The potential impact of radiation accidents has become a public concern since the first nuclear reactors were constructed. It has also been one of the key factors in building nuclear facilities since then. Although some technical measures have been adopted to minimize the amount of radioactivity released to the atmosphere and the risk of nuclear accidents, as Ramana (2009:136) suggested “despite the use of such measures, there have been many accidents with varying impacts as well near misses and incidents.” Some serious and more well-known nuclear accidents that have disastrous impact include the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, the Chernobyl accident in 1986 and the Fukushima accident in 2011. For instance, in the Fukushima accident, 19,126 people were dead or missing and decontamination work is estimated to be last for at least one decade.
The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) was adopted in 1990 to enable instant and consistent communication of safety significance to the public in case of nuclear and radiological events. According to International Atomic Energy Agency (2009) “Events are classified on the scale at seven levels: Levels 4–7 are termed ‘accidents’ and Levels 1–3 ‘incidents’. Events without safety significance are called deviations and classified as ‘Below Scale/Level 0’.” Under this scale, the Chernobyl accident and Fukushima accident are classified as level 7 while Three Mile Island accident is classified as level 5.
Throughout the recent decades, extensive research studying the above three nuclear accidents have been carried out to investigate the health impact of nuclear accidents and hence to make corresponding measures to reduce health risks. The deleterious impacts on human beings and the environment are threefold: physical, psychological and environmental. I would like to talk about each area in detail.
Physical Health Impact
When discussing the possible impact of a disaster, physical health impact is often the most important and critical. There are two immediate causes of death due to the accident, explosion and acute radiation syndrome (ARS). As suggested by Dörr (2011), “acute radiation syndrome is an acute illness caused by irradiation of the entire body or most of the body by a high dose of radiation in a very short period of time.” The three classics ARS syndromes include hematopoietic syndrome, gastrointestinal (GI) syndrome and central nervous system syndrome. The symptoms appear in different organ systems depending on the absorbed radiation dose of the patients. Hematopoietic syndrome will occur at a lower dose than the other syndromes due to the high radiosensitivity of the hematopoietic system. A decrease in the blood cell counts might be observed and the function of the bone marrow is irreversibly damaged. With higher radiation exposure, disturbances of the gastrointestinal system, such as destruction of the mucosal layer can take place. A complete loss of the mucosal layer will be fatal. Very high radiation exposure can result in neurologic and cardiovascular breakdown. Most victims suffering...