The Fukushima nuclear meltdown released massive amounts of radiation into the environment, and a plant worker was just diagnosed with leukemia four years after the accident.
According to the National Institute of Health, radiation can be extremely dangerous. In other cases, however, it can be life saving. Radiation is defined as the transfer of energy across space. Radiation can come in the form of either particles or waves, and is present everywhere on the planet.
Some studies have even linked radiation doctors believed was safe – the kind used in a CT scan – to the onset of leukemia and brain cancer in children and young adults. A study of 175,000 children and young adults showed that having two or more CT scans can result in an increase in cancer risk, though instances of this are extremely rare.
The Fukushima meltdown was different, however. After a major earthquake, a tsunami nearly 15 meters high came barreling towards the coast of Japan and cut off the power supply and cooling systems for three reactors, causing three nuclear cores to melt over a period of three days.
It took two weeks to get the reactors stable again, and they weren’t completely cooled until four months after the meltdown. There have been no deaths so far as a result of the meltdown, but more than 100,000 people have left their homes at the request of the government. Many have still not returned.
By December of 2011, 19,594 people had been tested for radiation exposure after working on the site following the meltdown. Out of these 167 workers had received doses of radiation in excess of 100 mSv. 135 had received between 100 and 150 mSv, 23 received 150-200 mSV, three received 200-250 mSv, and six workers received a dose in excess of 250 mSv. These workers were exposed to airborne iodine-131 after it was released by the reactor. The recommended level of exposure is 50 mSv per year.
Though many people remain displaced as a result of the accident, the Japanese government is working tirelessly to ensure their safe return home. It has been a long four years for the evacuees of Fukushima, as the tsunami caused great destruction to properties and infrastructure in addition to the nuclear meltdown.
Water contaminated by radiation was also leaked into the ocean near the Fukushima plant, which could have released radiation into the entire ocean food chain. The plant has since been upgraded to prevent water from the nuclear power plant from entering the harbor again, but the total effects on the ocean remain unknown.