But if you avoid enough radiation to stay alive
Just because you dodge ARS following a nuclear blast or meltdown doesn’t mean you get to enjoy a happy ending. Long-term exposure to ionizing radiation, even at doses too low to produce any symptoms of radiation sickness, can induce genetic mutations and cancer. This is the biggest risk facing survivors of the Fukushima disaster the accident emitted a fraction of the radioactive material released at Chernobyl. But the most recent estimates predict the fallout may still cause more than a thousand deaths from cancer.
Normally, cells are controlled by the chemical structure of DNA molecules. But when radiation deposits enough energy to disrupt molecular bonds, strands of DNA are broken . While most repair properly, around a quarter don’t and so begins a long, slow process which results in an increased rate of mutations in future generations of cells. The probability of cancer increases with effective radiation dose but, cruelly, the severity of the cancer is independent of the dose. Exposure is what counts, and it doesn’t matter if the radiation level was high or low.
With long-term exposure, models predicting the level of risk remain controversial. In fact, the most widely-accepted model suggests that, in terms of affecting most people, low-level background radiation is the most hazardous source of radiation. So while ARS may be a horrible way to go, it’s the slow burn that ought worry you most.
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