How much radioactive radiation is harmful?

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Radioactive particles reach Europe: How much radiation is harmful?

After radioactive particles from Japan, according to the Austrian Federal Environment Agency, have also reached Europe, more and more people in Germany are also wondering from which radiation exposure negative health effects can be expected.

The meltdown in at least one Japanese nuclear power plant releases radioactive particles that reach Europe with the wind. The German Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG) reports that minimally increased radioactivity has already been registered in Iceland. However, the values ​​measured in Reykjavik were only minimally above the detection limit and the limit in Germany of a maximum of one millisievert (mSv) was significantly undercut, explained the ZAMG.

Background radiation leads to natural radiation exposure In general, every person is exposed to a certain degree of radiation from natural radioactive substances in the air, water and soil, the ZAMG experts emphasized. Every German is exposed to around 2 millisieverts annually due to the natural background radiation. In addition, according to the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, medical examinations such as X-rays cause an average radiation exposure of around 2 millisieverts per inhabitant in Germany. Other factors - such as a place of residence near a nuclear power plant - can trigger further radiation exposure. In the past, however, the radiation caused near the German nuclear power plants was on average less than 0.01 mSv and is therefore harmless to health, according to the Federal Office for Radiation Protection. According to the Radiation Protection Ordinance, a limit of 20 mSv per year applies to people who have to deal with radioactivity for professional reasons, such as employees of a nuclear power plant, in exceptional exceptional cases, 50 mSv.

Measurement unit for radioactive radiation exposure The measurement unit Sievert is used internationally to measure radiation exposure, whereby not only the energy absorption by the body but also the energy delivery to the body cells is taken into account. Because the different forms of radioactive radiation - alpha, beta or gamma radiation - work extremely differently, which is reflected in the corresponding Sievert information. Sievert vividly represent the biological effect of radioactive radiation on humans, animals or plants, whereby a Sievert is already a very large radiation dose, which can lead to considerable damage to health. According to the Federal Office for Radiation Protection, changes in the blood picture, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, fever and damage to the genetic material are possible consequences in the range of one to six Sievert. A radiation exposure of seven Sievert is already fatal if no medical countermeasures are taken. Radiation exposure to more than 20 sieverts inevitably leads to the death of those affected within two days. However, the current measured values ​​(less than a thousandth of the permissible limit of one millisievert) are far from the proven harmful doses. However, according to the experts, there can unfortunately be no absolute safety in radiation protection. Because just as a cigarette can trigger lung cancer in the worst case, negative health effects are conceivable even with minimal radiation exposure.

Health risks of minimal radiation exposure cannot be excluded This was repeatedly emphasized by opponents of nuclear power in Germany, where they were able to base their statements on various scientific studies, according to which, for example, the number of childhood leukemia diseases increased significantly in the vicinity of nuclear power plants. For example, the researchers at the German Cancer Registry presented a study that concluded that children up to four years of age are at greater risk of leukemia the closer they are to a nuclear power plant. With a total of 37 children who developed leukemia within five kilometers of the German nuclear power plants between 1980 and 2003, the number of diseases was well above the statistical average of 17 cases, the experts from the German Cancer Registry said. Most recently, the Lower Saxony Epidemiological Cancer Registry (EKN) also found a disproportionately high number of leukemia in men and thyroid cancer in women in the vicinity of the dilapidated Asse nuclear waste storage facility. However, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection has always denied a connection with a possible radiation exposure for the nuclear power plants as well as for the Asse nuclear waste storage facility.

Workers in Japanese nuclear power plants exposed to massive risks According to the experts, the current radiation exposure to the meltdown in the Japanese nuclear power plant does not pose a particular threat to the population in Europe. The values ​​measured so far are significantly lower than the loads that residents of a nuclear power plant are exposed to every day, according to the Federal Office for Radiation Protection. In addition, the health effects of radioactive radiation depend on the duration, type and intensity of the radiation. So far, due to the distance to the Japanese nuclear power plant in Fukushima and the dilution effects in this country, there is no health risk from the released radioactive radiation. However, the Japanese population is exposed to significantly higher radiation doses, and workers in the Fukushima nuclear power plant in particular have to expect health problems. According to official information, several workers were exposed to at least 170 millisievert radiation during their repair work at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

In order to give the rescue work in the affected Japanese nuclear power plants a legal basis, the Japanese government had raised the limit for the maximum permitted radiation exposure of workers in nuclear power plants from 100 mSv to 250 mSv per year in the wake of the current nuclear disaster. The operating company of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Tepco, had in turn stipulated that a worker should not receive more than 150 millisieverts of radioactive radiation per emergency operation, although this value was also above the previously valid limit of 100 millisieverts for workers in a nuclear power station. Given the scale of the current nuclear disaster, the health risks for local helpers seem to be in second place for both the government and the operating company. (fp)

Read about radioactive radiation and health:
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Radioactive radiation: consequences for health

Image: Gerd Altmann, Pixelio

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