Radioactivity and radiation sickness – How to act on the body

Since the tsunami and the resulting nuclear disaster in Japan, the radiation exposure issue has again become very important. It also raises the exposure to many other important issues. For Japan, there was a state of emergency after the earthquake and the floods have devastated the country. And what was even more dramatic that some nuclear power plants were damaged. Thus went the fear of the so-called worst-case scenario to. Throughout the world is growing fear of radiation exposure. Memories of Chernobyl in 1986 were awakened.

Radioactivity is the decay of atomic nuclei, the energy release occurs

What is radioactivity?

Both radioactive rocks and cosmic rays have one thing in common, recorded anywhere in the world and in nature is radioactive radiation. The medicine makes use of this high-energy radiation to treat diseases such as cancer to treat or to perform certain tests. So also are X-rays ultimately radioactive rays.

Radioactivity is the decay of atomic nuclei, the energy release occurs. This has the opportunity to change other materials to complete its structure. When the radiation impinges on other substances, then it is known as ions. Therefore, the radiation which is produced by radioactive elements, also known as ionizing radiation.

Basically, radioactivity present in all of nature, although it can also be produced artificially.

Radioactive elements known origin

  • Plutonium
  • Uranium
  • Radium or radon.
  • Radioactivity is measured in a variety of forms. So there is the
  • Alpha radiation
  • Beta radiation
  • or the very intense gamma radiation.

The intensity of the radiation exposure from radioactivity is measured by the so-called sieverts (Sv) unit.

Meltdown – What is it?

The meltdown occurs whenever a reactor core does not receive sufficient cooling. Even if the reactor is already turned off, it is in the fuel still continue to generate heat. It is therefore important that the reactor core is cooled and after the shutdown of the reactor continued.


Timer for the core melt

It is no longer cooling, as was the case in Japan in the Fukushima nuclear plant, then heats the reactor core on and on. Still present cooling water evaporates through the development of more and more, so that the top fuel learn ultimately no more cooling.

The beginning of the meltdown

The fuel element is composed of a plurality of fuel rods, each having a thickness of about 1 cm. Does not take more cooling, develops in the fuel rods, a temperature that can exceed 1000 degree C. At this stage, to begin to melt the rods then – the so-called core melt enters.

Radioactive substances are released

The radioactive materials that were up at the time of the meltdown still firmly integrated into the fuel out, then a release. The molten material drops down and there is a reaction with the water vapor. This will become very dangerous hydrogen. Can not escape the heat from the reactors, there will be an explosion.

What are the effects of radioactivity on the body?

If radioactivity applied to the human body, is the release of energy and there is an ionizing radiation. Because of this radiation is a change in the atoms and molecules in human tissues and may thus exactly is also an impact on human health. The radiation can damage individual cell blocks strongly, destroy or paralyze the functions of enzymes in the cells completely.

Increased cancer risk

Furthermore, the radioactivity is in a position to DAN, i.e., the genetic material, to change permanently. The subsequent cell division changes are then passed into the renewable cells. So the risk of cancer is diagnosed to be suspended for a man of elevated radiation was significantly higher.

Damage to bone and tissue

If radioactive substances enter the body, they are able to store both in the bones and in the organs and tissues. There they act until they disintegrate. The duration of action of the radioactivity is strongly dependent on the half-life. If the body cells intact, you can compensate for many of the damage caused, again. If there is a very high dose of radioactivity, the body can no longer make this compensation, however.

If the radiation dose less than 100 millisieverts, then direct health effects are unlikely in the long term, however, is an increased cancer risk given

Which radioactive material affect health?

Particularly two radioactive substances in the vicinity of a reactor to take influence on the human health. These are radioactive iodine and cesium. The iodine is deposited in the thyroid. While radioactive cesium intercalated in almost all body cells, especially in the nerve cells and muscle cells. Radioactive iodine has a low half-life, builds up in the body so quickly. The half-life of cesium, however, is up to 30 years. Which means that it lasts considerably longer, until the effect of cesium in the body reduces.

Other substances that are released in the vicinity of a reactor, are strontium and plutonium. Strontium accumulates in the bones, while plutonium is stored in the lungs, and from there into the whole body.

The symptoms of radiation sickness

Generally occurs as radiation sickness on whenever the human body is exposed to highly elevated doses of radiation. The first symptoms of radiation sickness are evident in vomiting and nausea. The rule is that the longer the symptoms persist and the earlier experience, the higher the radiation exposure.

Other symptoms of radiation sickness are:

  • Headache
  • No appetite
  • Hair Loss
  • Skin problems (itching)

Other symptoms may occur on different types gradually, it may result in some cases only after years or decades.

The prognosis for people with radiation sickness are very difficult. It is particularly important, as the radiation dose is high, the body has taken. Basically it can be said that radiation levels up to six sieverts bring both bleeding and infection and ulcers of the mucous membrane with it. A higher dose of radiation affects the gastrointestinal tract. In this case, there may be bloody diarrhea, infection and bleeding to shock. The dose of radiation exposure over 20 sieverts, then especially the central nervous system is affected. In this case convulsions occur, it can lead to unconsciousness and in the worst cases, death can also occur.

Treatment of radiation sickness

It must be told in advance that the treatment of radiation sickness is very difficult.
Exposure of shorten radiation

The first objective is to reduce the effect of radiation as soon as possible. This, in the first step, the removal of radioactive contaminants. This iodine is administered. Thus, to minimize iodine can accumulate 131 or secrete.

Also the balance of fluid loss is a treatment measure for radiation sickness. Furthermore, any damage to the skin to be treated, and blood transfusions performed. Antibiotics may also be a therapeutic measure, so the body is not contagious to other illnesses.

Psychological treatment

Not only physical symptoms are a result of radiation poisoning. Also the psychological impact, for example by hair loss is enormous. A psychological therapy is therefore strongly recommended.

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