Can we live in a Radiated World?

Recently, I was watching a drama series called The 100 (which apparently started airing in 2013, and, yes, that makes me super out-dated) on Netflix. Instead of me explaining what the show is about, I thought the trailer will do a better job.

So I’m only into the 2nd episode of Season 1, not a lot, but it got me thinking: Is a radiated world safe enough to inhabit after only a mere 97-year-gap? I am Biology-trained, so believe me when I say that this topic is WAY out of my comfort zone. However, the show got me curious about the possibility of living in a radiated world.

Assuming that the ‘world’ in the show had been through a nuclear war that was supposedly massive enough to wipe out the entire population, would the radioactive elements be cleared so quickly in 97 years?

5 years ago, the Great East Earthquake and the tsunami caused the worst nightmare imaginable in a quaint part of Fukushima. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station located just next to the Pacific Ocean Coast was destroyed and radioactive materials were found leaking out the very next day.

POD0643.jpgThe ironic message above the street of Futaba – ‘Nuclear Energy is the Energy of a Bright Future’
(Source: http://www.podniesinski.pl/portal/fukushima/)

As of 28 Jan 2016, the radiation level is at 21 μ Sv/h (Source: TEPCO), a little lower than the 400 μ Sv/h measurement taken after the plant accident 5 years ago. But to put things into perspective, below is a quick guide to what the levels of radiation meant to the human body.

Radiation dosage.jpg
Source: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2011/mar/15/radiation-exposure-levels-guide

The recommended daily exposure should not be higher than 250 μ Sv. Anything higher than that will cause nausea, damage to lymph nodes, serious risk of infections, sterility, haemorrhaging and eventually death. Therefore, the maximum amount of radiation a person can be exposed to per hour, should be no more than 10 μ Sv. So, if residents were to return to Fukushima today, the amount of radiation that they would be exposed to will most certainly lead to an increase in the probability of getting cancer.

Nuclear weapons are usually made using the element Uranium-235. When used as a nuclear weapon, it will undergo fission, breaking down into two lighter fragments, releasing energy in the process. If Uranium-238 is used, it will be converted Plutonium-239 instead due to its inability to sustain a chain reaction. That element was used to make the bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. 

When a nuclear bomb is detonated, a great amount of heat, pressure and bomb debris will be released, leading to an immediate great destruction. The large amount of heat will cause things in its immediate surrounding to vaporize. The initial destruction is probably the worst, with buildings being levelled almost instantly, but then what happens after that? It really depends on what the nuclear bomb is made up of.

For instance, the element used in the Nuclear Plants in Fukushima is Caesium-137, which has a half-life of approximately 30 years. Which means to say that upon release, the radioactive materials will take 30 years for half of its radioactive nuclei to decay. This also means that for an element with a short half-life, it will dose one heavily in a shorter span of time, although the radioactive material decays faster.

You can be exposed to radioactive content by breathing it in, eating or drinking the substances, or even skin contact. But because it is radioactive, you can be exposed to it just by being near it. According to the Agency For Toxic Substances And Disease Registry, if you are exposed to large amount of Caesium, cells in your body might become damaged from the radiation, resulting in the Acute Radiation Syndrome. It might cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, bleeding, coma, and even death.

The bomb that detonated in Nagasaki, however, consists of the element Plutonium-239, which has a half-life of 24,000 years. Although it takes 24,000 years for half of its radioactive nuclei to decay, the radiation dose that it gives off over that span of time is considerably lesser. That is to say that after the initial destruction, the amount of radioactive material given out in the lifespan of a human is almost negligible, compared to that with a half-life of 30 years.

Therefore, back to the show The 100, will the 100 teenagers be able to come back to earth 97 years after a Nuclear Apocalypse? Well, I guess that really depends on the type of radioactive element that was released into the earth. That detail, however, was cleverly left out from the introduction of the show (or at least from the first few episodes that I’ve watched).

The female lead from The 100 captivated by the glowing plant she saw.

Not sure if the plants would glow so beautifully after 97 years of radiation though. But I guess if I were to discuss the possibility of beautiful radioactive plants and two-headed deers (see below), my post will never end. Hence, I can only say that, yes, we should be able to live in a radiated world (if we really have to), but the radioactive materials might accumulate through the generations and there would be consequences you have to bear. Do you want to risk it?

A scene from The 100 when the teenagers first stepped onto Earth again.

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