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Radiation risk adds to fears in Japan disaster

March 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
There was yet another explosion at Japan's Fukushima nuclear facility Monday, prompting new fears of more radiation being released.

A radiation expert in L.A. says while the situation is critical, there are things that can be done to minimize the danger from exposure.

There was a scramble to contain nuclear reactor damage at Fukushima No. 1. It is far from a meltdown, but still, elevated levels of radiation also raise panic.

"People are very scared of radiation because they can't see it," said Prof. William McBride, UCLA Dept. of Radiation Oncology.

Science has many responses to radiation according to McBride. He is UCLA's principal investigator in the Centers for Countermeasures Against Radiation Program, one of seven in the nation.

"We have actually very encouraging kind of data with some of these compounds, which suggests that we can actually take someone who has been exposed to radiation and treat them," said McBride.

Products include those that clean the blood of absorbed radiation to agents that stimulate the immune system.

There is an urgency to understanding more about the impact on the body, what products work, and why. There are rising concerns about nuclear material that may be turned into weapons.

"Certainly there is a possibility of terrorist incidents with radiation, these kind of nuclear accidents and so on," said McBride.

The nuclear reactor damage in Japan may stir memories of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, which contaminated a wide swath of the Ukraine and led to birth defects.

McBride says Japanese facilities are superior in construction.

Those most at risk are the workers at the damaged plants. But with modern medicine, McBride says there is help like never before.

"I think it is important for people to realize that radiation exposure is not a death sentence," said McBride. "Even whenever you get into doses of radiation which cause clinical symptoms. I think there's still a lot that we can do."