1) What I have concluded is that individual safety from radioactive fallout is really a matter of chance [in other words, a crapshoot].
2) I don't believe the average person understands the nature of the danger from fallout [hot particles].
3) I don't believe the average person understands how the Japan disaster has and will affect the rest of the world.
4) I don't believe the average person understands the differences in half-life of various isotopes.
5) I don't believe the average person understands the danger to the people in Japan.
Here are some questions that need to be considered:
1) How much will the danger to people in North America increase as the background radiation increases?
2) How is the increase of long-term problems like Cancer related to increases in background radiation?
3) What exactly is the danger to people in the US [and Europe] form the disaster in Japan and how can the level of threat be accessed.
4) Is there anything people in the US can do now to minimize risk to themselves and their families?
Here are some of my findings:
Radioactivity consists of three kinds of dangerous emissions from radioactive material such as uranium and plutonium. They are alpha, beta and gamma rays. The emissions are essentially high-speed sub-atomic particles, electrons, protons and neutrons. These sources are dangerous because they are emitted at high speed and can damage human cells. The alpha and beta emissions are relatively easy to shield from but the gamma particles must be shielded with lead.
I picture emissions to be flying off radioactive material at high speeds in all directions kind of the way this sparkler looks. However unlike the sparkler, the gamma emissions cannot be stopped by paper and rip through DNA and nuclei of cells destroying them and increasing the long-term risk of cancer.
Sources for radioactive materials are natural, man made and refined. Refined sources as found in reactors are concentrated sources of these dangerous emissions. Being in the vicinity of exposed radioactive material constitutes a local and immediate threat to human cells. However, miniscule specs of this material, called “hot particles,” are constantly being shed when the material is not being contained. During explosions massive amounts of these hot particles are released into the environment contributing to worldwide contamination. These hot particles are so small that they are easily carried by winds around the globe.
The half-life of some of these hot particles is only a matter of days or weeks, which means they deteriorate into non-radioactive material and are no longer a threat. But unfortunately the half-life of other radioactive isotopes can be thousands or millions of years. This means that every time there is a release of this type of radioactive material [the kind from reactors] the hot particles are spread around the globe remain in the environment and contribute to the normal background radiation virtually forever.
Hot particles are only dangerous if you come in to contact with them. They pose a significant danger if you are around large amounts of the particles because they are constantly emitting radiation. This is the acute danger of being in the immediate vicinity of a nuclear reactor that has been breached and is emitting direct radiation and spilling hot particles into the environment.
The insidious and long-term danger from hot particles with long half-lives comes from getting them into your body either by ingesting or breathing. If you breathe or ingest hot particles there is a good chance they will pass out doing minimal damage. If however, they remain in the body [which they can] they will cause long-term damage possibly resulting in cancer. Radioactive Iodine will be attracted to the thyroid and degrade its function or destroy it.
These hot particles exist in the environment kind of like land mines. You are safe if you do not encounter them. Obviously, the higher the concentration of hot particles where you are the more likely you are to encounter enough to cause a problem. If you are unlucky enough to be around a nuclear reactor when it breaches or melts down you will not only suffer the immediate effects of direct radiation you will also be exposed to massive amounts of hot particles which will be taken into your body and pose a danger until you die from the effects weeks or even decades later depending on the dose you get.
Radioactive clouds of hot particles [fallout] can travel for many tens of miles around a breached reactor. Hot particles can get into the ocean and fall from the sky to be absorbed by both plants and animals thereby entering the food chain showing up in the vegetables, meat and animal products we eat. Obviously the danger diminishes as the distance form the breached reactor increases but the half-life being in the thousands of years means these sources of dangerous radiation remain virtually forever in our environment as a potential threat. The more hot particles that are spread around the world the greater the odds you as an individual will be affected.
Natural sources of radioactive material that remain un-mined in the ground pose little or no threat to anyone that does not purposely dig them up and handle them. Reactors are contained sources of concentrated radioactive material that are very dangerous when there is a breach. During a meltdown reactors belch huge plums of radioactive material [hot particles] into the environment within months killing or sickening people who are in the immediate vicinity. Also there have been over 2,000 recorded nuclear bomb tests since the 1940's all of which contribute the hot particles in the general environment in which we live. This accounts for the increase in background radiation we have measured over the decades since the 1940’s and likely the related increase in rates of cancer in the general worldwide population.
The conclusion I have come to from my research is that danger from radioactive sources to individuals is really a "crap shoot" with the odds based on how far you are from a nuclear meltdown or explosion. Someone decided for us decades ago that it was ok to expose the world to a potential risk of exposure to radioactivity. I think the decision was based on the idea that the relatively small numbers of people getting exposed to hot particles was worth the sacrifice to have some people get sick and/or die from radiation. So the scientists and leaders decided that radioactive material would be dug up, refined and dispersed [in bombs] and possibly in breached reactors on a world wide basis for the benefit of mankind. Frankly, I think this is beginning to look like a bad decision even if you agree that it is ok for [some] people to be put at risk and get sick or die in order to win wars and supply energy.
My view is that most people are not aware of how atomic energy works much less the dangers and risk levels and how they could personally be affected by them. We were not told of the risks and the decision to play with nuclear energy was made for us. It is easy to blame governments after things go wrong. But we must face the truth, we are responsible for the planet we live on and the governments we allow to run things. We as a culture have long since lost control of some very powerful but very dangerous sources of energy. We have been "whistling in the dark" pretending things would be ok and nothing would go wrong. No one seems to have thought adequately about human error or earthquakes.
I don't have the answers. I only have questions. We wanted the energy. We wanted it relatively cheap and we wanted it sooner rather than later. We got that. We trusted our leaders and our scientists who made the decisions, decisions that now seem questionable. Can we put the genie back in the bottle? Where will the energy come from? Is there enough time to develop other sources of energy? How many more earthquakes will there be that will break more reactors and spill more radiation? I was shocked to learn how many operating nuclear reactors have sprung up in the decades since their inception. Like mushrooms they dot the North American landscape. But it is we the people that have been happy to remain in the dark about the potential risks and danger of nuclear energy.
It feels like to me that now it is a time for reflection and new directions. Humanity has paid a great price for nuclear energy. The next generation must decide if it continues to be worth the risks. Mother earth is showing us how fragile and temporary we are by sweeping us up in its mighty torrents of fire and water and shaking us down. Have we offended mother earth or is that interpretation just allegory? Our science treats all life like a big Petri dish and we are just reduced to an experiment where some live and some die. Are we ok with that approach to living on the earth? After all, people have always been sacrificed to allow others to live whether through superstition or war. But aren't we all haunted by the possibility that there might be a better way, maybe a middle path? Is there a more conscious way to live on the earth and with each other that is worth sacrificing our quest for unlimited growth and perpetual convenience?
In the mean time I have suggested for many years that people take supplemental Iodine, a mineral that will contribute to thyroid health. I believe most people are deficient in this mineral. Just two to four drops a day will suffice. This is even more important as the level of radioactive Iodine-129 becomes more prevalent in the environment. If your thyroid is getting the regular iodine it needs it will not be as likely to attract and hold the radioactive Iodine-129 that has a half life in the millions of years and can harm your thyroid giving symptoms of chronic fatigue, lethargy and at worst case death.
Outside of the immediate area of a melting down reactor there is “relatively” small increase in the exposure to radioactive hot particles and no exposure to direct radiation. Theoretically here in North America the authorities are monitoring our food and water with sophisticated technical equipment for possible contamination, even at minute levels. All in all, in North America I see no reason for immediate over reaction. It is a time of learning, of feeling and reflection. It is a time to consider the sacrifice of human beings in Japan. Some estimates have predicted that over the next 10 to 20 years over 200,000 people will die in Japan from the exposure and fallout from the Fukushima crisis that is as of this writing ongoing. It is time to pray for those who were lost and their families and those who will suffer and die in the coming decades. This energy problem cannot be fixed overnight but we can decide right in this moment to begin to take new directions. I have written this to help people understand what I feel needs to be understood and why and how to take new directions. These are just some things to consider as the latest dose of [radioactive] dust settles over our home, the earth.
God bless you and keep you,