MadSci Network: Environment

Re: Is true that people can still get cancer from the nucleur bombing of Japan?

Date: Fri Mar 9 17:53:46 2001
Posted By: John Moulder, Faculty, Radiation Biology, Medical College of Wisconsin
Area of science: Environment
ID: 983918416.En

MadSci The question:

"I have heard that there are still remnants of the bomb placed on Japan on 1945 and people are still getting cancer who live there today and if one visits this country/island they can get sick?"
This is really three very different questions:
  1. Are Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese cities on which the US dropped A-bombs, still radioactive?
  2. Can visitors to Japan get sick from the remnants of the A-bombs?
  3. Are the Japanese survivors of the A-bombs still getting sick?
The answers to the first two questions are very easy, since there are no longer any dangerous remnants of the A-bombs. The bombs were detonated in the air, so there was very little fall-out. What killed all the people was the blast, the heat, and the immediate radiation. While US scientists could detect radiation in the cities when they entered a few weeks later, the levels had already dropped to the point where there was little hazard.

But, the Japanese survivors of the A-bombs are still getting cancer as a delayed result of the exposure they got 56 years ago.

The best estimates are that about 70,000 Japanese died in the two cities as an immediate result of the bombing, and that another 30,000 to 40,000 died from radiation, burns and other injuries over the next 3-4 months. We estimate that in the decades since then, another 700-800 Japanese have died from cancer induced by the radiation they received decades earlier.

So while it is safe for you to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the A-bomb survivors are still at risk from what happened more than 50 years ago.


John Moulder
Radiation Biologist

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