5 Common Sources of Radiation Exposure to Be Aware Of
News reports such as the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant disaster in 2011 were a real wake-up call regarding the dangers of radioactive iodine-131. While these are extreme events, many people are unaware that they’re being subjected to radiation from a variety of sources on a frequent basis. Fortunately, there is a safe and effective way to help protect yourself from radiation exposure (more on that below).
First, however, let’s take a look at how these two events continue to have a devastating health impact on citizens both near and far from the accident sites.
The Ongoing Impact of Chernobyl and Fukushima
As of 2005, the Chernobyl disaster has been the direct cause of an estimated 6,000 additional thyroid cancer deaths, and that number grows every year. In addition, about 27,000 European citizens have lost their lives from other forms of cancer because of Chernobyl, according to statistics reviewed by physicist Lisbeth Gronlund, a nuclear technology expert and co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists .
Six years after disaster struck the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, this is what officials there are still dealing with, according to an in-depth New York Times report :
- 3,519 containers of radioactive sludge
- tree logs and branches from 220 acres of deforested land
- 200,400 cubic meters of radioactive metal and other rubble
- 3.5 billion gallons of radioactive dirt
- 1,573 nuclear fuel rods
- 64,700 cubic meters of discarded protective clothing (and counting)
- 400 tons of contaminated water per day since 2011
Of course, it is too soon after Fukushima to put Chernobyl-sized numbers on the devastation. Current thyroid cancer and thyroid disease statistics are troubling, however, especially for Japan’s youngest citizens.
A 2015 study  conducted by Okayama University showed a 20 to 50-fold increase in childhood thyroid cancer cases in Fukushima prefecture alone. Lead author Toshihide Tsuda told NPR reporters  that they found more than 150,000 children with “suspicious or malignant cases” of thyroid cancer. The numbers are based on a large health survey conducted from 2011 to 2014. Reports since then confirm that childhood thyroid cancer in Japan continues to be a major health concern.
“The large-scale ultrasound screening in Fukushima Prefecture of Japan demonstrated a high detection rate of thyroid cancer in young individuals,” say the authors of a 2018 report published in the journal Thyroid .
As radioactive substances continue to spill into the Pacific at a rate of about 300 tons a day, a 2013 article  published in the journal Open Journal of Pediatrics found that children born in the West Coast of the United States shortly after the Fukushima accident had a 28% greater chance of developing congenital hypothyroidism because of airborne radioactive iodine-131 particles making their way across the ocean.
Radioactive iodine was also found amongst California kelp beds about a month after Fukushima, at rates of about 250 times the normal level .
As a side note, of greater concern, now is cesium-134 and cesium-137, which have a much greater half-life than iodine-131. Questionable amounts of these radioactive substances have been found in Pacific bluefin tuna migrating from Japan to the Pacific U.S. coast, according to a 2016 report conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration .
These are scary statistics to be sure. Obviously, the best way to protect yourself from radiation of any kind is to stay far away from it. In the modern world, however, this is almost impossible to do.
Recommended Emergency Measure: Iodine Prophylaxis
The World Health Organization (WHO) currently includes guidelines for “Iodine Prophylaxis” as part of immediate emergency steps to take after a nuclear accident. [Note: “Prophylaxis” refers to an action taken to prevent disease.]
While healthy iodine does not block radioactive iodine from the body completely, it can prevent massive uptake of iodine-131 upon exposure . With cellular receptor sites in the thyroid and other iodine uptake glands filled with healthy iodine, radioactive iodine has nowhere to go but out of the body.
There is no doubt that iodine supplementation plays a role in saving lives after a major nuclear accident. This not only includes at nuclear power sites – by the way, the United States currently has 61 nuclear power plants throughout the country  – but also in other industries that utilize high levels of radiation.
5 Sources of Radioactive Iodine You May Be Exposed to Everyday
But don’t think that fall-out from nuclear disasters are the only sources of radiation exposure you need to be concerned with. Here are some sources of low-level radiation that may surprise you:
#1. Food. Radioactive iodine can show up in waters thousands of miles away from the source of a nuclear accident. In addition, fishing or fish farming that is done near radiation-producing enterprises can result in higher levels of radioactive iodine in seafood. Play it safe when it comes to fish as well as other potential food sources that contain radioactive iodine such as milk and imported rice. Go organic and make sure that the foods you eat have been tested for contaminants – including radioactive iodine.
#2. Work Exposure. It’s not just employees at nuclear power plants that need to be concerned about radioactive iodine exposure. If you are employed at an airport or with an airline, are in the military, work in the aeronautics or aerospace industry, are a miner, or are a medical imagining professional, you may be exposed on a regular basis to high amounts of radioactive iodine.
#3. Medical Imaging. You also expose yourself to radioactive iodine through medical imaging. A 2015 study conducted by Yale University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences found that “exposure to any diagnostic x-rays was associated with an increased risk of well-differentiated thyroid microcarcinoma.” Of greatest concern are nuclear medicine exams such as cardiology tests and “thyroid uptake studies,” chest CT scans, head and neck CT scans, GI imaging, kidney x-rays involving dye and mammograms . If you are having tests done, pay close attention to and follow the safety measures being taken to protect you from radiation.
#4. Airport X-Ray Machines. If you travel a lot, this is especially important for you. A study conducted by Tel-Aviv University and published in the journal Radiation Research found that frequent use of terahertz airport x-ray scanners (the full-body scanners used at most airports) was associated with genetic mutation . Whenever you can, you might opt for a pat-down instead of going through the scanners.
#5. Tap Water. Since tap water may come from hundreds of miles away, you never know if it contains runoff from industrial sources of radioactive iodine. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) , man-made sources of radiation are frequently monitored so that they do not go above the “safe limit.” It is best to play it safe, however, and invest in a quality filter for both your faucet and your shower head.
The simplest way you can protect yourself from the harms of radioactive iodine exposure is by making sure that you have ample stores of healthy iodine for your thyroid and all the other cells in your body. You can get this by regularly consuming iodine-rich whole foods such as seafood and seaweed from clean sources and/or supplementing with high quality, organic, nascent iodine.
- How Many Cancers Did Chernobyl Really Cause?—Updated Version
- Struggling with Japan’s Nuclear Waste, Six Years After Disaster
- Thyroid Cancer Detection by Ultrasound Among Residents Ages 18 Years and Younger in Fukushima, Japan: 2011 to 2014
- Fukushima Study Links Children's Cancer To Nuclear Accident
- Lessons from Fukushima: Latest Findings of Thyroid Cancer After the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant Accident
- Elevated airborne beta levels in Pacific/West Coast US States and trends in hypothyroidism among newborns after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown
- Fukushima radiation found in California kelp
- Fukushima Radiation in U.S. West Coast Tuna
- Guidelines for Iodine Prophylaxis following Nuclear Accidents
- US EIA: How many nuclear power plants are in the United States, and where are they located?
- Diagnostic x-ray exposure increases the risk of thyroid microcarcinoma: a population-based case-control study
- Terahertz Radiation Increases Genomic Instability in Human Lymphocytes
- EPA Radiation Regulations and Laws
The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant disaster in 2011 were a real wake-up call regarding the dangers of radioactive iodine-131.
As of 2005, the Chernobyl disaster has been the direct cause of an estimated 6,000 additional thyroid cancer deaths, and that number grows every year.
While healthy iodine does not block radioactive iodine from the body completely, it can prevent massive uptake of iodine-131 upon exposure. With cellular receptor sites in the thyroid and other iodine uptake glands filled with healthy iodine, radioactive iodine has nowhere to go but out of the body.
5 Sources of Radioactive Iodine You May Be Exposed to Everyday
- Work Exposure
- Medical Imaging
- Airport X-Ray Machines
- Tap Water
The simplest way you can protect yourself from the harms of radioactive iodine exposure is by making sure that you have ample stores of healthy iodine for your thyroid and all the other cells in your body.