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General Health

Nuclear Meltdown? The Facts and Health Implications

The devastation in Japan touches all of us.

With worsening conditions, an ever rising death toll - now 8,450 plus nearly 13,000 people missing - and little reliable information, rumour and panic blur the facts from the fiction.

The resulting fears expressed by many are “Will there really be a nuclear meltdown even worse than the 1986 Chernobyl disaster? If so, how do we prepare for it?”

This blog entry offers some perspective based on known facts about nuclear and radiation concerns, and then offers guidance about the health and wellbeing consequences.


1. The facts

  • Those living within 30 km of the stricken plants, especially the plant and emergency workers, are at high risk of radiation contamination. This risk reduces; the further away one is from the radiation source.
  • Arnie Gundersen, a 29-year veteran of the nuclear industry notes that the most dangerous forms of radiation are from used rods stored at the Fukushima power station and containing iodine-131/134, strontium-90, and cesium-137. 
  • Small amounts of radiation exposure can have significant health consequences particularly for those already ill, elderly and/or with compromised immune systems.  
  • Any radiation plume will be diluted as it travels and is likely to have minor health consequences by the time it reaches mass populations such as the USA / Europe. 
  • In a similar way, radiation from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 spread around the globe and reached the West Coast of the United States in 10 days, its levels measurable but minuscule.
  • It has been estimated that 17 million were exposed to significant radiation after Chernobyl and nearly 2,000 people have since developed thyroid cancer having consumed contaminated food and milk as children. This is very serious, but nothing like the impact that had been expected. Indeed, a UN report identified psychological not radiation problems as the major consequence for health NOT the radiation itself.
  • Similarly, the perception of the extreme risk of radiation exposure is also contradicted by the experience of 87,000 survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who have been followed up for their whole lives. By 1992, over 40,000 had died. Of those, it has been estimated that 690 deaths were due to the radiation. Again, the psychological effects were the critical determinant.
  • Though plutonium remains in the environment for several thousand years, multiple studies have shown that significant radiation exposure — some reports say as much as 1,000 millisieverts - is required to increase the cancer incidence by even 5 percent. For the sake of comparison, a chest X-ray exposes a patient to 0.1 millisievert of radiation.
  • You can pay $160 and get a whole-body CT scan as part of a medical check-up. This delivers a dose equivalent to being 1.5 miles from the centre of the Hiroshima explosion  
  • More than 70 million CT scans are carried out each year. The US National Cancer Institute estimates that 29,000 Americans will get cancer as a result of the CT scans they received in 2007 alone.
  • Even in a worst case scenario, the direct health consequences of the nuclear accident would be very small compared with the thousands already killed by the earthquake and tsunami, let alone the continued suffering of the survivors.

The essence of these facts is perhaps best summarised by Yoshifusa Momma, a company director in Tokyo. He believes this crisis has changed Japan and says "It is a moment of great trial for the country, but we have to overcome it, whatever happens."

2. What exactly are the health consequences?

In general, the amount and duration of radiation exposure and the health of the individual determines the severity or type of health effect.

Radiation creates excessive free radicals (inflammatory molecules) which are especially damaging to bone marrow. Bone marrow produces all the red and white blood cells vital for the formation of organs, glands, muscles, and bones. When radiation damages them, these cells become distorted, or mutated, creating cancers such as leukemia, anaemia, birth defects, and other diseases.

There are two broad categories of health effects: stochastic and non-stochastic.

Stochastic effects are associated with long-term, low-level (chronic) exposure to radiation. Cancer is considered to be the primary long term health effect from radiation exposure.

Non-stochastic or acute effects appear soon after high levels of radiation exposure, and become more severe as the exposure increases. Health effects include burns and radiation sickness or poisoning.' Radiation sickness can cause premature aging or even death within two months if the dose is fatal. The symptoms of radiation sickness include: nausea, weakness, hair loss, skin burns or diminished organ function.

Medical patients receiving radiation treatments often experience acute effects, because they are receiving relatively high "bursts" of radiation during treatment.

Further details about the health effects of radiation can be found by clicking the link.

One of the key organs affected by radiation is the Thyroid gland.

The Thyroid

The thyroid is the "core" of the entire endocrine system. It is a ‘Master switch’ regulating a variety of functions such as hormone production, our sex life, obesity, even how we think.

The thyroid is run by the mineral iodine.

If we are not getting sufficient iodine from the foods we eat, then the thyroid will absorb iodine from wherever it can get it...including radioactive iodine from the air. As mentioned above, one of the most dangerous radioactive particles is iodine -131, likely to be released into the upper atmosphere after a nuclear event. The radiation then weakens and can even kill the gland.

In fact, radioactive iodine is often administered by the medical doctors to intentionally destroy the thyroid as a treatment in some under-active and over-active thyroid conditions.

3. How to Protect Your Health from Nuclear Radiation

Obviously the first key step is to quickly get away from the radiation source. Then to minimize radiation contamination, the following steps are recommended:

  • Protect your DNA and reduce free radicals with the right antioxidant food and supplements
  • Add natural iodine to protect your thyroid
  • Detox / clean out your body

3.1. To protect your DNA and reduce free radicals....

Eat foods and supplements rich in antioxidants to prevent the body from storing radioactive particles, and/or which remove radioactive particles from the body. As we are all affected by radiation released by numerous sources such as X-rays or CAT scans or radioactive contaminated food, air or water, eating these foods regularly is a good idea.

These are the types of nutrients that are helpful:

Green foods that have chlorophyll, especially leafy green vegetables, seaweed, spirulina, chlorella, wheat/barley grass, any sprouts.

Vitamin E: Vitamin E – in the form of tocotrienols - is a powerful antioxidant that will help to prevent damage to cell membranes caused by ionizing radiation. It works by stopping the chain reactions triggered by the radiation that oxidize the polyunsaturated lipids in the membranes. These chain reactions are what make fatty food go rancid if you keep them for too long. In effect, radiation makes your cell membranes go rancid and it is this that does most of the damage to the rest of the cell, including damage to its DNA.  (We use tocotrienols in addition to the ‘normal’ Vitamin E in Total Balance and other supplements.)

Sulphur / MSM: The sulphur compounds trigger increased expression of your glutathione system, which results in both metal detoxification and free radical neutralization (also in Total Balance)

Sulphur-rich vegetables like broccoli, cabbage and mustard greens, as well as garlic, help combine with heavy metals and help prevent free radical damage.

The other group of food compounds that do this is the polyphenolic antioxidants (pine bark extract, green tea extract, grape seed extract etc). We use many of these also in Total Balance.

Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking soda)

Good ‘ol baking soda is also good for you. The oral administration of sodium bicarbonate diminishes the severity of the changes produced by uranium in the kidneys. The kidneys are usually the first organs to show chemical damage upon uranium exposure. Baking soda is used by oncology centres to control chemo agent spills, and is also applied intravenously to protect patients from the hazardous toxicity of chemotherapy.  You can also use it instead of toothpaste for brushing your teeth.

Our antioxidant rich Total Balance and Omega 3 range includes many of the above to help to protect you from dangerous environmental toxins like radiation.

3.2. To add natural iodine and protect your thyroid....

If taken before exposure, natural iodine will block any radioactive iodine from being absorbed into the thyroid gland by "pre-filling" your thyroid. Then there is no room for the radioactive iodine. But it will not:

  • Protect against plutonium, cesium-137 or strontium-90, which are also likely to be present in a nuclear reactor meltdown.
  • Prevent radiation from entering all of your body.
  • Repair damage to the thyroid caused by radiation.
  • Remove radioactive iodine once it has entered your body.

Supplementation with natural iodine after exposure is too late, as the radioactive iodine will have already been absorbed by the thyroid, leaving no room for your protective, natural iodine to save your thyroid from damage. In this case, detoxing (see 3.3. below) will be your best course of action.

The best sources of natural iodine are sea vegetables such as Dulse, Kelp, Laminara, Kombu but they are not easy to get.

You need to be careful not to overdose with iodine. We include iodine in our Total Balance which is adequate for most people


I am aware that many people are desperately trying to source and take potassium iodide pills now. In fact, there are now few stocks available.

Potassium iodide pills work because they fill the thyroid gland with a safer form of iodine, thus helping prevent the uptake of any radioactive iodine that might be encountered.

However, please do not take them unless you are definitely likely to be exposed to a MASSIVE dose of radiation. This is because these pills have been shown to interfere with the body's normal production of thyroid hormone, leading to hypothyroidism, or can provoke an already diseased thyroid gland to make too much of the hormone. The pills can also cause nausea and diarrhea, and you can develop an allergy to them.

The protective effect only lasts for 24 hours. So, you would only use them if it was confirmed that you were about to be immersed in substantial doses of radioactive particles.

3.3 To detox / clean out your body.....

It is always important to remember that boosting your body’s detox capabilities and overall anti-oxidants levels is a key to survive in these stressful times. (We will soon be releasing a unique natural product that will enable you to maintain a toxic free digestive system.)

Please also avoid tap water and especially bottled water containing Fluoride. Fluoride interferes with proper functioning of the thyroid. A water filtration system that removes fluorides and other poisonous chemicals would be a wise investment.

Keep in mind that if you are eating mostly raw, natural foods, drinking adequate liquids including juiced vegetables and fruits, and avoiding ‘stressors’ such as caffeine, alcohol and processed, ready-made foods, you are detoxing naturally!  (Sadly not many of us do this though)

So the best detox is a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle. This would also include regular exercise and sunshine exposure to boost oxygen and vitamin D levels respectively.

There are other methods of detox that can help if you are subject to radioactivity, for example Calcium Bentonite clay or activated charcoal, but this should only be considered if you truly have been exposed to significant toxins.

4. Conclusion

As the unfounded hysteria caused by the Bird Flu ‘epidemic’ has shown, we need to view the potential nuclear radiation risks from this Japanese tragedy with compassion but caution. It is right to be prepared for the worse, but please prepare by seeking unbiased facts first!

The irony of the situation is that we created nuclear plants and weapons in the first place to ‘destroy’ our ‘enemies’. So is nuclear destruction tragic only when it's an accident but not when we deliberately use nuclear weapons? We are compassionate in the face of a nuclear accident, but we have what it takes to use this stuff should we get provoked enough at an enemy.

Perhaps this irony is because if radiation comes from an accident and has been imposed on us unwillingly, we feel we can't control or avoid it?

Hopefully this blog entry will help you avoid being too alarmed and keeps the current situation in perspective.

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