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Sunday
Mar132011

What Are the Health Risks of Radiation?

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(TOKYO) -- The steam plume drifting from the Fukushima, Japan, nuclear plant that exploded after Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake and the looming possibility of a meltdown there have U.S. scientists warning of possible serious health risks.

Although the steel container protecting the plant's No.1 reactor was not damaged in the explosion, radiation levels near the plant rose to roughly twice that which constitute an emergency situation, according to Japanese officials, prompting a doubling of the evacuation radius to 20 kilometers.

Japan's nuclear safety agency has since reported a malfunctioning cooling system at a second reactor in the same plant.

"Members of the public are not in imminent danger at a distance of 20 kilometers, so long as they are not downwind," said John Williams, professor of nuclear and energy engineering at the University of Arizona.

But while the breadth of the evacuation zone may limit the risk of acute radiation sickness, the potential for chronic conditions, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease remains.

Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said wind over the Fukushima prefecture could boost radiation to cancer-causing levels up to 100 miles away. Tokyo, home to nearly 13 million people in 2009, is roughly 200 miles away.

Low dose radiation exposure is also linked to a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the National Research Council. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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