Medical Fears Intensify as Japan Distributes Iodine Pills to Citizens

One of the chief concerns following the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that rocked Japan on Friday was the potential damage done to five of Japan’s nuclear reactors.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in particular, which is located in Onahoma city, 150 miles north of Tokyo, suffered a massive power outage that disabled its cooling system and caused pressure levels to build.

Now, radiation is leaking out, though Japanese officials don’t know the quantity, and emergency steps are being taken to protect the population.

First, Japan ordered the evacuation of the thousands of residents who live in areas surrounding the affected nuclear power plants.

Authorities are also distributing stable potassium iodine doses to those people who may have suffered exposure.

Stable iodine helps protect the body from radioactive exposure by blocking the intake of radioactive material in the thyroid.

When the body is exposed to high levels of radioactive material, cells can become permanently altered and lose their ability to die.  These cells then go on to produce more altered cells in a rapid, uncontrolled fashion, which is the process that leads to cancer.

Children are still growing and developing, so they can be at a somewhat greater risk for cancer than adults after radiation exposure because their cells are already reproducing rapidly.

In the aftermath of the devastation caused by Chernobyl, the population saw a dramatic spike in childhood thyroid cancers – more than 6,000 cases.

Later, scientists determined that if children in the area had taken stabile iodine in the hours after being exposed to radiation, a sizeable percentage of the cancers could have been prevented.

However, stable iodine is not the end-all when it comes to radiation exposure because radiation does not just affect the thyroid. The regions that are actually the most vulnerable to radiation are the cells that line the intestine and stomach, and the blood-producing cells in the bone marrow.

But, at this point, any effort that may reduce the risk of cancers is a worthwhile endeavor.  Now, Japan must also keep a close eye on the rest of its population.   If current efforts to relieve pressure in the Fukushima reactor fail and the reactor core melts through its steel containment system, a radioactive plume could disperse tens or hundreds of miles, affecting a huge number of citizens who would need severe remediation.

Additionally, Japanese authorities need to monitor radiation levels in livestock and in the water supply to ensure that there are no hidden dangers of contamination there.

The natural disaster that happened in Japan was horrific, and depending on the next few weeks, could leave even more tragedy in its wake if a reactor melts down.  It is vital that the Japanese government continues to act swiftly and proactively in ensuring the health of its citizens.