How painful is it to die from acute radiation poisoning?

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This question is being asked out of my sheer curiousity, but how painful is it to die from acute radiation poisoning? Such as the people whom cleaned up the Chernobyl disaster that died from this. How long does it take to die? What amount of radiation is considered lethal?
 

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  • #2
QuantumPion
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I'm not sure how long the Chernobyl firefighters lasted but two physicists whom accidentally irradiated themselves with a nuclear bomb core in the Manhattan project took weeks to die. I imagine it would suck big-time as I believe the main cause of death is from your intestinal tract disintegrating and dying from dehydration/diarrhea/internal bleeding.

How much exposure it takes depends on the dosage and the person though. I think once you get up to 200 R and up acute is getting into the fatal range. However the radiation required to instantly incapacitate someone is probably in the thousands of R.

I don't think you can actually feel the radiation itself though, only its effects.
 
  • #3
Morbius
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This question is being asked out of my sheer curiousity, but how painful is it to die from acute radiation poisoning?
Absolute,

It all depends on how big the dose is. A big enough radiation dose takes out the nervous system
and you die almost immediately.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #4
Astronuc
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This question is being asked out of my sheer curiousity, but how painful is it to die from acute radiation poisoning? Such as the people whom cleaned up the Chernobyl disaster that died from this. How long does it take to die? What amount of radiation is considered lethal?
Much worse than a severe sunburn. People with that level of radiation exposure would get a morphine drip, or some type of palliative care.

As Morphius indicated, at some level of radiation exposure, the central nervous system is destroyed, and so one only feels pain from those nerves not yet dead.
 
  • #5
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Absolute,

It all depends on how big the dose is. A big enough radiation dose takes out the nervous system
and you die almost immediately.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
Much worse than a severe sunburn. People with that level of radiation exposure would get a morphine drip, or some type of palliative care.

As Morphius indicated, at some level of radiation exposure, the central nervous system is destroyed, and so one only feels pain from those nerves not yet dead.
I don't know if I should file this information as "interesting" or "horrifying"...Very scary...
 
  • #6
QuantumPion
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I don't know if I should file this information as "interesting" or "horrifying"...Very scary...
The chances of you coming into contact with a radiation source strong enough to kill you are practically nil, luckily. As far as I can remember, the only civilians (not working in nuclear-related job) to ever die from acute radiation poisoning were the crew on board the Japanese fishing ship which was downwind from the Castle Bravo nuclear test, and the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goi%C3%A2nia_accident" [Broken].
 
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  • #7
Astronuc
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I don't know if I should file this information as "interesting" or "horrifying"...Very scary...
That's why radiation sources and the use of radiation sources is highly regulated and controlled, and why we have designations such as "special nuclear material".
 
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The chances of you coming into contact with a radiation source strong enough to kill you are practically nil, luckily.
That's why radiation sources and the use of radiation sources is highly regulated and controlled, and why we have designations such as "special nuclear material".
I guess we're talking predominantly nuclear powerplants and nuclear weapons when it comes to sources capable of emitting these doses of radiation?

Is this also why "dirty bombs" are considered so frightening, or am I totally on the wrong track here?
 
  • #9
Morbius
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I don't know if I should file this information as "interesting" or "horrifying"...Very scary...
phyzmatix,

The only people that would every be exposed to a radiation dose like that would be those outside
in a city that just got hit by a nuclear weapon. Perhaps one could also see this at the facilities
that use gamma radiation to sterilize medical supplies. However, such installations have protocols
and safety systems to insure that nobody is in the irradiation chamber when it is operating.

It's really no "scarier" than somebody working at a steel foundry. What do you think would happen
to someone who fell into a bucket of molten metal fresh out of a blast furnace?

The hazard is there and you avoid it.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #10
Morbius
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I guess we're talking predominantly nuclear powerplants and nuclear weapons when it comes to sources capable of emitting these doses of radiation?

Is this also why "dirty bombs" are considered so frightening, or am I totally on the wrong track here?
phyzmatix,

Those very high levels would be found in the detonation of a nuclear weapon.

There's really no place that a human would have access to in a nuclear powerplant that would have
radiation levels so intense.

As far as "dirty bombs" - they are frightening - but shouldn't be. From MIT's Technology Review:

http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/13651/

"The biggest danger from radiological weapons is the misplaced panic they would cause"

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #11
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It's really no "scarier" than somebody working at a steel foundry. What do you think would happen to someone who fell into a bucket of molten metal fresh out of a blast furnace?
Granted, that's at least as scary, but the reptilian part of my brain is going: "at least you can see the bucket of molten metal!" :tongue:

I just never really knew exactly what radiation poisoning entailed, or perhaps I should say that I never knew about the pain factor. For some or other reason I have in my mind concepts such as nausea, disorientation and loss of motor skills...(?)

[edit]I just saw your second post after I posted this one...will pop across to that article straightaway[/edit]
 
  • #12
turbo
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I guess we're talking predominantly nuclear powerplants and nuclear weapons when it comes to sources capable of emitting these doses of radiation?

Is this also why "dirty bombs" are considered so frightening, or am I totally on the wrong track here?
The Goiania incident came about because people scavenged a radiation source from medical equipment, so no, it's not just bombs and power plants, but as Astronuc explained, unregulated radiation sources. Strong gamma radiation sources are not only used in medical treatments, but also in the inspection of pipelines, especially in remote locales.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goiânia_accident
 
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  • #13
Astronuc
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The Goiania incident came about because people scavenged a radiation source from medical equipment, so no, it's not just bombs and power plants, but as Atronuc explained, unregulated radiation sources. Strong gamma radiation sources are not only used in medical treatments, but also in the inspection of pipelines, especially in remote locales.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goiânia_accident
Importantly - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goiânia_accident#Legal_matters
In light of the deaths caused, the three doctors who had owned and run IGR were charged with criminal negligence. The main cause of this incident was the severe negligence of the facility's former operators who had left behind such a dangerous item. The accident demonstrated the importance of keeping an inventory and monitoring of all strong radiation sources by public authorities, which now is legally required in many countries.
In the US and developed countries, and theoretically all nations using radioactive materials, sources of radiation/radioactivity and their use are licensed.

What happened in Goiânia is an example of inappropriate use and control of a radioactive source.

The point of a "dirty bomb" is to spread radioactive material over a populated area in order to expose as many people as possible to radiation.

The biological effects of radiation are the result of the ionization of the water and molecules in various cells. The ionization (radiolysis) of water can produce hydrogen peroxide and free hydrogen gas. Hydrogen peroxide is a strong oxidizer which attacks/destroys molecules, e.g. DNA/RNA/proteins/enzymes/ . . . . basically those molecules that allow a cell to function. Cells die, and enough cellular damage/death leads to organ failure and possibly death.
 
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  • #14
turbo
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The point of a "dirty bomb" is to spread radioactive material over a populated area in order to expose as many people as possible to radiation.
That Goiania source was quite "hot" and quite a few individuals were exposed it to it in a relatively concentrated form. If the caesium chloride had been well-dispersed in a dirty bomb, it would have effected more people, but at low doses. If a terrorist got hold of a small, potent vial of this stuff, he or she could get way more mileage out of it by hiding it in a place where people have to spend enough time (perhaps waiting for trains or buses) to get a serious or lethal dose. It would take a bit of time for epidemiologists to recognize the sicknesses, identify the locus, and remove the source. If the placement was not static, but movable, it might take the docs a bit longer to sort it out. Not as dramatic as a dirty bomb, but probably a lot more lethal in the long run.
 
  • #15
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The biological effects of radiation are the result of the ionization of the water and molecules in various cells. The ionization (radiolysis) of water can produce hydrogen peroxide and free hydrogen gas. Hydrogen peroxide is a strong oxidizer which attacks/destroys molecules, e.g. DNA/RNA/proteins/enzymes/ . . . . basically those molecules that allow a cell to function. Cells die, and enough cellular damage/death leads to organ failure and possibly death.
If a terrorist got hold of a small, potent vial of this stuff, he or she could get way more mileage out of it by hiding it in a place where people have to spend enough time (perhaps waiting for trains or buses) to get a serious or lethal dose.
Do you not feel the effects immediately? If someone stands next to you with turbo-1's vial of caesium chloride, would you be aware of it?
 
  • #16
Andrew Mason
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What amount of radiation is considered lethal?
It appears that the answer to that question may depend on the exposure history of the person/animal. It appears that prior exposure to radiation increases the tolerance of mice to higher, normally lethal, doses of radiation. See http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1667/0033-7587(2001)156%5B0195%3AROLIMF%5D2.0.CO%3B2" [Broken] which shows this effect in mice.

The effects of radiation on human health is not well understood. The body has mechanisms to repair damage caused by low doses of radiation. There is a growing body of evidence that exposure to low doses can be actually beneficial.

AM
 
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  • #17
Morbius
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The effects of radiation on human health is not well understood. The body has mechanisms to repair damage caused by low doses of radiation. There is a growing body of evidence that exposure to low doses can be actually beneficial.
Andrew,

Yes - we have a radiation damage repair mechanism not too dissimilar to the immune system. Also
like the immune system; it gets stronger when "challenged" or "vaccinated":

https://www.llnl.gov/str/JulAug03/Wyrobek.html

"The team also discovered that the human lymphoblastoid cells exhibit what is called an adaptive
response to ionizing radiation. An extremely low dose (also called a priming dose) appears to offer
protection to the cell from a subsequent high dose (2 grays) of ionizing radiation. The degree of
protection was measured by the amount of reduced chromosomal damage. A priming dose of
0.05 gray, administered about 6 hours before the high dose, can reduce chromosomal damage
by 20 to 50 percent, compared with damage to cells that were not exposed to the priming dose.

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
  • #18
QuantumPion
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Do you not feel the effects immediately? If someone stands next to you with turbo-1's vial of caesium chloride, would you be aware of it?
I don't think so. The radiation dose required to be immediately sensible is massive, such as a criticality accident. See the account of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Slotin#The_criticality_accident". If you were exposed to a 500 R/hr source you would probably start feeling nauseous and vomiting after a period of hours.
 
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  • #19
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Morbius said:
Yes - we have a radiation damage repair mechanism not too dissimilar to the immune system. Also
like the immune system; it gets stronger when "challenged" or "vaccinated":

https://www.llnl.gov/str/JulAug03/Wyrobek.html

"The team also discovered that the human lymphoblastoid cells exhibit what is called an adaptive
response to ionizing radiation. An extremely low dose (also called a priming dose) appears to offer
protection to the cell from a subsequent high dose (2 grays) of ionizing radiation. The degree of
protection was measured by the amount of reduced chromosomal damage. A priming dose of
0.05 gray, administered about 6 hours before the high dose, can reduce chromosomal damage
by 20 to 50 percent, compared with damage to cells that were not exposed to the priming dose.
I don't think so. The radiation dose required to be immediately sensible is massive, such as a criticality accident. See the account of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Slotin#The_criticality_accident". If you were exposed to a 500 R/hr source you would probably start feeling nauseous and vomiting after a period of hours.
Thanks for the links! I find this all very fascinating. I guess, however, that research in these fields are done more from a medical perspective than from that of a physicist?
 
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  • #20
QuantumPion
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Thanks for the links! I find this all very fascinating. I guess, however, that research in these fields are done more from a medical perspective than from that of a physicist?
Both actually. There is an entire field known as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_Physics" [Broken] which studies the biological impact of radiation.
 
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  • #21
Morbius
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Both actually. There is an entire field known as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_Physics" [Broken] which studies the biological impact of radiation.
QuantumPion,

Yes - the professional society for the field is the Health Physics Society:

http://www.hps.org

The HPS at the University of Michigan has a very informative web site:

http://www.umich.edu/~radinfo/

http://www.umich.edu/~radinfo/introduction/index.htm [Broken]

http://www.umich.edu/~radinfo/introduction/radrus.htm [Broken]

Dr. Gregory Greenman
Physicist
 
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  • #22
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You see? Learning something new every day! :smile:
 
  • #23
Andrew Mason
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I notice that no one mentioned the case of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian who died in 2006 in London as a result of Polonium poisoning, and was apparently murdered by the Russian secret service. Apart from the notoriety associated with this political murder, the poisoning also differs from accidents involving gamma radiation exposure in that Polonium emits alpha particles which are absorbed directly in the tissues of the body organs. The symptoms led doctors to suspect Thallium poisoning.
 
  • #25
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I have sended a question to Dr. Greenman, and I got a answer.
The case I bring to the subject here is about pain when a X-ray is taken.

I had my long checked, but when he took the picture, at that very moment the machine unloaded, I got a painfull impact on the side of my chest which was facing the positioningmachine in the patientroom. The pain stayed for perhaps two days. What the hell has happened to me at that very x-ray-ing moment?
btw: This was about 3years ago.
Thanks for answering
 

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