Radiation levels have risen above the safety limit around Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) nuclear plant hit by a massive earthquake and the company has informed the government of an “emergency situation,” Kyodo agency reported on Sunday.
It did not mean an immediate threat to human health, the company said.
The company said earlier that it had started releasing steam from a reactor at the plant. A similar rise in radiation levels occurred after the company released radioactive steam from another reactor to let go of pressure. Then again the company was obliged to inform the government of an “emergency situation.”
Geiger Counter is used to measure Radiation levels.
The highest recommended limit for radiation exposures is for astronauts-25,000 millirems per Space Shuttle mission, principally from cosmic rays. This amount is beyond the average 300+ millirems of natural sources of radiation and any medical radiation a person has received.
25,000 millirems per year level was the federal occupational limit during World War II and until about 1950 for radiation workers and soldiers exposed to radiation. The occupational limit became 15,000 millirems per year around 1950. In 1957, the occupational limit was lowered to a maximum of 5,000 millirems per year.
Average Natural Background: 300 Millirems
The average exposure in the United States, from natural sources of radiation (mostly cosmic radiation and radon), is 300 millirems per year at sea level. Radiation exposure is slightly higher at higher elevations-thus the exposure in Denver averages 400 millirems per year.
(A milliRem is 1/1000th of a Rem. According to McGraw-Hill’s Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms, a Rem is a unit of ionizing radiation equal to the amount that produces the same damage to humans as one roentgen of high-voltage x-rays. The name is derived from “Roentgen equivalent man.” Wilhelm Roentgen discovered ionizing radiation in 1895 at about the same time that Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium.)
All of these limits are for the amount of radiation exposure in addition to background radiation and medical radiation.
Adult: 5,000 Millirems
The current federal occupational limit of exposure per year for an adult (the limit for a worker using radiation) is “as low as reasonably achievable; however, not to exceed 5,000 millirems” above the 300+ millirems of natural sources of radiation and any medical radiation. Radiation workers wear badges made of photographic film which indicate the exposure to radiation. Readings typically are taken monthly. A federal advisory committee recommends that the lifetime exposure be limited to a person’s age multiplied by 1,000 millirems (example: for a 65-year-old person, 65,000 millirems).
Minor: 500 Millirems
The maximum permissible exposure for a person under 18 working with radiation is one-tenth the adult limit or not to exceed 500 millirems per year above the 300+ millirems of natural sources, plus medical radiation. This was established in 1957 and reviewed as recently as 1990.
Fetus: 500 Millirems Or 50 Per Month (New Rule Jan. 1, 1994)
New federal regulations went into effect New Year’s Day, establishing for the first time an exposure limit for the embryo or fetus of a pregnant woman exposed to radiation at work. The limit for the gestation period is 500 millirems, with a recommendation that the exposure of a fetus be no more than 50 millirems per month.
Like alcohol intoxication levels, levels of exposure to radioactivity (due to radioactivity deposited in the body) depend on a person’s weight. A diagnostic tracer of one microcurie of radioactive calcium 45, given orally, would result in an exposure of 3.7 millirems for a 100-pound person, and half of that, 1.85 millirems, for a 200-pound person.
Therapeutic radiation treatment that is delivered by administering radioactive material via the mouth or by injection usually results in high, very localized doses to a small part of the body, which absorbs most of the radioactivity. The radioactivity concentrates and remains in the target organ (for example, the thyroid) for a longer period of time than does the radioactivity that is distributed to the rest of the body. The radiation exposure for other parts of the body is a function of the amount of radioactivity per pound and the time the radioactivity is present in the tissue.
In physics, radiation describes a process in which energetic particles or waves travel through a medium or space. There are two distinct types of radiation; ionizingand non-ionizing. The word radiation is commonly used in reference to ionizing radiation only (i.e., having sufficient energy to ionize an atom), but it may also refer to non-ionizing radiation (e.g., radio waves or visible light). The energy radiates (i.e., travels outward in straight lines in all directions) from its source. This geometry naturally leads to a system of measurements and physical units that are equally applicable to all types of radiation. Both ionizing and non-ionizing radiation can be harmful to organisms and can result in changes to the natural environment.Radiation hormesis is the theory that low doses of radiation can be beneficial toorganisms.
Certain body parts are more specifically affected by exposure to different types of radiation sources. Several factors are involved in determining the potential health effects of exposure to radiation. These include:
- The size of the dose (amount of energy deposited in the body)
- The ability of the radiation to harm human tissue
- Which organs are affected
The most important factor is the amount of the dose – the amount of energy actually deposited in your body. The more energy absorbed by cells, the greater the biological damage. Health physicists refer to the amount of energy absorbed by the body as the radiation dose. The absorbed dose, the amount of energy absorbed per gram of body tissue, is usually measured in units called rads. Another unit of radation is the rem, or roentgen equivalent in man. To convert rads to rems, the number of rads is multiplied by a number that reflects the potential for damage caused by a type of radiation. For beta, gamma and X-ray radiation, this number is generally one. For some neutrons, protons, or alpha particles, the number is twenty.
The losing of hair quickly and in clumps occurs with radiation exposure at 200 rems or higher.
Since brain cells do not reproduce, they won’t be damaged directly unless the exposure is 5,000 rems or greater. Like the heart, radiation kills nerve cells and small blood vessels, and can cause seizures and immediate death.
The certain body parts are more specifically affected by exposure to different types of radiation sources. The thyroid gland is susceptible to radioactive iodine. In sufficient amounts, radioactive iodine can destroy all or part of the thyroid. By taking potassium iodide can reduce the effects of exposure.
|5-20||Possible late effects; possible chromosomal damage.|
|20-100||Temporary reduction in white blood cells.|
|100-200||Mild radiation sickness within a few hours: vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue; reduction in resistance to infection.|
|200-300||Serious radiation sickness effects as in 100-200 rem and hemorrhage; exposure is a Lethal Dose to 10-35% of the population after 30 days (LD 10-35/30).|
|300-400||Serious radiation sickness; also marrow and intestine destruction; LD 50-70/30.|
|400-1000||Acute illness, early death; LD 60-95/30.|
|1000-5000||Acute illness, early death in days; LD 100/10.|