“One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Entire Day”: Health Risks, Radiation and You – Part Two:

“One Nuclear Bomb Can Ruin Your Entire Day”: Health Risks, Radiation and You – Part Two:

The Least You Need to Know About Radiation:

If you’ve already read my earlier article, INTRODUCING OUR ACQUAINTANCE, THE ATOM, you can either skim this section for a refresher or simply jump down to the next bit (though you might want to stop off at the bit about Neutrons). If you haven’t read my earlier article, this section should serve as enough of an introduction to keep you up to speed.

Radiation, at its most basic, refers to energy being emitted or transmitted through either space or a material – light moving through air or microwaves moving through a chicken sandwich are both forms of radiation. Some forms of radiation are dangerous – ultraviolet radiation can cause sunburns and even acoustic (sound) waves can kill, if they’re strong enough.

But we’re not here to talk about sunburns and really, really loud noises. We’re here to talk about nuclear war and nuclear weapons, so we’re going to be talking about a very specific, very narrow type of radiation namely, ionizing radiation.

Ionizing radiation is produced when unstable elements undergo radioactive decay in an effort to become stable elements[(1)]. To do this, unstable elements shed parts of themselves in an effort to change forms.  These parts can come in the form of waves or particles which can strip electrons from other atoms and can disrupt chemical bonds. In humans, this can destroy or damage cells and can even damage our DNA, causing mutations that will affect future generations.

We’ll be discussing four forms of ionizing radiation: alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays and neutrons. From this point forward, unless otherwise mentioned, the terms radiation and radioactivity will specifically and solely refer to ionizing radiation.

Particle Man, Particle Man, What’s He Like? It’s Kind of Important…:

Alpha Particle: is made up of two protons and two neutrons; essentially, they’re the same thing as the nucleus of a helium atom, except an alpha particle is out running around doing its own thing, rather than staying at home with its electrons. It is the largest radioactive particle, averaging about 1 femtometer in diameter (one femtometer is one-quadrillionth of a meter; it would take 25.4 trillion femtometers to make up one inch). An alpha particle moves relatively slowly compared to other particles, leaving the nucleus of an atom at about 16,000 kilometers/second or roughly 36 million miles per hour. Think of it as the slow-moving, lazy bumblebee of ionizing radiation.

The Good News Is: alpha particles cannot penetrate unbroken human skin and can be stopped by a sheet of paper. Doesn’t even have to be a special kind of paper; a sheet of regular copy paper will protect you. But you’re going to want to wear a face-mask and not eat or drink anything that might have been contaminated since inhaling or ingesting count as ‘penetrating human skin’.  So long as the alpha particles stay outside your body, you’re going to be fine – just make sure you’re wearing a facemask (breathing counts as ingesting), don’t eat anything until after you’ve had a shower because…

The Bad News Is: alpha particles cannot penetrate unbroken human skin. They can penetrate broken human skin just fine – and when you’re the size of a helium nucleus, a paper cut is to you what the Solar System is to a very large beach ball. If alpha particles do get inside a person, they can cause severe damage that can significantly increase a person’s long-term cancer risk.

Beta Particle: is either an electron or a positron (a positively-charged electron[(2)]). Like the alpha particle, the beta particle is not attached to an atom and is out going its own way. It’s smaller than an alpha particle, about a thousand times smaller. At its largest, a beta particle is about 1 attometer in diameter (one attometer is one quintillionth of a meter; you’d need 25.4 quintillion attometers to make up one inch). Beta particles are faster than alpha particles, leaving the nucleus of an atom at about 270,000 kilometers/second or approximately 604 million miles per hour[(3)].

Content Advisory: the links in this section lead to a description of the kind of damage beta radiation can do to human skin, with a picture of an actual beta radiation burn and to a diagram of the structure of human skin. While the picture isn’t overly graphic, some may find it disturbing.

The Good News Is: less good, since beta particles can penetrate unbroken human skin – but they can’t go very deep into it. A high energy beta particle might get as far in as the subcutaneous layers (where our fat and connective tissues are) – but beta particles with lower energy levels might not even get past the outermost layer of skin (the epidermis). Beta radiation can be stopped by 3-4 millimeters of aluminum foil[(4)].

The Bad News Is: like alpha particles, beta particles are more dangerous if they get inside of you. They’re significantly less dangerous than alpha particles, but can still increase a person’s long-term risk of cancer. They can also cause external burns.

Gamma Rays: are photons, which are particles of light that share properties with waves – which is how we’ll be talking about them.  The size of a photon is determined by its wavelength, which is a measurement of the distance from the peak of one wave to the peak of another.  The shorter the wavelength, the higher its frequency or how many times it happens in a given time period (usually a second). The higher the frequency, the more energy in the wavelength.

The average gamma ray has a wavelength of less than 10 picometers. A picometer is one trillionth of a meter; one inch would be equal to roughly 25.4 billion picometers – which makes the wavelength of a gamma ray positively huge by comparison to alpha or beta particles. However, the average gamma ray’s frequency is on the order of 10 exahertz (10 EHz) – or 10 quintillion times per second.

Because a gamma ray is for all intents and purposes, light, it leaves the nucleus at the speed of light – which is 299,792 kilometers/second or about 671 million miles per hour. In our insect metaphor, a gamma ray is the (not at all literally) dragonfly of the atomic particle world.

The Bad News: gamma rays are extremely dangerous, in part because they can penetrate pretty much anything and anyone that isn’t properly shielded. Gamma radiation is what causes radiation sickness. A high enough dose of gamma rays will be 100% fatal, regardless of how healthy the victim is.

The (Sort of?) Good News: if you’re close enough to a nuclear explosion to be in area of 100% fatalities from radiation exposure, the blast and/or heat probably killed you first.

The Actually Kind of Good News: gamma rays can be shielded against. You’re going to need either a very dense material like lead or a lot of a less-dense material, like water or concrete. The amount of the material you need varies. For example, you can get the same shielding effects from 13.8 feet of water as you can from 6.6 feet of concrete or 1.3 feet of lead.

The Disappointing News: Exposure to gamma radiation will not give you superpowers. You won’t turn big and green when you get mad nor will you reform into a blue nekkid version of yourself that exists in all times at once. Comics have misled us. Dangit.

A Brief Note on X-Rays: X-rays are also produced in nuclear explosions; they’re found in the thermal radiation released in the initial explosion. For our purposes, consider them similar to gamma rays, though they have longer wavelengths and shorter frequencies and are less likely to have short-term effects (for the reason that if you’re close enough to get a big dose of X-rays, you’ve probably been incinerated or crushed and are likely already dead).

Neutrons: Along with protons, neutrons make up the nucleus of an atom. Unlike protons and electrons, neutrons have no charge and are neutral particles. They are able to bind with protons and while the number of protons in an atom will always remain the same, the number of neutrons will vary. For example, a uranium atom will always have 92 protons, but can have anywhere between 123 to 150 neutrons.  These variations are called isotopes and are what can make an atom stable or unstable.  Uranium-235, the isotope commonly used as fuel in nuclear weapons, has 92 protons and 143 neutrons.

When we’re talking about neutrons in terms of radiation, what we’re talking about are free neutrons, which like our alpha and beta particles, are no longer in residence in their home nucleus and are out making trouble for the establishment. They’re roughly the same size of a proton, having a radius of about 800 attometers (0.8 of a femtometer) but are heavier than protons. Like alpha and beta particles, neutrons move relatively slowly between 14,000 and 52,000 kilometers per second. Despite this, neutron radiation is extremely dangerous because, like gamma radiation, neutrons can penetrate almost anything – especially human beings. In our insect comparison, a neutron is like a mosquito – small, easily shielded against but potentially deadlier than its looks would suggest.

The Bad News: neutrons can penetrate materials (like humans) more deeply than alpha or beta particles. Neutrons are also more dangerous than gamma rays. Neutrons can also make other materials radioactive. Inside the human body, they are 10 times more dangerous than beta or gamma radiation and can be particularly damaging to soft tissues, like the corneas of the eye.

The No, Really, This is Good News: but neutrons can be slowed down by the nuclei of light (as in not-heavy) elements such as hydrogen. As they pass through a substance, like concrete or gravel, they will collide with hydrogen nuclei and get captured by them.

Radiation: How Scared Should I Be?:

It depends. We live in a radioactive world – every day, we’re all exposed to varying amounts of radiation from natural and man-made sources, albeit in doses that are miniscule and unlikely to cause immediate sickness. While the consensus seems to be that there isn’t actually a safe dose of radiation, there are doses that are riskier than others. You can actually calculate your yearly radiation dose using this calculator from the US EPA.

What we’re primarily looking at in this article is the danger from exposure to radiation in doses that can cause significant and immediate sickness. The sorts of doses that you’d expect to get after, say, a nuclear war.

When it comes down to it, if your cells take enough damage from radiation they will die. If too many of your cells die, you will die. But, short of an irrevocably fatal dose, survival is not only possible but, in some cases, likely.

What type of radiation you’ve been exposed to.  Additionally, how much of that radiation you’ve been exposed to and whether that exposure was internal or external. Gamma radiation exposure is most dangerous because it can cause extensive short-term damage and can even be instantly fatal in high enough doses. Beta radiation can cause external burns and, if it gets inside the body, can destroy or damage cells, potentially increasing a person’s long-term cancer risk. Alpha radiation can’t do external damage, but if it’s inhaled, ingested or otherwise gets inside the body, it can severely damage or destroy cells. And, like beta radiation, can increase long-term cancer risks. Neutron radiation can do soft tissue damage, increasing a person’s risk of developing cataracts.

What type of cells were exposed – As a rule of thumb, cells that reproduce quickly are more vulnerable to radiation than cells that reproduce slowly or not at all. Cells reproduce by making copies of themselves. Ideally, each copy is a perfect and exact replica of the parent cell. Since this isn’t an ideal world, imperfections can happen even during the normal copying process.

A dose of radiation that damages a cell’s DNA but doesn’t kill the cell outright can increase the odds of a mutation occurring. These mutations can lead to the formation of cancers or, if they occur in sperm and egg cells, they can be passed on to one’s offspring. We’ll talk more about that later.

Note: just like there are weighting factors for different types of radiation, each type of tissue has its own weighting factor due to how sensitive it is (or isn’t) to radiation. Cells from least to most vulnerable to radiation include (link includes potentially (mildly) disturbing photos):

  • Lymphoid cells – these are a kind of white blood cell that are part of the immune system and include our T cells, B cells and natural killer cells – collectively known as lymphocytes. They’re found in lymph, a fluid similar to blood plasma that helps the body fight infection.
  • Germ cells – specifically, the sperm and egg cells that make sexual reproduction possible. Sperm cells are more vulnerable than egg cells, due to reproducing quickly and being located externally. Egg cells, both the mature and immature varieties, are less vulnerable since they’re shielded by the body.
  • Bone marrow cells – bone marrow produces blood cells (red, white and platelets) at a rate of 200 billion, ten billion and 400 billion per day.
  • Intestinal epithelial cells – these form the lining of the small and large intestine and allows for the absorption of nutrients and other useful substances while preventing the absorption of harmful substances.
  • Epidermal stem cells – the cells that make it possible for the skin to heal from damage; they’re found at the basal layer of the epidermis and can regenerate any layer of the epidermis.
  • Hepatic cells cells that help the liver regenerate and recover from damage
  • Epithelium of lung alveoli and biliary passages – the cells that line the respiratory tract, helping to moisten and protect the airways and serve as a barrier to infectious pathogens and foreign particles.
  • Kidney epithelial cells – a layer of cells that line the nephron, or the tiny tubules inside the kidneys that filter waste. An adult human has between 800,000 and 1.5 million nephrons per kidney.
  • Endothelial cells (pleura and peritoneum) – Endothelial cells line the interior surfaces of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. The pleura and peritoneum are membranes that protect the lungs and the internal organs respectively.
  • Connective tissue cells – the cells that make up the tissues such as bones, ligaments, tendons, cartilage and body fat.
  • Bone cells – ‘Nuff said. Well, no, this is referring to the surface of the bones.
  • Muscle, brain, and spinal cord cells – this includes the cells of the heart (since it’s a muscle) and the brain and spinal cord, which reproduce slowly or not at all.

If you want to see how quickly a particular type of cell reproduces, here’s a handy chart.

 How much of the body was exposed? – Rule of thumb, the more of you that’s exposed, the greater the chances you’re going to die or get sick. Or get sick and then die. This aspect is closely linked to our next criteria, namely How the dose was received? Was it received all at once, over a short time (within minutes or hours) or was it parceled out over time (years or decades)?

For example, a single dose of 100 rem over the course of a few minutes is enough to cause nausea and vomiting in the average person. But stretch that dose out over twenty years at 5 rem per year[(5)], and there’s going to be no outward sign of radiation sickness – though in either case, the chances of developing cancer is the same.

How well (if at all) the individual’s body can repair the radiation-induced damage – a healthy person will have a better chance of survival than someone who is not healthy. For our purposes, I’m using the World Health Organization’s official definition of health, meaning “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Though, it should be noted, that at a high enough dose of radiation, all the good genetics, positive thinking and supportive family members won’t do bugger all to save you.

When it comes to long-term radiation effects – such as an increased risk of cancer – the older you are, the better your chances of survival (or, more exactly, of not living long enough to have to worry about any increased cancer risk) because a) your cells divide more slowly than a younger person’s (reducing the chances of them making ‘bad copies’ and b) you might not live long enough to develop cancer at all.  This is why the Skilled Veterans Corps, a group of Japanese senior citizens, volunteered to help clean up the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant back in 2011.

Playing the Odds: Radiation Exposure and Cancer:

Most of what we know about cancer risks from radiation comes from studies done on the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. These studies found that radiation increases the risk of some forms of cancer, but not all of them. These studies also found that those most at risk were people who’d been exposed to radiation as children – though those exposed while they were still in the womb had lower risks than individuals exposed as children.

The studies also found that there is no safe dose of radiation – even being exposed to a low dose of radiation can potentially increase an individual’s chances of eventually developing cancer. Of course, that situation would be like being hit and killed by a foul ball the first time you go to a major league baseball game. Yes, it could happen, but it’s not necessarily likely to happen.

Your chances of getting cancer is about 40-50%— this is the chances of getting any kind of cancer from any source, so that’s why the percentages are so high. Exposure to 100 rem of radiation increases your long-term cancer risk by about 2.5%, so instead of your risk being 40-50% it’s now 42.5-52.5%.

Your odds of dying from cancer, and again we’re talking about all forms of cancer, is about 25%. Exposure to 100 rem increases your risk of a fatal cancer by 1.25% or from 25% to 26.25%.

When the cancer will show up depends on a variety of things, but in the case of the atomic bombing victims, an increase in deaths from leukemia appeared 2-3 years after exposure and peaked after about a decade, then fell off.  An increase in deaths from lung cancer among the survivors, on the other hand, began to appear about 20 years after exposure.

Am I Going to Glow In the Dark?:

Short answer? No. Radioactive things, despite what Hollywood has told us, don’t glow in the dark. High-energy particles being emitted from a radioactive substance can sometimes cause other things to glow or to fluoresce (like, watch dials) but only in certain circumstances. None of which will cause any living thing to glow.

Measuring Exposure:

When it comes to health effects, you can be exposed to radiation in one of three ways:

  • Irradiation: occurs when you’re exposed to penetrating radiation from a radiation source, such as the detonation of an atomic bomb or standing next to a chunk of uranium. This form of exposure is external and does not make a person radioactive.
  • Radioactive Contamination: can be either external (if radioactive atoms land on skin, clothes, etc.) or internal (if radioactive atoms are inhaled, ingested or absorbed). An environment can also be contaminated with radiation and will remain so until the source of radiation is removed (which is oftentimes easier said than done). Fallout is a likely source of radioactive contamination.
  • Incorporation of radioactive material into the body: can only occur if contamination happens first. In this situation, parts of the body have collected radioactive atoms and made them a part of themselves. The bones, liver, thyroid and kidneys are particularly prone to incorporating radioactive materials. The thyroid specifically readily absorbs radioactive iodine, which can lead to thyroid cancer up to 25 years after exposure. The horizontal scar left after thyroid cancer surgery has been nicknamed the “Chernobyl necklace” because of this.

When it comes to measuring a dose of radiation, we’re concerned with three things:

  • Absorbed Dose: the amount of energy deposited by radiation in a substance, which could be water, rock, people, a cheese sandwich, etc. This is a measurable, physical quantity as opposed to the equivalent and effective doses, which are calculated specifically for radiation protection purposes.  The absorbed dose is measured in grays.
  • Equivalent Dose: is calculated for individual organs and is based on the absorbed dose multiplied by the weighting factor for the type of radiation the organ was exposed to. As we’ve seen, some organs and tissues are more sensitive to radiation effects than others.
  • Effective dose: is calculated for the whole body. It’s the sum of the equivalent dose for all affected organs multiplied by the appropriate tissue weighting factor.

Radiation Sickness:

Content Advisory: in this section we’re going to be discussing the symptoms of radiation sickness from their mildest through to those that are associated with a 100% fatality rate. We’re also going to be discussing the effects of radiation on embryos and fetuses. Because of this, there will be mention of miscarriage and the death of children. These references are kept as minimal as possible, but readers should follow their own best instincts as to whether or not they wish to engage with this material. Links in this section were chosen for a lack of photographs or diagrams, but readers are advised to follow links at their own discretion.

What we call radiation sickness is also known as “creeping dose,” “radiation poisoning” or “acute radiation syndrome” (ARS). The symptoms for radiation sickness were first established in 1897 and the Radium Girls contracted radiation poisoning from radium exposure in the 1910s and several early radiation researchers died of illnesses related to their exposure to radiation. Despite that, the first extensively studied case of radiation sickness was that of the Japanese stage actress Midori Naka, who survived the bombing of Hiroshima only to die 18 days later on August 24, 1945. Hers was the first death to ever be officially certified to be caused by acute radiation syndrome (then known as “Atomic bomb disease”).

Acute radiation sickness happens in stages, from mild through severe. In the interests of simplifying things, we’re going to look at the various stages using rem and assuming that we’re talking about an effective dose of gamma radiation to the whole body (thereby ignoring the various weighting factors). We’ll also be assuming that the doses received will occur within a few minutes or a few hours. So, in summary, we’re looking at short-term, whole-body doses of gamma radiation.

Between 20-50 rem – will cause white blood cell, platelet and sperm counts to drop for a short time, usually within about 24 hours of exposure. While it will increase your long-term risk of cancer, it won’t cause ARS.

Between 50-150 rem – this will cause damage to cells in the bone marrow, skin and in the lining of the stomach and the intestines, which will produce a prodromal syndrome or a set of symptoms that are common to radiation sickness. These symptoms develop within hours of exposure and include: redness of the skin, fever, nausea, vomiting, weakness, cramps and diarrhea. These symptoms usually clear up within two days and the odds of survival are virtually 100%, provided there aren’t other injuries or illnesses complicating the issue.

Between 150-400 rem – You’ll experience the same initial symptoms as above, but they will be more severe and in addition to more severe and potentially fatal symptoms such as: severe damage to the bone marrow, impairing the production of platelets and red and white blood cells. This will impact the ability of the body to heal wounds, fight off infection and keep the body oxygenated.

After a latency period, during which you’ll have apparently recovered from the prodromal symptoms and appear to be on the mend, you’ll get sick again. Much sicker. Three to four weeks after exposure, you’ll develop the hematopoietic syndrome which will manifest itself in a marked drop in your blood cell counts, putting you at risk of anemia, a lessened ability to heal wounds and an increased risk of secondary infections.

At this stage, even with the best treatment including the potential for bone marrow transplants (Footnote: Which will likely be thin on the ground in a post-nuclear war situation), your chances of dying range between 5%-50%, depending on the size of the dose you received.

This is also the level where hair begins to fall out, particularly at the higher doses, due to damage to your hair follicles. Hair loss begins to appear between 2-3 weeks after exposure and, should you survive, will grow back in most circumstances.

Between 400-800 rems – You’ll experience the prodromal symptoms, with more severity (incapacitating vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration). If you survive this, you’ll undergo a worse case of the hematopoietic syndrome within a few weeks. Your chances of dying, even with optimal medical care, is up to 90% in the first six weeks. This is the hematopoietic-gastrointestinal syndrome.

Between 800-2000 rems – You have a very small chance of survival at the lower end of this dose range, but that’s with intensive treatment. Otherwise, doses in this range are all eventually fatal.  You’ll experience all the previous symptoms, like some kind of hellish version of Kickstarter, only faster and with more severity. Within 4-6 days after exposure, you’ll develop gastrointestinal syndrome, with bloody diarrhea, loss of appetite, infections caused by bacteria released from your own damaged intestines, and eventually, septic shock. Death occurs within two weeks of exposure.

2000 rem and above: These doses are 100% fatal with no chance of survival. You’ll experience the prodromal symptoms occurring within minutes or hours after exposure but will skip the hematopoietic and gastrointestinal syndromes and go straight to central nervous system syndrome. Basically, at this level, you’ve received a dose so high you don’t have time to get sick. Instead, you’ll experience a variety of symptoms as your central nervous system dies. These include headaches and tremors as well as apathy, difficulty thinking, convulsions, coma and death, which can take several days to a week.

At 5000 rem and above, you’ll be dead within 24-48 hours.

Source: Time Phases of Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS) and “Chapter 6:” Danger! Radiation!” in Using Medicine in Science Fiction: the SF Writer’s Guide to Human Biology, G. Stratmann, Springer: Cham, Switzerland, (2015), p. 187-210.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stranger – Mutations and Radiation:

Germ cells are, as we mentioned earlier, those cells that are essential for sexual reproduction. They include sperm cells and egg cells[(6)] which, when combined become — eventually — people.

Both sperm and egg cells are vulnerable to radiation damage, though in different ways. Because the testicles are external to the body, sperm are more vulnerable to lower doses of radiation than egg cells are. A dose between 25-50 rem is enough to induce temporary sterility in most cases. The ovaries, on the other hand, are internal to the body and are further shielded by other bodily tissues so are less vulnerable to acute radiation damage.

On the other hand, sperm are constantly being produced at a rate of several hundred million per day. While this leaves them vulnerable to radiation-induced copy errors, it also means that a temporary dip in production doesn’t mean the factory’s shutting down for good. In fact, a less-than-lethal dose of radiation might not cause permanent sterility.

Egg cells, on the other hand, are with a person from the day they’re born, waiting for puberty to start the menstrual cycle. While they’re less sensitive to radiation than sperm cells, if egg cells are damaged or destroyed, they cannot be replaced.  Once the available stock is exhausted, the shop is closed.

Ok, But How Many Heads Will My Kids Have?:

Radiation can and does cause cells to mutate and, if those mutations occur in sperm or egg cells, they can be passed on to one’s offspring. Usually this happens because the cell in question received a dose of radiation that damaged it but didn’t interfere with its ability to reproduce itself. Or with its ability to successfully fertilize/be fertilized. If this happens, the mutation will be passed on to the resulting offspring.

In most cases, this mutation will not be beneficial and will result either result in an unsuccessful implantation or miscarriage later in the pregnancy. If the child is born, they may have developmental defects to the brain or other organs and/or an increased risk of cancer in their lifetime. Studies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors, specifically of survivors who could and did conceive children after the atomic bombings, found the rates of birth defects/abnormalities were no higher than the Japanese average.

Beneficial mutations do occur – though, when they do they’re generally something along the lines of “your body is now X% more efficient at creating/utilizing this protein” than “you can shoot lasers from your eyes!”

On the other hand, if an embryo or fetus is exposed to radiation in the womb, the chances for damage are increased, though it depends on how long after conception the exposure occurs. In general, if the dose received is below 10 rem, the chances of non-cancer related health effects are not detectable regardless of when the exposure occurs.

Within the first two weeks after conception, radiation doses between 10-50 rem may prevent the embryo from implanting in the uterus. Surviving embryos will likely have no significant non-cancer related health effects. During this time, even doses over 50 rem will simply increase the chances the embryo will fail to implant without increasing the chances of non-cancer related health effects.

From the third week after conception through the 13th, doses between 10-50 rem will likely result in stunted growth, though only about 4% shorter than the average. Doses over 50 rem will increase the chance of miscarriage during this time and potentially lead to stunted growth for surviving embryos. During this time there is an increased probability of major birth defects, including developmental disabilities that can result in lowered IQs or severe intellectual disabilities. The fetus is most vulnerable between the 8th and 15th weeks after conception. During this time, severe intellectual disabilities are possible with a dose of 50 rem.  An exposure of 100 rem raises the prevalence of intellectual disabilities 40%.

From the 14th week through to birth, a dose of 10-50 rem is unlikely to cause non-cancer related effects. Doses over 50 rem may increase the probability of miscarriage or the death of newborn child. Stunted growth is still possible but much less likely during this time.  During this time period, an exposure of 100 rem raises the prevalence of intellectual disabilities 15%.

What About The Children?:

Children are at greater risk from radiation exposure than adults are because for one, they’re still growing so their cells are dividing faster than adult cells are. Also, they’ve got a longer life-span during which long-term effects of radiation can appear. Beyond these considerations, the general principles of protecting oneself from radiation are the same for kids and grownups.

How Do I Protect Myself?:

The short answer for this is to minimize the amount of time you are exposed to radioactive materials, maximize the distance between yourself and the source of radiation and get as much shielding between yourself and the radiation source as you possibly can.

The longer answer will be the subject of another article on another day.


Additional Links:


[1] You can think of an unstable element as the protagonist in a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie who is trying to go from “unhappy big city lawyer” to “happy small-town chocolatier”. Only with less ‘life lessons learned’ and more ‘potentially deadly radioactivity.”

[2] Positrons are also the anti-matter form of an electron.

[3] To continue the insect speed theme, a beta particle is (entirely metaphorically and in no way literally) comparable to a Hawk Moth, which have been clocked flying at 33.7 miles per hour.

[4] Or, you could use 3 centimeters of lead, but speaking for my inner ten-year-old, if I’ve got the chance to make myself a heavy-duty aluminum foil suit, I’m going for it!

[5] This is the annual whole-body dose recommended for US radiation workers.

[6] This includes the oocytes, which are the immature form that everyone with a uterus is born with and the ova, the cells that mature during the menstrual cycle in hopes of becoming a baby.