Acute Radiation Syndrome, Ionizing Radiation and the Fukushima Plant in Japan
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What is often referred to as radiation poisoning or radiation sickness is actually called “Acute Radiation Syndrome” or “ARS” for short. Acute Radiation Syndrome indicates that someone has been exposed to a high level of radiation in a short period of time. This is opposed to chronic radiation exposure which would mean that someone has become sick as exposure to low levels of radiation over a longer period of time. With the situation surrounding the multiple explosions at the Fukushima Plant in Japan, and fears of a full blown nuclear catastrophe underway, many worldwide want to know what’s in store for those surrounding the nuclear plant, as well as the impact of long term radiation. On March 14, 2011, the third explosion at the Fukushima Plant occurred and reports of fire in a fourth reactor have been announced to mounting fears of widespread radiation poisoning.
Radiation is all around us and when we use it in limited amounts, it is generally safe. This is the case with radios, infrared lighting or even a microwave oven. These forms of radiation are called “non-ionizing” as they have a very low frequency and a long wave length. Due to their weak frequencies, they pose no harm to the human body.
Ionizing radiation is the form of radiation that can lead to Acute Radiation Syndrome. With ionizing radiation, the frequency waves are higher and can break down chemical bonds. Ionizing radiation is composed of extremely short wavelengths that can break electrons (or charged molecules) from an atom, creating two ions (charged particles). This creates one positively charged molecule and a free electron. There are three forms of ionizing radiation and these are alpha, beta and gamma. When the human body is exposed to ionizing radiation, changes occur at the cellular level.
Ionizing radiation causes cells to break down and the free electrons that are released during the process have been identified as carcinogenic. The impact exposure to ionizing radiation will have on the human body depends upon the length and intensity the person was subjected to the radiation. On March 14, 2011, 17 U.S. Navy crew members responded to the crisis in Japan and were exposed to radiation in the atmosphere. The crew members thoroughly washed themselves with soap and hot water to reduce contamination. At this point, no illnesses have been reported. If they were to become sick they would have suffered vomiting, diarrhea and possibly skin rashes immediately following contact.
There are two types of radiation sickness (chronic and acute); and these are referred to as stochastic and non-stochastic. Stochastic effects are associated with chronic radiation exposure and non-stochastic effects are the result of high level radiation exposure in a short amount of time. There is no doubt that the impact of radiation is directly related to the length and level of radiation exposure.
It’s important to realize that radiotherapy, such as chemotherapy, is composed of ionizing radiation. Those undergoing chemotherapy experience the same symptoms experienced by those with Acute Radiation Syndrome, however, those experiencing chemotherapy are under a doctor’s care; are monitored for adverse reactions and exposure to the treatment is on a scheduled basis. Symptoms of Acute Radiation Syndrome are as follow:
1. Changes in Blood Chemistry
5. Hair Loss
7. Destruction of the Intestinal Lining
8. Internal Bleeding
9. Central Nervous System Damage
10. Loss of Consciousness
Each symptom is associated with the level of exposure; the list is measured from the smallest to greatest amount of rems (the increments by which ionizing radiation is measured). The symptoms of Acute Radiation Syndrome were accurately determined by monitoring the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is no question that ionizing radiation causes cancer and disrupts the molecular components of cellular activity.