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Radiation poisoning

Radiation poisoning, also called "radiation sickness", is a form of damage to organic tissue due to excessive exposure to ionizing radiation. The term is generally used to refer to acute problems caused by a large dosage of radiation in a short period. Many of the symptoms of radiation poisoning occur as ionizing radiation interferes with cell division. This interference causes particular problems for cells that normally divide rapidly, such as those lining the gastrointestinal tract. Likewise, this is one reason for the effectiveness of radiotherapyin treating cancer— cancer cells are among the fastest-dividing in the body, and will be killed by a radiation dose that adjacent normal cells are likely to survive. Image:Radiation warning symbol.svg


  • 1 Measuring radiation dosage
  • 2 Symptoms and effects
  • 3 Prevention and treatment
  • 4 Table of exposure levels and symptoms
    • 4.1 0.05–0.2 Sv (5–20 REM)
    • 4.2 0.2–0.5 Sv (20–50 REM)
    • 4.3 0.5–1 Sv (50–100 REM)
    • 4.4 1–2 Sv (100–200 REM)
    • 4.5 2–3 Sv (200–300 REM)
    • 4.6 3–4 Sv (300–400 REM)
    • 4.7 4–6 Sv (400–600 REM)
    • 4.8 6–10 Sv (600–1,000 REM)
    • 4.9 10–50 Sv (1,000–5,000 REM)
    • 4.10 50–80 Sv (5,000–8,000 REM)
    • 4.11 More than 80 Sv (>8,000 REM)
  • 5 See also
  • 6 Radiation poisoning in fiction
  • 7 Further reading
  • 8 External links

Measuring radiation dosage

The radis a unit of absorbed radiation dosedefined in terms of the energyactually deposited in the tissue. One rad is an absorbed dose of 0.01 joulesof energy per kilogram of tissue. The more recent SI unitis the gray, which is defined as 1 joule of deposited energyper kilogram of tissue. Thus one gray is equal to 100 rad.

To accurately assess the risk of radiation, the absorbed dose energy in rad is multiplied by the relative biological effectiveness (RBE) of the radiation to get the biological dose equivalent in rems. Rem stands for "Röntgenequivalent man." In SI units, the absorbed dose energy in grays is multiplied by the same RBE to get a biological dose equivalent in sieverts (Sv). The sievert is equal to 100 rem.

The RBE is a "quality factor," often denoted by the letter Q, which assesses the damage to tissue caused by a particular type and energy of radiation. For alpha particlesQ may be as high as 20, so that one rad of alpha radiation is equivalent to 20 rem. The Q of neutronradiation depends on their energy. However, for beta particles, x-rays, and gamma rays, Q is taken as one, so that the rad and rem are equivalent for those radiation sources, as are the gray and sievert. See the sievertarticle for a more complete list of Q values.

Symptoms and effects

The symptoms of radiation sickness become more serious (and the chance of survival decreases) as the dosage of radiation increases. Prolonged exposure to radiation can induce canceras cell-cycle genes are corrupted. However, since tumorsthemselves grow by abnormally rapid cell division, the ability of radiation to disturb cell division is also used to treat cancer (see radiotherapy), and low levels of ionizing radiationhave been claimed to lower one's risk of cancer (see hormesis).

Radiation poisoning can result from accidental exposure to natural or industrial radiation sources. People working with radioactive materials often wear film "badges" or other dosimetersto monitor their total exposure to radiation. These devices are more useful than Geiger countersfor determining biological effects, as they measure cumulative exposure over time, and are calibrated to change color or otherwise signal the user before exposure reaches unsafe levels.

Radiation caused illness and death after the bombings of Hiroshimaand Nagasakiin about 1% of those exposed who survived the initial explosions. The casualty rate due to radiation was higher in Hiroshima, because although Fat Man(the bomb used at Nagasaki) had a higher yield than Little Boy(the bomb used at Hiroshima), Fat Man was a plutoniumweapon, which is actually much less radioactive than a uraniumweapon of equal yield (except at the moment of critical mass). Both bombs were airbursted, minimizing nuclear fallout(which otherwise would have killed many more).

Radiation poisoning also continues to be a major concern after the Chernobylreactor accident. Of the 100 million curies(4 exabecquerels) of radioactive material, the radioactive xenon-133 and iodine-131 Chernobyl released were initially the most dangerous. Due to their short half-lives of 5 and 8 days they have now (2005) decayed, leaving the more long-lived caesium-137 (with a half-life of 30.07 years) and strontium-90 (with a half-life of 28.78 years) as main dangers. Thirty-one people died as an immediate result of the Chernobyl accident.

Prevention and treatment

The best prevention for radiation sickness is to minimize human exposure to high levels of ionizing radiation. The use of radionuclides in science and industry is strictly regulated in most countries (in the U.S. by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission). In the event of an accidental or deliberate release of radioactive material, evacuation or sheltering in placeare the recommended measures. During the height of the cold war, fallout shelterswere identified in many urban areas. Potassium iodide(KI), administered orally, may be used to protect the thyroidfrom ingested radioactive iodinein the event of an accident or terrorist attack at a nuclear power plant, or the detonation of a nuclear explosive. KI would not be effective against a dirty bombunless the bomb happened to contain radioactive iodine.

Table of exposure levels and symptoms

Dose-equivalents are presently stated in sieverts:

0.05–0.2 Sv (5–20 REM)

No symptoms. Potential for cancerand mutation of genetic material, according to the LNT model. This is disputed. (Note: see hormesis). A few researchers even contend that low dose radiation may be beneficial. [1][2][3]

0.2–0.5 Sv (20–50 REM)

No noticeable symptoms. red blood celltemporarily.

0.5–1 Sv (50–100 REM)

Mild radiation sickness with headache and increased risk of infection due to disruption of immunity cells. Temporary male sterility is possible.

1–2 Sv (100–200 REM)

Light radiation poisoning, 10% fatality after 30 days (LD10/30). Typical symptoms include mild to moderate nausea (50% probability at 2 Sv), with occasional vomiting, beginning 3 to 6 hours after irradiation and lasting for up to one day. This is followed by a 10 to 14 day anastasis, after which light symptoms like general illness, anorexiaand fatigue(50% probability at 2 Sv). The immune systemis depressed, with convalescence extended and increased risk of infection. Temporary male sterility is common.

2–3 Sv (200–300 REM)

Severe radiation poisoning, 35% fatality after 30 days (LD35/30). Nausea is common (100% at 3 Sv), with 50% risk of vomiting at 2.8 Sv. Symptoms onset at 1 to 6 hours after irradiation and last for 1 to 2 days. After that, there is a 7 to 14 day anastasis, after which the following symptoms appear: loss of hair all over the body (50% probability at 3 Sv), fatigue and general illness. There is a massive loss of leukocytes, greatly increasing the risk of infection. Permanent female sterility is possible. Convalescence takes one to several months.

3–4 Sv (300–400 REM)

Severe radiation poisoning, 50% fatality after 30 days (LD50/30). Other symptoms are similar to the 2–3 Sv dose, with uncontrollable bleeding in the mouth, under the skin and in the kidneys (50% probability at 4 Sv) in the post-anastatic period.

4–6 Sv (400–600 REM)

Acute radiation poisoning, 60% fatality after 30 days (LD60/30). Fatality increases from 60% at 4.5 Sv to 90% at 6 Sv (unless there is intense medical care). Symptoms start half an hour to two hours after irradiation and last for up to 2 days. After that, there is a 7 to 14 day anastasis, after which generally the same symptoms appear as with 3-4 Sv irradiation, with increased intensity. Female sterility is common at this point. Convalescence takes several months to a year. The primary causes of death (in general 2 to 12 weeks after irradiation) are infections and internal bleeding.

6–10 Sv (600–1,000 REM)

Acute radiation poisoning, 100% fatality after 14 days (LD100/14). Survival depends on intense medical care. Bone marrowis nearly or completely destroyed, so a bone marrow transplantationis required. Gastric and intestinal tissue are severely damaged. Symptoms start 15 to 30 minutes after irradiation and last for up to 2 days. Subsequently, there is a 5 to 10 day anastasis, after which the person dies of infection or internal bleeding. Recovery would take several years and probably would never be complete.

10–50 Sv (1,000–5,000 REM)

Acute radiation poisoning, 100% fatality after 7 days (LD100/7). A dose this high leads to spontaneous symptoms after 5 to 30 minutes. After powerful fatigue and immediate nausea caused by direct activation of chemical receptors in the brain by the irradiation, there is a period of several days of comparable well-being, called the "walking ghost" phase. After that, cell death in the gastric and intestinal tissue, causing massive diarrhea, intestinal bleeding and loss of water, leads to water-electrolyte imbalance. Death sets in with deliriumand coma due to breakdown of circulation. Death is inevitable; the only treatment that can be offered is pain therapy.

50–80 Sv (5,000–8,000 REM)

Immediate disorientation and coma in seconds or minutes. Death occurs after a few hours by total collapse of nervous system.

More than 80 Sv (>8,000 REM)

U.S. military forces expect immediate death. A worker receiving 100 Sv in an accident at Wood River, Rhode Island, USA on 24 July1964survived for 49 hours after exposure, and an operator receiving 120 Sv to his upper body in an accident at Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA on 30 December1958survived for 36 hours.

See also

  • Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • Criticality accident
  • Ionizing radiation
  • Nuclear fallout
  • Radiation
  • Radioactive contamination
  • Radioactive waste
  • Radiophobia

Radiation poisoning in fiction

  • On the Beach is a post-apocalyptic end-of-the-world novel written by British author Nevil Shute, made into a movie in 1959 and a television movie in 2000. It depicts the lives of various people in Australia awaiting the arrival of a deadly radioactive cloud from a nuclear war in the northern hemisphere. In the end, everybody dies of radiation sickness or suicide. The length of time that such a fallout cloud would survive is greatly exaggerated for effect. The 1959 movie was a sensation and frightened many people.
  • Alas Babylon is a 60's novel by Pat Frank taking a what-if look at possible effects of nuclear war on people in the fictional community of Fort Repose, Florida.
  • The 1983 film Testament follows a suburban family coping with radiation sickness after Soviet nuclear attacks on San Franciscoand the continental United States.
  • The 1983 anti-war film The Day After portrays the aftereffects of a global nuclear war between the US and the USSR, focusing mainly on the residents of Lawrence, Kansas. Various characters are shown dying of radiation poisoning, in particular showing hair loss and baldness. Because actor Jason Robardsplayed the lead role, it popularly got called "Jason Robards' disease." The movie appeared at about the same time that various members of the Reagan administrationwere downplaying the dangers of nuclear war and also proposing a controversial missile defense system, the Strategic Defense Initiative(SDI), more popularly known as "Star Wars."
  • Mick Jackson's 1984 made for TV movie Threads dealt with the consequences of a nuclear attack on England during the cold war era. The story follows two families and their future children at different stages of radiation poisoning and its aftermath.
  • Shohei Imamura's1989 movie Black Rain (???; kuroi ame) deals with the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The title refers to the "black rain" of radioactive fallout that fell on Hiroshima after the bombing. It is based on the book of the same name by Ibuse Masuji.
  • In the television series 24, second season, a major character inhales a fatal amount of airborne plutonium. The effects on his health are shown on an hour-by-hour basis. He becomes very ill but before dying from the radiation sacrifices his life to divert a nuclear bombaway from Los Angeles, California.
  • In the Graphic novel When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs, an elderly couple are exposed to fallout after a nuclear war. Much of the second half of the story deals with the effects of radiation poisoning on them and how they interpret what is happening to them. Oblivious to the true danger they are in, they put most of the symptoms they are suffering from down to shock and stress.
  • In the television series Stargate SG-1, the character Daniel Jacksonis exposed to a massive dose of radiation (approximately 12sv) while disarming an experimental nuclear weapon on another planet. Allowed to return to his home planet on compassionate grounds, he quickly succumbs to the symptoms of radiation poisioning, eventually only cheating death by ascending to a higher plane of existence.
  • The 1999 time-travel TV series "7 Days" featured an episode in the first season involving a radiation leak from a damaged Russian nuclear submarine. When asked to describe the size of the leak, one scientist explains, "The phrase 'radioactive death cloud' comes to mind." Victims are pictured as pale and sickly.
  • The 2002 film K-19: The Widowmaker shows the events of Soviet submarine K-19, where seven crew members experience acute radiation poisoning (spending 10 to 20 minutes repairing the coolant system of the reactor); the film is based on real events. They immediately experience vomiting and nausea, and become extremely ill. Some of the remaining crew members suffer minor symptoms.
  • The film Detonator (1992) (Pierce Brosnan, Patrick Stewart) featured an elderly scientist and a USSR Red Army General exposed for a few seconds to radiation from a nuclear bomb under construction. The scientist health slowly deteriates throughout the film. His symptoms are shown as hair loss, small red spots appearing on his face, bloody vomiting. He has the abilty to speak until to his death.
  • The German short film Tag 26 portrays the life of two survivors after a non-descript nuclear disaster, one of whom's protective radiation suits is pierced. After sealing the hole it is revealed the very small amount of time he was exposed to the contaminated air was enough to cause a blood test taken immediately after his accident to show that he had radiation poisoning. He decides a slow death in his suit is not preferable to a relatively quick on in the open air and removes the suit.
  • In the first season of War of the Worlds, host bodies to the aliens, who need radiation to negate the presence of bacteria, often featured sores to reflect the damage the radiation was doing to the human body (a novelisation of the pilot episode went further with the sickness as their clothes were stained by feces and vomit). A noticeable plothole was that characters who came into contact with these irradiated bodies did not suffer any obvious sickness as a result.
  • In the 2002 film The Sum of All Fears, an Arab man and his son find an atomic bomb in the Sinai desert that was lost when an Isreali bomber was shot down in the early days of the 1973 Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur War. The bomb had been buried there for nearly 30 years. When they uncover it they notice that the side is dented and the interior partially exposed. The man reaches inside and notes that it is warm. Later the man is shown dying from acute radiation poisoning as he is being questioned by a US intelligence agent.

Further reading

  • Michihiko Hachiya, Hiroshima Diary (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1955), ISBN 0807845477.
  • John Hersey, Hiroshima (New York: Vintage, 1946, 1985 new chapter), ISBN 0679721037.
  • Ibuse Masuji, Black Rain (1969) ISBN 087011364X
  • Ernest J. Sternglass, Secret Fallout: low-level radiation from Hiroshima to Three-Mile Island (1981) ISBN 0070612420(online)
  • Norman Solomon, Harvey WassermanKilling Our Own: The Disaster of America's Experience with Atomic Radiation, 1945-1982, New York: Dell, 1982. ISBN 038528537X, ISBN 0385285361, ISBN 0440045673(online)
  • The Chrysalids

External links

  • List of radiation accidents and other events causing radiation casualtiesbg:????? ?????? ??????

de:Strahlenkrankheit es:Envenenamiento por radiación fr:Syndrome d'irradiation aiguë ko:?? ja:?? pl:Choroba popromienna

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It uses material from the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiation+poisoning Wikipedia article Radiation poisoning.

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