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INES scale

Consequences of radioactive fallout

The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES), as per margin (source: International Atomic Energy Agency, INES Rating Interactive Learning Tool, chapter "Dose", p 5 ), spans a range of seven levels of severity of 'nuclear events' with respect to the amount of their radioactive emissions. The intensity of ionizing radiation is called dose rate and given in the dimension Sievert per hour (Sv/h), see our explanation in chapter Gamma radiometry. For its noxious effects, however, only the dose, given in Sievert (Sv), is significant i.e. the intensity of radiation times the period while a person is exposed to the radiation. A one-hour exposition of dose rates defined by INES results in the following approximate dose values:

Radioactive substances, after a nuclear accident, are distributed by the atmosphere via dust particles. Hence it can be incorporated by inhalation or by swallowing. Both can widely be avoided since

Radiation biology

Ionizing radiation can affect health via different mechanisms:

Once incorporated radioactive substances can, by means of drugs, neither be made innocuous nor can their excretion be speeded up.

Consequences on health

Radioactive radiation can lead to diverse health problems:

Measures for prevention and protection

In excess of 50% of the effective radiation dose of the radioactive fallout of a crashed nuclear power plant consists of iodine 131. The radioactive isotope will be enriched in the thyroid gland where it will eventually induce cancer of the organ. We can effectively protect ourselves against the incorporation of radioactive iodine by a timely application of iodine pills. By overdosing iodine we can prevent radiation-induced cancer of the thyroid gland nearly completely.

Similarly breathing mask of the FFP3 type should be stocked. They serve for the protection against radioactive particles in the inhaled air by removing particles up to 95%.

Even in case of a severe accident of the Tihange power plant nobody in Aachen and its vicinity will suffer of acute radiation sickness since the radiation dose will not exceed the critical level.

In particular we should protect ourselves against the inhalation and swallowing of radioactive particles since those will be deposited inside or close to cells eventually converting those into cancer cells.

It will be dangerous to leave a contaminated region in a hurry since most likely the intake of radioactive particles will be far more intensive than with staying at home and waiting for the passing-by of the radioactive cloud.

Prof Alfred Böcking MD, Odette Klepper MD and Wilfried Duisberg MD
IPPNW, Regional Group Aachen