April 4, 2011
The radiation doses and dose-rates experienced by residents of Japan, particularly those in Fukushima prefecture, are examined and the expected impact of these elevated radiation conditions on human health is discussed. Overall, doses are very low and the impact on health, if any, is expected to be minimal for reasons outlined within.
A similar examination is performed for the most heavily exposed workers at the Daiichi nuclear power plant. Elevated risks of a fatal cancer that might be diagnosed years or decades in the future are calculated using standard risk models utilized in occupational radiation protection.
April 4, 2011
The situation with the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plants remains serious and it cannot be said that there will be no further environmental contamination before the problems with the reactors are fully under control. Even if contamination levels do not rise, Japanese residents will have to make some decisions regarding the extent of environmental contamination they are willing to live with. Important trade-offs will need to be made: on the one hand, to leave home and community, abandon tracts of land, destroy foodstuffs, etc., while on the other to remain and live in a contaminated environment and consume contaminated food. Bearing in mind that all food and all environments are naturally radioactive, the question really becomes: how much is too much?
Dr. Jacquelyn Yanch has worked with ionizing radiation for 30 years. She was Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1989-2010 where she performed research and taught courses in the production, detection, uses, and health impacts of ionizing radiation.