Radiation safety: What you should know
April 4th, 2011
12:15 PM ET

Radiation safety: What you should know

You might be a little freaked out about 11,500 tons of radioactive water being dumped into the Pacific Ocean in Japan, where workers are still scrambling to stabilize an earthquake-crippled nuclear power plant called Fukushima Daiichi. In fact, the words "radiation" and "nuclear" give many people the creeps.

And that's partly because these are concepts that you aren't too familiar with; take a minute to learn the basics here. When you get down to the actual risks involved in the Japan nuclear disaster, things aren't so bad for the general public.

It's true that radioactive particles from a nuclear disaster like this do get into the food supply, but so far there's no indication that there's cause for alarm. The particles emitted from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant bind to dust, which is how they travel through the air and eventually fall on the ground, according to CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

When cows eat contaminated grass, those particles can get into milk. Large surfaces of leafy veggies are at risk because they present a greater surface area for the particles to fall on; that's why several green vegetables can no longer be exported from certain areas near the nuclear power plant. Still, levels detected so far pose little risk, Gupta said. And so far there is no contamination of beef in Japan, the government said Friday.

Radioactive particles disperse the farther they travel, so by the time they get to the United States from Japan they are not concentrated enough to pose any health risk. The state of Washington and California have both reported low levels of radioactivity in milk; however, this milk is safe to consume, experts say.

And how about what that water might do to fish? If you're still craving sushi, it seems that, unlike after the Gulf oil disaster, there isn't as much concern about the safety of fish from Japan, Eatocracy reports. Fishing in the prefectures near to the nuclear plant - Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate - has been suspended since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which makes it less likely that tainted fish will reach the market.

But there is justified concern for the health of the Japanese workers who are struggling to control Fukushima Daiichi, and getting exposure to doses of radiation far higher than the general public. While they are probably not experiencing any health effects right now, their long-term health should be monitored, experts say.

soundoff (406 Responses)
  1. Julie

    Why wont the government and the mainstream media report the actual levels of radiation in our food and environment.? The only thing they seem concerned about is that we will stop buying milk!

    April 14, 2011 at 10:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Daquin

    Aug29Jean Weiss BTW, in Aspen I attended and onopssred theNutritarian Festival for Nutritional Research whereDr Joel Fuhrman lectured he too promotes the sameprotocol ~ plant-based whole-food lifestyle to PREVENTa heart attack it feels great that I can be a part of gettingthe message out there and encourage people to empowerthemselves to be the change they want to see in the world!I just opened a raw vegan cafe on Long Island calledLive Island Cafe ! 😉

    April 14, 2012 at 14:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. peacevisionary

    And what about the plume of radioactivity working its way across the Pacific, soon to arrive on the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California? Why isn't it a matter of concern if milk or other food is contaminated? Of course, we need to be very concerned because all it takes is one particle of radioactive material to lodge in one of our organs to kill us. And why aren't the fish that we eat from the Pacific being monitored for radioactive levels? It's a BIG FAT LIE that the radioactivity is being harmlessly dispersed in the ocean. It concentrates in the fish. It isn't safe to eat the fish from the Pacific. The fish go everywhere, get eaten by bigger fish that travel even further, get eaten by dolphins and whales that travel the world. It is the height of irresponsibility to tell people that there's no cause for alarm. OF COURSE THERE IS CAUSE FOR ALARM. What is this, some 1984 Orwellian doublespeak? As long as authorities like Gupta and other people in our government fail to monitor radioactivity, we are clueless. The truth is being hidden from us, as though we were children, by adults who are telling us that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy are real.

    February 22, 2013 at 07:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. stan

    Informative post about radiation safety
    thanks for sharing:)

    February 25, 2013 at 21:00 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.