• Question: What are the effects of a radioactive substance (like vast amounts of uranium) on the body?

    Asked by Yuvi7 to Billy, Louise, Naomi, Rachel, Urvashi on 7 Mar 2015.
    • Photo: Naomi Green

      Naomi Green answered on 7 Mar 2015:

      Hi there,

      I’m not a doctor so I don’t know too many details but I did work in the nuclear industry for a short while so I know the basics.

      The effect radiation has on the body depends on how much and for how long you were exposed to it. Basically radiation damages the cells in your body and affects their ability to divide and repair. So if you got exposed to a very, very high dose of radiation then within the first few hours you will get radiation sickness, which means vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, and skin burns. Then your organs would start to shut down due to the damage done to those tissues and the person would die within a few days.

      If you were exposed to a high dose but lower than above you might get milder radiation sickness and then start to feel better for a period of days or months before other things start to happen to you like developing cancer.

      I hope that helps!

    • Photo: Louise France

      Louise France answered on 9 Mar 2015:

      Hi 🙂

      I’d like to follow on from what Naomi said.

      Do you know that we measure radiation in millisieverts (mSv)…a bit like we measure length in millimeters (mm)… and that on average we are exposed to 2 mSv of background radiation every year in the UK? Don’t worry, this is completely harmless to us!

      However, if you were to visit Fukushima for 4 hours, you would be exposed to 400 mSV and this would cause radiation sickness, as well as increasing the chances of serious illness in later life. ( Cancer is noticeable at 100 mSV)

      Potentially fatal doses are much higher. Around 2,000 mSv causes acute sickness (as Naomi described), and a dose of 10,000 mSv would kill you within days! Yikes!!

      You probably know that high doses of radiation causes DNA damage to cells so that they cant replicate properly (this is known as mutation) which often leads to cancer. The most common in this case being leukaemia due to damaged white blood cells.

      I’m not a doctor, but I hope this has answered your question 🙂

    • Photo: Rachel Pallan

      Rachel Pallan answered on 16 Mar 2015:

      Great answers engineers think you’ve covered everything 😀