fact number three

High doses of radiation received from a nuclear meltdown or from a nuclear weapon explosion can cause acute radiation sickness, with alopecia, severe nausea, diarrhea and thrombocytopenia. Reports of such illnesses, particularly in children, appeared within the first few months after the Fukushima accident.

Fact number four

Ionizing radiation from radioactive elements and radiation emitted from X-ray machines and CT scanners can be carcinogenic. The latent period of carcinogenesis for leukemia is 5-10 years and solid cancers 15-80 years. It has been shown that all modes of cancer can be induced by radiation, as well as over 6000 genetic diseases now described in the medical literature.

But, as we increase the level of background radiation in our environment from medical procedures, X-ray scanning machines at airports, or radioactive materials continually escaping from nuclear reactors and nuclear waste dumps, we will inevitably increase the incidence of cancer as well as the incidence of genetic disease in future generations.

Types of ionizing radiation

  1. X-rays are electromagnetic, and cause mutations the instant they pass through the body.
  2. Similarly, gamma radiation is also electromagnetic, being emitted by radioactive materials generated in nuclear reactors and from some naturally occurring radioactive elements in the soil.
  3. Alpha radiation is particulate and is composed of two protons and two neutrons emitted from uranium atoms and other dangerous elements generated in reactors (such as plutonium, americium, curium, einsteinium, etc – all which are known as alpha emitters and have an atomic weight greater than uranium). Alpha particles travel a very short distance in the human body. They cannot penetrate the layers of dead skin in the epidermis to damage living skin cells. But when these radioactive elements enter the lung, liver, bone or other organs, they transfer a large dose of radiation over a long period of time to a very small volume of cells. Most of these cells are killed; however, some on the edge of the radiation field remain viable to be mutated, and cancer may later develop. Alpha emitters are among the most carcinogenic materials known.
  4. Beta radiation, like alpha radiation, is also particulate. It is a charged electron emitted from radioactive elements such as strontium 90, cesium 137 and iodine 131. The beta particle is light in mass, travels further than an alpha particle and is also mutagenic.
  5. Neutron radiation is released during the fission process in a reactor or a bomb. Reactor 1 at Fukushima has been periodically emitting neutron radiation as sections of the molten core become intermittently critical. Neutrons are large radioactive particles that travel many kilometers, and they pass through everything including concrete and steel. There is no way to hide from them and they are extremely mutagenic.

So, let’s describe just five of the radioactive elements that are continually being released into the air and water at Fukushima. Remember, though, there are over 200 such elements each with its own half-life, biological characteristic and pathway in the food chain and the human body. Most have never had their biological pathways examined. They are invisible, tasteless and odourless. When the cancer manifests it is impossible to determine its aetiology, but there is a large body of literature proving that radiation causes cancer, including the data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  1. Tritium is radioactive hydrogen H3 and there is no way to separate tritium from contaminated water as it combines with oxygen to form H3O. There is no material that can prevent the escape of tritium except gold, so all reactors continuously emit tritium into the air and cooling water as they operate. It concentrates in aquatic organisms, including algae, seaweed, crustaceans and fish, and also in terrestrial food. Like all radioactive elements, it is tasteless, odorless and invisible, and will therefore inevitably be ingested in food, including seafood, for many decades. It passes unhindered through the skin if a person is immersed in fog containing tritiated water near a reactor, and also enters the body via inhalation and ingestion. It causes brain tumors, birth deformities and cancers of many organs.
  2. Cesium 137 is a beta and gamma emitter with a half-life of 30 years. That means in 30 years only half of its radioactive energy has decayed, so it is detectable as a radioactive hazard for over 300 years. Cesium, like all radioactive elements, bio-concentrates at each level of the food chain. The human body stands atop the food chain. As an analogue of potassium, cesium becomes ubiquitous in all cells. It concentrates in the myocardium where it induces cardiac irregularities, and in the endocrine organs where it can cause diabetes, hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer. It can also induce brain cancer, rhabdomyosarcomas, ovarian or testicular cancer and genetic disease.
  3. Strontium 90 is a high-energy beta emitter with a half-life of 28 years. As a calcium analogue, it is a bone-seeker. It concentrates in the food chain, specifically milk (including breast milk), and is laid down in bones and teeth in the human body. It can lead to carcinomas of the bone and leukaemia.
  4. Radioactive iodine 131 is a beta and gamma emitter. It has a half-life of eight days and is hazardous for ten weeks. It bio-concentrates in the food chain, in vegetables and milk, then in the the human thyroid gland where it is a potent carcinogen, inducing thyroid disease and/or thyroid cancer. It is important to note that of 174,376 children under the age of 18 that have been examined by thyroid ultrasound in the Fukushima Prefecture, 12 have been definitively diagnosed with thyroid cancer and 15 more are suspected to have the disease. Almost 200,000 more children are yet to be examined. Of these 174,367 children, 43.2% have either thyroid cysts and/or nodules.

    In Chernobyl, thyroid cancers were not diagnosed until four years post-accident. This early presentation indicates that these Japanese children almost certainly received a high dose of radioactive iodine. High doses of other radioactive elements released during the meltdowns were received by the exposed population so the rate of cancer is almost certain to rise.

  5. Plutonium, one of the most deadly radioactive substances, is an alpha emitter. It is highly toxic, and one millionth of a gram will induce cancer if inhaled into the lung. As an iron analogue, it combines with transferrin. It causes liver cancer, bone cancer, leukemia, or multiple myeloma. It concentrates in the testicles and ovaries where it can induce testicular or ovarian cancer, or genetic diseases in future generations. It also crosses the placenta where it is teratogenic, like thalidomide. There are medical homes near Chernobyl full of grossly deformed children, the deformities of which have never before been seen in the history of medicine.

    The half-life of plutonium is 24,400 years, and thus it is radioactive for 250,000 years. It will induce cancers, congenital deformities, and genetic diseases for virtually the rest of time.

    Plutonium is also fuel for atomic bombs. Five kilos is fuel for a weapon which would vaporize a city. Each reactor makes 250 kg of plutonium a year. It is postulated that less than one kilo of plutonium, if adequately distributed, could induce lung cancer in every person on earth.


In summary, the radioactive contamination and fallout from nuclear power plant accidents will have medical ramifications that will never cease, because the food will continue to concentrate the radioactive elements for hundreds to thousands of years. This will induce epidemics of cancer, leukemia and genetic disease. Already we are seeing such pathology and abnormalities in birds and insects, and because they reproduce very fast it is possible to observe disease caused by radiation over many generations within a relatively short space of time.

Pioneering research conducted by Dr Tim Mousseau, an evolutionary biologist, has demonstrated high rates of tumors, cataracts, genetic mutations, sterility and reduced brain size amongst birds in the exclusion zones of both Chernobyl and Fukushima. What happens to animals will happen to human beings. [7]

The Japanese government is desperately trying to “clean up” radioactive contamination. But in reality all that can be done is collect it, place it in containers and transfer it to another location. It cannot be made neutral and it cannot be prevented from spreading in the future. Some contractors have allowed their workers to empty radioactive debris, soil and leaves into streams and other illegal places. The main question becomes: Where can they place the contaminated material to be stored safely away from the environment for thousands of years? There is no safe place in Japan for this to happen, let alone to store thousands of tons of high level radioactive waste which rests precariously at the 54 Japanese nuclear reactors.

Last but not least, Australian uranium fuelled the Fukushima reactors. Australia exports uranium for use in nuclear power plants to 12 countries, including the US, Japan, France, Britain, Finland, Sweden, South Korea, China, Belgium, Spain, Canada and Taiwan. 270,000 metric tons of deadly radioactive waste exists in the world today, with 12,000 metric tons being added yearly. (Each reactor manufactures 30 tons per year and there are over 400 reactors globally.)

This high-level waste must be isolated from the environment for one million years – but no container lasts longer than 100 years. The isotopes will inevitably leak, contaminating the food chain, inducing epidemics of cancer, leukemia, congenital deformities and genetic diseases for the rest of time.

This, then, is the legacy we leave to future generations so that we can turn on our lights and computers or make nuclear weapons. It was Einstein who said “the splitting of the atom changed everything save mans’ mode of thinking, thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.”

The question now is: Have we, the human species, the ability to mature psychologically in time to avert these catastrophes, or, is it in fact, too late?

Disclaimer: The views, opinions and perspectives presented in this article are those of the author alone and does not reflect the views of the Australian Medical Student Journal. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors or omissions.


[1] Caldicott H. Helen Caldicott Foundation’s Fukushima Symposium. 2013; Available from:

[2] Japan sat on U.S. radiation maps showing immediate fallout from nuke crisis. The Japan Times. 2012.

[3] Bagge E, Bjelle A, Eden S, Svanborg A. Osteoarthritis in the elderly: clinical and radiological findings in 79 and 85 year olds. Ann Rheum Dis. 1991;50(8):535-9. Epub 1991/08/01.

[4] Tests find cesium 172 times the limit in Miyagi Yacon tea. The Asahi Shimbun. 2012.

[5] Yablokov AV, Nesterenko VB, Nesterenko AV, Sherman-Nevinger JD. Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment: Wiley. com; 2010.

[6] Fukushima Health Management. Proceedings of the 11th Prefectural Oversight Committee Meeting for Fukushima Health Management Survey. Fukushima, Japan2013.

[7] Møller AP, Mousseau TA. The effects of low-dose radiation: Soviet science, the nuclear industry – and independence? Significance. 2013;10(1):14-9.

Originally published:

17 thoughts on “The impact of the nuclear crisis on global health”

  1. george jaquith

    Thank you Dr. Caldicott. I can not understand the coverup by the international media, unless it is to prevent panic and social collapse. I live in Mexico but have children in Hawaii and Portland. Is there a reader who can point me to info as it concerns contamination of the Pacific and surrounding areas?

      1. This was very strange, when trying to access your website I had this problem:
        There was a server popup that asks for authentication of a user name and password in order to gain entrance to your website:

        Could you supply the access authentication (if this isn’t a bug in the system)?


        This was the message body of the popup:
        Authorization Required

        This server could not verify that you are authorized to access the document requested. Either you supplied the wrong credentials (e.g., bad password), or your browser doesn’t understand how to supply the credentials required.

        Additionally, a 401 Authorization Required error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.
        Apache Server at Port 80

        1. Hi Tamar, we have retired the websites for both Nuclear Free Planet and the Helen Caldicott Foundation. Dr. Caldicott will still be posting on this site, as well as via Twitter and Facebook.

  2. Dear Dr. Caldicott: Thank you for your Medical Symposium on Fukushima in New York.
    I heard you on the radio last year. Actually I was in Tokyo changing planes a couple of days after the accident. Everyone in Korea felt safe saying the wind was blowing out. I heard reports by David Cerreda on coast to coas show of elevated readings in San Francisco, and he was not comfortable bringing his young daughter to the beach. It is shocking how easy it is to fall back into denial. California may yet have it’s own huge earthquake and nuclear disasters but as long as life seems to go on it is hard to break out of denial.

    That plutonium is radioactive for 250,000 years and our government is using it for nuclear weapons is insane! I first saw the rod of plutonium in that Pierce Brosnan James Bond movie when the bad guy was pushing it into the reactor, then it popped out and ended him. Outside of yourself, the silence of the mainstream medical community is deafening. I heard a news report that the Japanese government were forbidding their doctors to diagnose “radiation sickness” right after the disaster…I don’t know if they are still being forbidden to diagnose.

    On a positive note, Japanese surgeon Dr. Mannaka treated his radiation patients with brown rice and miso soup. One radiation remedy I have heard is to potentize cream of tartar for two nights under the full moon (remove cap from the little tin.) Then mix 1/4 tsp in water and drink.

  3. Hello liz butler-henderson,

    You ask the question, “I wonder if humanity should be saved?”. Though I believe our spirit will live forever my answer is definitely yes! We should do every single thing possible under the sun to save humanity. Even if it only means saving ourselves and those closest to us.

    We’re are currently going into extinction and not all of us will survive but I believe that if enough of us change our ways of living and evolve to a higher, wiser and more mindful way of thinking, then we will survive

    Thanks Liz and my apologies if this sounds a little hokey. I can’t seem to articulate my thoughts very well today.


  4. Daniel Seddon

    None of what you say is true and you are contributing to a view which is holding back the one technology that can help slow climate change.

  5. thankyou Dr. Helen Caldicott , there is obviously no place on this planet to hide from this terrifying situation, thus it seems to me the sane solution is to dismantel and shut down every reactor in the world no matter the cost, even tho’ it may be too late at least it will show that we came to our senses in the end.

  6. Paul D. Fellegy

    We should all be grateful that Dr. Helen Caldicott in keeping this important critical issue at the forefront of people’s minds. I think we have reached a critical mass of “no return” regarding global contamination. If the “Illuminati” believe they can escape the very contamination they have permitted to go unchecked in an industry “out of control” with no safe method to dispose of or contain these toxins, they are simply and horribly misguided. I contacted six government officials via email which unfortunately produced no results in terms of anyone responding to potential public health issues relating to “radiation drift” from Fukishima impacting the US and its vulnerable population. Perhaps, if you can’t see it, taste it, or smell it, almost all self-serving politicians in the US are reluctant to tackle challenging issues. Mankind as a global culture must place public health interests above profits if we are to survive for another millenium. I see this as a great challenge to the corporatocracy entrenched in Washington, DC; influencing international public policy with fatal results. May God help us all. Will the population awaken?

  7. Here in CO, off of Hwy 93, we have the infamous Rocky Flats which was shut down yrs ago, but not before workers were contaminated w/high levels of cesium and strontium among other radioactive particles. Holding tanks ultimately leached these radioactive materials into aquifiers supplying water to surrounding areas. At one point there were ‘wildlife tours’ where you could take a trip throughout the area and see deformed birds and animals thanks to radioactive poisoning.

    Friends of ours bought a new home in the development off of 64th & McIntrye and within a short time were having health issues such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Even the family dog was getting sick. They left after a few mos and continued making mortgage pmts on an abandoned house. They returned to their former home to retrieve some possessions from the garage and soon were feeling the ill effects of what they had experienced before. Turns out, according to site plans filed by the developer of this area that the company knew fully well that the development was built upon these holding ponds. Wonder how many other neighbors in the area were experiencing illness w/perhaps miscarriages, birth defects, cancer, etc.

    Did anyone notice that soon after the Fukishima incident there were several news stories and reports of radiation in Boston’s drinking water, Idaho’s milk, and along the CA/WA/OR coastline? I cut out these articles for future reference. Interesting how all of a sudden few, if any, news stories were being reported by the media. Turns out General Electric, who built the reactor sites, owns NBC and there were no more stories from NBC as well as the other corporate media stations.
    The panic that would ensue if this story continued to have legs via the media would create distrust and loss of profits via the advertisers who $upply the bottom line of these monopolistic info outlets. Can’t have that now can we? So the lies, propaganda, and shielded fallout continue as Japan ‘assures’ us that all is well in their country. They rely heavily on tourism profits and the people who live and visit there do so at their own peril.

    Thanks to Dr. Caldicott for keeping this incident fresh in our memory as the continuing damage, as mentioned, will ultimately lead to our demise.

  8. The comment on the zeolite is simply not true when it comes to specific poisons from any radiation, all that is known about zeolite’s properties is this, all elements that exist within or among living cells can and will be removed by the application of the zeolite in its natural form and all other cases of radiation will eventually cause what ever conditions they find against the living matter. Zeolite in the natural form is the strongest defense against these poisons in the human body and in the growth of any living organism on this planet, we must all work towards a common goal of using what nature strongest elements and powers that nature has kept for us to use on preparing for this new world of a completely radiated planet, the alternative is moot, death to life.

  9. Does anyone know if all of the US is affected generally about the same? I live in south Arizona,and am wondering about being outside working in the lawn etc. Does anyone know the radiation level for here? How does one know when to start taking Potassium Iodide? I have it on hand but when to take?

  10. liz butler-henderson

    Thanks Helen for once again putting this information out there. Is anyone listening is the big question and I fear the answer is no. Even ingesting zeolite which they did at Chernobyl won’t save us as it only has affinity for a few of the radioactive elements, namely cesium and strontium.
    How sad is this situation and how sad indeed is the legacy we leave our children and grandchildren. I am terrified for my five year old grandchild and I know his mother has nightmares about the possibility of him contracting cancer.
    Right now, off the top of my head, I can think of six people with cancer and this doesn’t include those that have already died. Some people are finally beginning to ask the question, “What is going on?”.
    I fear that the reason the governments and mass media are doing their level best to quash information is that there is no answer, no solution and, therefore, a dim future for the human race.
    I think that the powers that be are scared of this information getting out because people with no hope are very dangerous indeed.
    At the end of the day it’s a very sick world without counting in radiation. What type of people use depleted uranium as weapons; abuse children; abandon their most fragile and allow slavery, harvesting of children’s organs, etc. etc. It’s sickening and although I would give my life to save those that I love, I wonder if humanity should be saved? For the rest of the life on this planet’s sake, wiping out humanity would be in their best interest. How sad is that?
    I have to agree with you that mess that the nuclear industry has left us is without doubt, even if they stopped tomorrow, without a solution. However, let’s keep on spreading the word, maybe, just maybe, there is a solution.

  11. Bud mattison

    Many birth defects showing up in the state of Washington. Babies born with parts of brain and skull missing and also with spinal cord exposed. In just 3 counties 30 plus cases. All between 2011 – 2013. Is this a direct result of Fukushima melt down in Japan? Is this just the beginning? Lets not forget about the baby whale found washed up on a California beach, conjoined twins very alarming indeed!

  12. Thanks for excellent breakdown of what is happening and what must be done.Ms. Caldiott leaves us with the challenge; “Have we, the human species, the ability to mature psychologically in time to avert these catastrophes, or, is it in fact, too late?”

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