Japan has been hit threefold with disasters: the earthquake, the tsunami and now the possible meltdown of several nuclear reactors. It’s a sad and tragic time for their nation and for the world. My heart goes out to the devastating losses they’re facing. Of course one nation’s disasters often has ripple effects that can affect the whole world and none more so than nuclear fallout.
While the Canadian government is assuring us right now that we’re okay, even though people are buying up iodine, I wonder how true those assurances are. Every earthquake in Japan can raise the risk of a tsunami there and along the North American pacific coast. As well, we fear that fallout from a meltdown will be blown this way. It’s not an unreasonable fear.
Nuclear radiation, in high enough doses, can cause leukemia, cancer and death. In fact, my mother tells me that one never heard of leukemia before the second world war. Is this true or just an anecdote? Well, one way that forged paintings or other historical artifacts are identified as modern fakes is by the testing for strontium-90, a radioactive isotope that wasn’t really evident before nuclear war and testing. Studies have shown that children born after 1963 had 50 times more strontium-90 in their teeth than before nuclear testing began. The bones absorb strontium-90 as if it were calcium.
Radiation is an invisible demon. We can’t see it, we can’t taste and yet it can affect us in many harmful ways. We have no way of knowing how cancer rates compare to four centuries ago because they weren’t recorded then and may have been called something else. So how do we know? But we do know radiation can be harmful. Every bit of fallout from testing, from bombs, from other disasters or
uses, does disperse more of the deadly isotopes (and there are others) into our atmosphere. It goes into our water, our earth, our plants, our animals, our bodies. It builds up.
While our ancestors of several centuries back may have been healthier from fewer chemicals and less radiation, they also died faster from other diseases because medical science was not equal to the task. And it’s true that people can often live through a radiation exposure, though the long-term effects on a person or their ancestors is another matter. The image to the right shows the types of radiation with gamma rays, the deadliest able to penetrate most things and stopped only by thick lead. Of course, lead next to your skin isn’t very healthy either but perhaps we’ll see new fashion trends involving lead woven into items.
The government says not to worry yet they’ve said that in the past about such things as thalidomide. There have been two other related nuclear incidents; that of Three-Mile Island in Pennsylvania and Chernobyl in the Ukraine. Whether it affects the immediate surroundings or all of the world, it is not a good thing. I’m not a scientist and all the aspects of radiation would take a book, but I can’t blame people for wanting to suck back iodine and wear lead coats. After all, it’s better to be safe than glowing in the dark. (And yes, those glow in the dark items we use do run on radiation but on very very low doses.) I think we already glow a little bit.
Below are a couple of articles on Chernobyl and how radiation works.