What are the Health Risks of Exposure to Nuclear Radiation?

Exposure to very high levels of radiation, such as being near an atomic explosion, can cause serious health effects, such as skin burns and acute radiation syndrome (“radiation sickness”). It can also cause long-term health effects, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Exposure to low levels of radiation in the environment does not cause immediate health effects. However, it may slightly increase the overall risk of cancer.

The need to regulate radiation exposure led to the formation of several expert bodies to consider what needs to be done. The consequences of nuclear explosive tests and the small quantities of radioactive materials released into the environment by coal and nuclear power plants are also sources of human radiation exposure. Nuclear power plants use the energy released by the decay of certain radioactive isotopes to produce electricity. These standards are used around the world to ensure the safety and radiation protection of radiological workers and the general public.

Three out of four patients hospitalized in industrialized countries benefit from some form of nuclear medicine. The worst nuclear accident in history, which took place in Chernobyl, caused the death of 28 nuclear plant and emergency workers who were exposed to lethal amounts of radiation. The use of radiation and nuclear techniques in medicine, industry, agriculture, energy and other scientific and technological fields has brought enormous benefits to society. If it were a nuclear installation, it would not have been authorized due to the radiation levels emitted by buildings.

Radioactive isotopes released in nuclear power plant accidents include iodine-131 (I-13), cesium-134 (Cs-13 and Cs-137). The use of coal, oil and nuclear energy for electricity production, for example, is associated with some type of health risk, no matter how small. Radiation is considered by many to be frightening, especially when associated with a nuclear power plant, despite the fact that there is no difference between natural radiation and “artificial” radiation. Sleeping next to someone gives us a much higher dose of radiation than living near a nuclear power plant, which are harmless.

None of the accidents that occurred on Three Mile Island or Fukushima Daiichi — the only other civilian nuclear power plants to have experienced accidents that have resulted in a significant release of radioactive material into the environment — had radiation-induced health effects. The INES, developed by the International Atomic Energy Agencyexternal icon, is a tool for rating the safety importance of a particular event associated with sources of ionizing radiation.