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Japan NuclearThe victims of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami are still being tallied, but it’ll take longer to enumerate those who will ultimately suffer from the failure of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The radioactive fallout has contaminated soil, food and water, and will cause long term damage not only to the ecosystem but to people’s health in Northern Japan.

Unfortunately, we know what happens when people are exposed to high levels of radiation.  Japan itself experienced the horrible effects during World War Two after atomic bombs were detonated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The nuclear reactor meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986 also showed us the devastating effects.

The most damaging substances in a radioactive fallout are Iodine 131, Cesium 134 and Cesium 137 .  Science has shown an indisputable correlation between people’s exposure to the amount of these radioactive isotopes and cancer risk.   

In particular we saw the effects of radioactive iodine from monitoring children who lived in the Chernobyl area.  The radioactive fallout released iodine 131 which contaminated pastures in the surrounding areas.

Dairy cows that grazed on this grass made contaminated milk which many children drank.

Once inside the body, iodine 131 concentrates in the thyroid, emitting radiation that damages cellular DNA. Over time, you get mutated cells that result in cancer.

While the half life of iodine 131 is only 8 days, the cancer risks last a lifetime.  So far, 1800 of those children in Chernobyl who became adults, died of cancer.

While the buildings and homes of northeast Japan can be re-built, the people there will need a lifetime of medical surveillance to not only better understand the terrible effects of radiation but more importantly, get them the medical care they need.

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Fact Sheet on Biological Effects of Radiation
Nice overview of the biological effects of radiation from the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
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The 100-year battle to make Fukushima safe: Grim prediction as brave workers expect to 'die within weeks'
Recent update (July 22, 2011) of the nuclear reactors and the human toll of the accident.
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Fallout from Nuclear Weapons Tests and Cancer Risks
Excellent overview from this general science journal published by Sigma Xi "American Scientist". The article covers essentials topics including the historical background, understanding radiation doses, nuclear testing, thyroid cancer risks and the experiences at Chernobyl among other topics. You will understand the dangers of nuclear fallout after reading this article.
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