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Experts weigh radiation risks in Japan

"The Japanese government has told people that the radiation levels from Fukushima won't affect public health, but is this true? Why are experts saying there are serious risks?"

A Japanese reporter posed these questions to leading radiation exposure experts by telephone at a news media briefing by the Physicists for Social Responsibility on Wednesday. During the briefing, three leading radiation exposure experts discussed the health impact of the nuclear reactor crisis in Japan

“Repeated assurances that the dose is too low to affect people’s health simply do not square with what we know about radiation,” said Ira Helfand, past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility and a nuclear expert in a news media teleconference on Wednesday. "Any dose of radiation somewhat increases risks of developing cancer." 

He said explosions at the nuclear reactors dispersed some dangerous radioactive isotopes into the air, noting that even "people removed from the plant may be exposed to very powerful carcinogenic isotopes."

David Richardson, associate professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, said the radiation levels on the site are "extremely high" and that workers were running serious health risks.

Marvin Resnikoff, an international consultant on radioactive waste issues, noted that the radiation that has been released since the third explosion at the plant was “equivalent to 4,000 chest X-Rays per hour”. 

The chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated on the same day that the damage at one crippled reactor was far more serious than Japanese officials had acknowledged.

They also said there were a number of nuclear power plants in the US with the same design as the damaged nuclear plant in Japan. 

“There are 23 nuclear plants in the US with exactly the same design in Fukushima,” said Helfand. “I’m not sure which of those are located near identified fault lines.”

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