Radiation – What’s The Problem?

The media has been awash with articles on the dangers of a radioactive fallout from the damaged Fukushima plant in Japan. But how real is the threat of radiation on health?

Here’s a quick 101 on radiation exposure:

  1. 3 things determine if a radiation blast is harmless or lethal:  the radiation intensity, its duration and whether treatment is available.
  2. Intensity of exposure is measured as millisieverts (mSv).
  3. The duration of exposure is largely determined by the half-life of the various radioactive chemicals produced in a fallout. It can range from 8 days for radioactive iodine to 30 years for cesium-137.

A single Chest Xray is equivalent to natural radiation over 10 days

Its generally true that we are all subject to radiation in our lives and its interesting to see what levels are involved:

US coast-to-coast round-trip airplane flight …………………..0.03 mSv

Natural radiation  for average person per year……………………3   mSv

Chest X-ray ……………………………………………………………………….0.1 mSv

CT scan of abdomen & pelvis  with contrast material…………30 mSv

Single dose required to cause acute radiation sickness……1000 mSv

Single dose required to cause death within weeks………..10,000 mSv


To know whether someone has got  acute radiation sickness, the common symptoms to look for are nausea, vomiting, bleeding and fever (due to invading germs) which can appear within hours of exposure. However, with massive doses of radiation, redness and blistering of the skin can occur. Perhaps, more importantly, the long-term effects can be more disastrous even with much lower doses of radiation – the main danger being cancer, including leukemia. Birth defects have also been known to occur.

Potassium Iodide - useful only against radioactive iodine when consumed before exposure


There seems to be an obsession for potassium iodide tablets but the fact remains that these will only be helpful against radioactive iodine if taken before being exposed. Furthermore, it will have no effect on other radioactive substances, including the feared cesium-137. Once exposed, the best bet is to throw away contaminated clothes and to have a good shower.

There is no specific cure for radiation exposure, with  treatment directed at supportive measures. Hence the paranoia surrounding a radioactive fallout..





3 responses

  1. Your article is indeed timely..wonder why the print media have not embarked on a similar one. Kudos again!

  2. Sorry, I don’t give online consultations as it carries many downsides.
    Talk to her O&G.

  3. I understand that the effects of radiation is cummulative.
    So, is it necessary to inform a doc if one has done a CT?
    What’s the best interval between one?
    Thank you.
    Doctor2008: You need to inform as the doctor needs to weigh the pros and cons for each radiological procedure that is done, regardless of the time interval.

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