Why Fear Over Radiation May Be Worse Than Radiation Itself

photo by Surian Soosay via Flickr

The word radiation (for many reasons) is almost inextricably bound to our most nightmarish imaginations. This association, however, may be a bit too wild compared to reality.

According to experts, radiation exposure doesn’t have as drastic an effect on human health as some have been lead to believe.

Below are 4 facts that show radiophobia may be more widespread than radiation-linked ailments themselves.

1. The threshold for detectable radiation risk is much higher than public perception

Radiation is measured through what scientists have dubbed sieverts and millisieverts (mv). Though Fukushima experienced some perilous conditions, the highest levels of radiation experienced were 400 millisieverts, which is above the threshold for observable effects (100 mv) but is less than a quarter of an instantly fatal dose.

Still, public fear has even been generated around medical scans, which can only deliver a .001 to 20 millisievert blast of radiation–well below dangerous levels.

2. Fukushima has caused little observable long-term effects

In 2011, when Fukushima’s nuclear reactor collapsed following an earthquake off the coast of Japan, many were fearful that the radiation exposure to the area (and Japan as a whole) could be catastrophic.

Four years after the fact, however, little has changed. Though exposure for infants is of great concern when it comes to radiation exposure, in 2013 the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that the Fukushima meltdown was:

“…not expected to cause an increase in the incidence of miscarriages, stillbirths and other physical and mental conditions that can affect babies born after the accident.”

Additionally the report state:

“…risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated.”

Outside of the most contaminated areas which have been evacuated, even locations within the Fukushima prefecture were deemed safe by WHO.

3. Long-term effects of radiation aren’t nearly as drastic as once believed

Atomic bombs are a scary thought, and for many, the ailments stemming from radiation exposure may be almost as terrifying.

According to research during WWII, however, ionizing radiation like the kind experienced after a nuclear reaction, in the long term, isn’t nearly as carcinogenic or genetically harmful as once thought.

Though for infants the risk is much higher, the most recent study concluded that cancer rates for adult survivors within 10 kilometers of the blast increased by only two-thirds of 1 percent.

4. More people have died from stress relating to the Fukushima meltdown than the actual meltdown itself

In 2014 Japanese police told the Japan Times that deaths caused indirectly from Fukushima have now outnumbered those caused directly from meltdown by a margin of 49 people (1,656 to 1,607).

Officials state that some of the biggest factors contributing to indirect deaths are stress and illnesses which may not have been caused if people had not been removed from their homes.

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James Pero