Radiation poisoning, also called “radiation sickness” or a “creeping dose“, is a form of damage to organ tissue due to excessive exposure to ionizing radiation. The term is generally used to refer to acute problems caused by a large dosage of radiation in a short period, though this also has occurred with long term exposure to low level radiation. Many of the symptoms of radiation poisoning occur as ionizing radiation interferes with cell division. There are numerous lethal radiation syndromes including prodromal syndrome, bone marrow death, central nervous system death andgastrointestinal death.
The medical effects of a nuclear blast upon humans can be put into four categories:
- Initial stage — the first 1–2 weeks, in which are the greatest number of deaths, with 90% due to thermal injury and/or blast effects and 10% due to super-lethal radiation exposure
- Intermediate stage — from 3–8 weeks. The deaths in this period are from ionization radiation in the median lethal range
- Late period — lasting from 8–20 weeks. This period has some improvement in survivors’ condition.
- Delayed period — from 20+ weeks. Characterized by “numerous complications, mostly related to healing of thermal and mechanical injuries coupled with infertility, sub-fertility and blood disorders caused by radiation.” Also, ionizing radiation from fallout can cause genetic effects, birth defects, cancer, cataracts and other effects in organs and tissue.
Some scientists estimate that a nuclear war that resulted in 100 Hiroshima-size atomic explosions would cause significant loss of life, in the tens of millions. There would also be much soot thrown up into the atmosphere which would blanket the earth, causing the disruption of food chains.
Radioactive contamination, also called radiological contamination, is radioactive substances on surfaces, or within solids, liquids or gases (including the human body), where their presence is unintended or undesirable, or the process giving rise to their presence in such places. Also used less formally to refer to a quantity, namely the activity on a surface (or on a unit area of a surface).
Radioactive contamination refers only to the presence of the unintended or undesirable radioactivity, and gives no indication of the magnitude of hazard involved.