Radioactive iodine from Fukushima Daiichi a threat to unborn children

Research conducted after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979 in the US (Infant Mortality Changes Following The Three Mile Island Accident(pdf)) found that

“An examination of the monthly changes in infant mortality in Pennsylvania and the nearby areas of Upstate New York as given in the U.S. Monthly Vital Statistics reports indicate that the mortality rate rose significantly shortly after the Three Mile Island accident in the directions where the plume of radioactive gases was known to have moved. The number of reported infant deaths per month rose from a minimum of 141 in March of 1979 just before the accident to a peak of 271 in July declining again to 119 by August. This is an unprecedented and highly significant rise of 92% in the summer months when infant mortality normally reaches its lowest values.”

This research indicates that a quantity of roughly 14 curies(518 gigabecquerels) of radioactive iodine-131(I-131) was released from the Three Mile Island facility and that I-131 was the cause of the increase in mortality.

By contrast, at Fukushima, Asahi Shimbun reported that by 24 March the accident might have emitted 30,000 to 110,000 terabecquerels of iodine-131. A widely cited Austrian Meteorological Service report estimated the total amount of I-131 radiation released as of 19 March ranged from 10 petabecquerels to 700 petabecquerels .  A Japanese government estimate issued April 12 calculated the total I-131 release at 130 to 150  petabecquerels total release by the April date.  The amount of I-131 released from the Fukushima site has been enormous relative to the US incident.

The half-life of I-131 is only eight days, but the Japanese authorities have not been able to gain control of the reactors or fuel rods at the site.  It is likely I-131 is still being released.  A dynamic chart of potential deposition of this isotope can be found here.

It seems clear that among the many losses that northern Japan will realize from this disaster is a heavy toll of infant lives.


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