Pregnant women and their unborn babies, in particular, are especially prone to the harmful effects of radiation exposure.
In the U.S., pregnant women working at a nuclear facility are considered safe when exposed to 50 millrem per month. “At that level, nothing will happen to the fetus,” says Kathryn Higley, head of the department of nuclear engineering and radiation health physics at Oregon State University.
The radiation level from the leaking Fukushima plant, however, has been reported to go as high as 800 millirem. This poses a grave threat to pregnant women and their unborn babies, due to the fluctuating radiation levels emitted.
Babies and young children are at great risk because their cells multiply at a more rapid rate than that of adults. Radiation can pass to the fetus via the umbilical cord and it can also gather near the uterus and affect the fetus. Fetal exposure to radiation can “thwart the cell division necessary for healthy formation of essential organs. Birth defects resulting from exposure to radiation include smaller organs, microcephaly (a condition in which a baby is born with a smaller brain) and lowered cognitive functioning. However, these effects ‘usually require relatively high doses of radiation’ and such extreme levels are not yet confirmed,” said Dr. Evan Douple, the Associate Chief of Research at the Radiation Effects Research Foundation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Higley, on the other hand, explains that any exposure to radiation can be considered a trigger for an increased risk for cancer, but a 10,000 millirem dose boosts the lifetime risk to as much as 50 percent.
Yesterday, according to Hikaru Koroda, manager of the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the situation has stabilized. The option to release the radioactive gas in case the pressure inside escalates is still under consideration.
SOURCES: • March 17, 2011. Bonnie Rochman. “In Japan, Pregnant Women Have Double the Reason to Dodge Radiation” Healthland.Time.com • Alizah Salario. “How Will Radiation Affect Unborn Babies in Japan?” TheDailyBeast.com • March 20, 2011. Eric Talmadge and Mari Yamaguchi. “Some progress seein in Japan’s nuclear crisis” News.Yahoo.com