Following the devastating earthquake in Japan (March 11, 2011) tiny monsters show up on the nightmare stage.
Radioactive Iodine and Cesium could have a big influence on the human body. They can cause death or genetic modifications which could affect the future generation.
These are radioactive substances originating from nuclear plants in Fukushima, which, following the accident that took place there, began to spread in the environment. The names of these silent killers are: Cesium 137 and Iodine 131.
On March 11, 2011, a date marked in red in the calendar of humanity, at 14.46 local time, a violent earthquake of magnitune-9 on the Richter scale occurred at a depth of about 24 km, in the ocean, about 130 km of the Japanese city of Sendai. Following the earthquake, the disaster was coming from the ocean.
The quake, the strongest in the history of Japan, and one of the strongest in the history of seismology, lasted for more than two minutes and generated a series of disasters: from a giant tsunami that swept the coasts of Japan, to devastating fires and damage on the Fukushima nuclear plant. Tens of thousands of people died or are missing. The violent earthquake led to a slight move of the Earth axis.
Nuclear reactors at Fukushima power plant were strongly affected – it is all talk lately about how serious the damage may be; the alert is highest in Japan, but the neighbors are worried, too. Radioactive (more or less) Cloud is followed with great interest by the public and monitored as it is crossing the ocean from one continent to another. The level of radioactivity, at least in Europe, is not a danger to the public.
Those who work heroically at the Fukushima plant to remove, if possible, the danger, really put their lives at risk. Why? Because of some invisible but extremely harmful elements. Depending on the type and amount of radiation absorbed, people exposed to the radiation can die very quickly, or damage may occur long after irradiation: the emergence of a form of tumor or genetic mutations that may affect future generations.
First silent killer: Cesium 137
Cesium, (chemical symbol: Cs) is a chemical element that has a nucleus of 55 protons and is present in nature in the form of a metal with a melting point of 28 C (ie in a summer day should be in liquid form). Depending on the number of neutrons that are in the nucleus, it could be stable (Cs 133) or radioactive (such as Cs 137). Radioactive Cesium that interests us, namely, Cs 137, has a number of 82 neutrons in its nucleus and is not stable; it has a half-life of about 30 years and and turns into barium, through a process of beta decay (Emission of electrons and antineutrinos).
Radioactive Cesium is created in the nuclear fission process taking place in a nuclear reactor. When a nuclear accident happens, radioactive Cesium can reach the water and could contaminate food. Thus, it may end up in the human body where it can get stuck in soft tissue or bone and muscle, where, through the radiation it emits, can generate various forms of cancer.
Second silent killer: Iodine 131
Iodine is a solid, non-metal element, which is present in nature as both radioactive and stable form. All iodine atoms have a nucleus of 53 protons. The number of neutrons can vary, and this number is the one that defines the nature of the iodine: radioactive or not.
Iodine 127 for example, which has 74 neutrons in its nucleus, is stable. There is a large number (36) of Iodine isotopes that are radioactive. Among them is Iodine 131, which has a nucleus with 78 neutrons.
Iodine 131 is produced from the fission process taking place in a nuclear power plant and, when an accident occurs, it may be released into the air, could accumulate in the soil or grass, thereby entering the food chain. It has a half-life of about eight days and turns into Xenon by a beta decay process.
Iodine has an important role in the thyroid, where it contributes to the synthesis of the thyroid hormones, which control virtually the entire body. When Iodine 131 (radioactive) enters the thyroid, it could cause, by the radiation it emits, some forms of cancer.
The silent helper: Potassium Iodide
Potassium Iodide, chemical formula: KI, is a salt (iodized salt) – a product composed of atoms of Iodine and Potassium. The Iodized salt introduces into the body non-radioactive Iodine, which is absorbed by the thyroid saturating it with Iodine. Thus, the thyroid does not need more Iodine, and it doesn’t absorb radioactive Iodine (even if it enters the body) protecting us from the harmful effects of Iodine 131 on the thyroid.
But Potassium Iodide should be consumed wisely and only under the observation of a physician, whereas excessive consumption may lead to even greater damage than that caused by an exposure to radioactive Iodine in small quantities.