What has happened to the media coverage of Fukushima in Japan? Can you assume that the lack of fanfare means everything is safe? Absolutely not. The reactors have been severely damaged, and containments are leaking. The risk of a large nuclear explosion is still very real.

The situation at Fukushima is now described as being as severe as Chernobyl. What do you remember about Chernobyl? A nuclear explosion occurred on April 26th, 1986, spewing out radioactive contamination 100 times greater than the nuclear weapons used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Europe, the Soviet Union countries and parts of Asia were contaminated. Over time the contamination has spread through the entire northern hemisphere and the world.

It was hoped such a devastating disaster would never happen again. Now it has at Fukushima. And the amount of this current disaster still remains to be seen. Radioactive particles are continuing to be released, and the situation is far from stable. The risk of further damage still looms.

Will the health effects of nuclear radiation from Fukushima compare to Chernobyl? Yes, they will. What are the known effects?

* Cancer
* Many non-cancerous diseases
* Increased infant mortality and birth defects

Cancer of the thyroid, kidney and bladder and leukemia are the most common. However, all cancers increased. So far there has been up to a 22% increase in mortality from cancer over the Ukraine area. Some cancers take 40 years to develop, so the full subsequences are still unknown.

Non-cancerous diseases have increased almost 10-fold. This includes diseases of the thyroid, the pancreas, the respiratory system, and the eyes. Dysfunction of the immune system is more common, with less ability to fight infection and more autoimmune disorders. The occurrence of heart attacks, infertility and impotence is greater. Cognitive function has declined, and behavioral disorders have increased, particularly in children. More psychiatric problems and sleep disorders are seen. Many additional diseases have increased as a result of nuclear radiation exposure.

Children are particularly sensitive to radiation. Infant mortality has increased, as well as spontaneous abortions, low birth weight children, and premature births. Birth defects increased, particularly for those children who were in utero at the time of the incident at Chernobyl.

There is no safe dose of radiation of any kind. All exposures are damaging and cumulative in the body. Radiation from x-rays or flying on airplanes causes damage only at the time you are being exposed. Radioactive particles are exponentially more dangerous because once they are in your tissues they continue to do damage for your entire life. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, forever. The long half-life of these particles ensures this will happen.

Those in Japan who have received high dose radiation will suffer the same consequences as those near Chernobyl. This high dose exposure causes radiation sickness of the severe type. Some died immediately; others will die within several months. For those that survive, long-term results will have these higher rates of cancer, disease, and effects to unborn children.

Those who receive low dose exposure to nuclear radiation are also affected. Remember, no amount of exposure is safe, no matter how small. It causes ongoing cell crisis damage. This constant damage affects our health. Over time, mistakes in the repair process can lead to cancer. The number of people with health effects from low dose exposure will be less than those who received high doses, but many, many people will still be harmed. This includes people all over the world, as these radioactive particles are historically carried everywhere with the wind. Then they are deposited back onto the earth with dust particles, rain drops and even beautiful snow flakes. No one is safe from this exposure.

These health effects will continue to be experienced for centuries to come. It is estimated that the accident at Chernobyl is responsible for the deaths of 2 million people so far. The impacts on ecosystems and economies still remain relatively unappreciated, and will also be ongoing. We have not yet been able to comprehend the full impact of Chernobyl, and now we have Fukushima on top of it.

So far it appears that we did not learn enough from Chernobyl to prevent some of the same scenarios from playing out. Leaders have not adequately educated their citizens about the seriousness of radiation exposure, nor how to protect oneself. Appropriate programs of medical surveillance, treatment and care have not been put into place. No properly coordinated national, let alone international, monitoring of radioactive particles is occurring.

As citizens we need to put pressure on our governments to make monitoring and understanding radiation exposure a priority. And we absolutely need to speak up about wanting energy sources than minimize harm. The risks associated with anything nuclear are simply far too great.

To Your Vibrant Health!

Veronica Tilden, DO