A recent study tackles perceptions about the long-term health effects resulting from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs. The findings showed that the consequences over survivors’ health are not as severe as previously thought.

Bertrand Jordan, a French molecular biologist at UMR 7268 ADÉS, Aix-Marseille Université/EFS/CNRS, analyzed medical data from survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attack, compiled throughout 60 years. Dr. Jordan’s objective was to clarify general misconceptions about the long-term health consequences of the bombings.

Hiroshima survivors
In the findings, published on August 11 in the journal Genetics, Jordan attributes public perception of the long-term effects of atomic bombs to historical reasons. Image credit: Vox.

Former studies have found that radiation exposure increases cancer risk. It has also been found that the average lifespan of survivors from the atomic bombing was only reduced by a few months. Such findings refute any popular conception about health risks caused by exposure to radiation.

Scientists have not found health effects or any radiation-associated mutations on children of the survivors. Jordan suggested it would be possible to find subtle effects through more detailed tests on survivors’ genomes. Even then, the biologist believes that the children of survivors will face small health risks linked to atomic bombs.

“Most people, including many scientists, are under the impression that the survivors faced debilitating health effects and very high rates of cancer, and that their children had high rates of genetic disease. There’s an enormous gap between that belief and what has actually been found by researchers,” wrote Jordan in an article.

General misconception over radiation exposure

The long-term effects of the atomic bombings have been studied since 1947. Health risks or mutations should be no more considered as a possibility among survivors.

These findings encouraged Jordan to compare what researchers had gathered during 60 years of investigation. The French researcher attributed the public misconception to the fear of feeling threatened by agents we do not know.

Despite the devastations and horrific casualties the U.S. nuclear attack left, the fact of being exposed to a threat that is not found naturally is what has created a general mismatch among populations.

“People are always more afraid of new dangers than familiar ones. People tend to disregard the dangers of coal, both to people who mine it, and to the public exposed to atmospheric pollution. Radiation is also much easier to detect than many chemical hazards. With a hand-held geiger counter, you can sensitively detect tiny amounts of radiation that pose no health risk at all,” remarked Jordan.

Cancer rates and radiation exposure

Dr. Jordan remarked that about 200,000 individuals died in the bombings and the aftermath (firestorm and acute radiation poisoning). In 1947, the Radiation Effects Research Foundation (RERF), funded by the Japanese and U.S. governments, conducted studies over half of the survivors to tackle health effects and lifespan.

The studies, which have followed approximately 100,000 survivors, 77,000 survivors’ children and other 20,000 who were not exposed to radiation, have revealed that cancer rates among survivors were higher compared to rates of people who were not exposed to radiation.

Jordan concluded that the public perception regarding the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks overstates the long-term effects of radiations. Image credit: NBC. Image credit: NBC.

Other factors, such as age and sex, also played a role in survivors’ cancer rates. Younger survivors were more likely to face greater lifetime risks.  Women were at higher risk of developing cancer.

Dr. Jordan added that his findings should not be used to minimize the effects of nuclear bombs nor to justify any country’s actions. While he encourages people to take a look at scientific data before creating misconceptions, he also called to consider the danger of nuclear power.

Source: Eureka Alert