Here is our best advice in case of a reactor accident that releases large amounts of radioactive material.
- If there is evidence of increased radioactivity in the air, stay indoors and breath filtered air. Forced evacuations make taking this action far more difficult.
- It is worth the effort to take sensible precautions against inhaling or ingesting radioactive material, if the efforts themselves pose little risk. Paper surgical masks or even a handkerchief can reduce internal doses by a factor of ten or more.
- A healthy diet is important to help recover from any negative effects of high exposures.
- There is little uptake of radioactive materials typical of reactor accidents from food. Most isotopes pass through the human digestive system.
- It is worth the effort to prevent skin contamination by wearing protective clothing. Long sleeves, gloves, long pants, and socks can help protect against beta burns. Like thermal burns, beta burns are painful and might cause severe health effects if untreated or if widespread.
- Alcohol is not a radiation antidote.
- There is no evidence of adverse health effects below long term dose rates of approximately 5 RAD per year.
- There is no evidence of birth defects from radiation exposures below several tens of RAD. If the exposure occurs between 8 and 15 weeks after fertilization, there is a remote chance of smaller head sizes after an exposure of approximately 10 RAD. Outside that stage of development, it appears that the threshold is 30 to 60 RAD.
Suggested readings for more information about the Chernobyl Accident.
Issac Asimov, Short Term; Long Term, essay published in On the Past Present and Future, Barnes and Noble Books, New York, NY, 1992.
P.S.W. Chan, A. R. Dastur et al, The Chernobyl Accident: Multidimensional Simulations to Identify the Role of Design and Operational Features of the RBMK-1000, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, CANDU Operations Sheridan Park Research Community, Mississauga, Ontario CA, paper presented September 1987.
Chernobyl: Ten Years On Radiological and Health Impact, An appraisal by the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, November 1995.
Sohei Kondo, Health Effects of Low-Level Radiation, published in the US by Medical Physics Publishing, Madison, WI, 1993.
Piers Paul Read, Ablaze: The Story of the Heros and Victims of Chernobyl, Random House, New York, NY, 1993.
Ten Years After Chernobyl – What do we really know? http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Booklets/Chernoten/
You can also find the most up-to-date information about the accident and its effects at http://www.iaea.org/NewsCenter/Features/Chernobyl-15/index.shtml. This site provides several articles that are the product of intense study of the effects by the IAEA 15 years after the accident that occurred on April 26, 1996.