Experts debate 'safe' dose of radiation - WSMV Channel 4

Experts debate 'safe' dose of radiation

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Nursing students study radiation survey instruments as part of a nuclear medicine course at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, MD, in 1958. (Source: Department of Defense/Wikicommons) Nursing students study radiation survey instruments as part of a nuclear medicine course at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, MD, in 1958. (Source: Department of Defense/Wikicommons)

(RNN) - Is there such a thing as a safe dose of radiation? Some experts say no.

Research shows that any dose of radiation increases an individual's risk for the development of cancer.

Decades of research show clearly that any dose of radiation increases an individual's risk for the development of cancer, according to the Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The primary risk of radiation is cancer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, with the higher the radiation dose, the greater the chance of developing cancer.

The chance of developing cancer, not the seriousness of the cancer, increases as the radiation dose goes up.

It can be difficult to discern what causes cancer when it is detected, as cancers caused by radiation do not appear until years after the radiation exposure.

Some are more likely to develop cancer than others from radiation. Less likely, radiation can also cause genetic mutations and birth defects to a developing embryo or fetus.

Fetuses are most susceptible to radiation exposure, following by infants, children, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fetuses are most sensitive between about eight to 15 weeks after conception.

Americans get an average of 620 millirems (6.2 millisieverts) a year, 37 percent of which is background radiation from radon and thoron.

Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that comes from the decay of radium present in nearly all rocks and soils. Most of people's exposure comes from indoor radon, which seep into buildings from the ground through cracks and other openings in floors or walls.

Radon causes an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year, and is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. behind smoking, according to the EPA. A smoker living in a home with high radon has a higher lung cancer risk. One in 15 American homes has a radon level that should be reduced – 4 pCi/L or higher. The radon level can be tested via a do-it-yourself test or by a professional, and can be reduced via a venting system.

Nearly half of the exposure of the U.S. population to radiation comes from medical sources, according to the EPA.

The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima reactor in Japan concerns Physicians for Social Responsibility. Toyko Electric Power Co., also known as Tepco, has experienced difficulty in taking control of the plant, stricken by a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The partial meltdown at the plant caused the most serious nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, causing the release of radiation into the environment and the evacuation of the area around the plant.

"A dose of 100 mSv (10,000 millirems) creates a one in 100 risk of getting cancer, but a dose of 10 mSv (1,000 millirems) still gives a one in 1,000 chance of getting cancer, and a dose of 1 mSv (100 millirems) gives a one in 10,000 risk," the group stated in a news release.

Even if the risk of getting cancer for one individual from a given level of food contamination is low, if thousands or millions of people are exposed, then some of those people will get cancer.

Fukushima has released more iodine-131 than cesium-137, Physicians for Social Responsibility noted. Iodine-131 accumulates in the thyroid, especially of children, with a half-life of more than eight days compared to cesium-137, which has a half-life of more than 30 years.

Doses of iodine-131 are considered extremely dangerous, "especially to pregnant women and children, and can lead to incidents of cancer, hypothyroidism, mental retardation and thyroid deficiency, among other conditions," stated Physicians for Social Responsibility.

A nuclear crisis like Fukushima can happen in the U.S., claimed a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. The report was presented as part of a National Academy of Sciences Lessons Learned from Fukushima study.

U.S. nuclear plants are not designed to survive large natural or manmade disasters, "not much better equipped than Japanese plants to control a severe accident before a meltdown occurs" and not designed to protect the public from such a crisis.

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