Japan Earthquake Aftermath: What Nurses Need to Know About Radiation Exposure

Airborne radioactive material can have an effe...

Possible routes of radiation exposure. Image via Wikipedia

By Maureen Shawn Kennedy, editor-in-chief

The pictures are horrifying. First a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, then a tsunami, and now the Japanese people are perilously close to another disaster from radiation leaking from damaged nuclear power plants.

The death toll, already in the thousands, possibly tens of thousands, will undoubtedly climb without the intervention from disaster relief organizations, which may be reluctant to send their responders into areas with high radiation. After its ships and crew were exposed to radiation from a leaking reactor (the New York Times reported that the deck crew on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan was exposed to radiation that “caused them to receive a month’s worth of radiation in about an hour”), the U.S. Navy repositioned its ships further off the coast of Japan as a precaution, and is conducting relief operations from the north, away from the wind currents.

There’s been much discussion in the media about the effects of radiation, what levels are harmful, etc, and nurses may indeed receive questions from patients or families with members participating in relief efforts. Here are two articles from AJN that will help you answer questions (they’ll be free until April 18):

Here’s an excerpt from the first of these two articles:

• Remove the patient’s clothing and dress him in
scrubs or a gown.
• Rinse contaminated areas of his body with saline
solution or deionized water.
• Shower or bathe him, using mild soap and
cool-to-warm water.
• After the bath, discard the sponge or washcloth
according to radioactive-waste disposal methods.
(The water should be saved in a drum or carboy;
clothing, sponges, and washcloths should be disposed
of in a radioactive-waste can.)
• Flush open wounds with saline solution or deionized
• Use standard sterile practices when administering
injections, suturing, or other procedures that puncture
or break the skin.

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. Dayana Barrios November 21, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    The forces of nature are unpredictable; however, the degree of preparedness among health care workers, health organizations, and Governments can be managed and perfected. In the past years, Japan has been the house of horrible mass casualty events which have left terrible losses. Currently, they are facing the fear of the possible consequences of being exposed to the high levels of radiations released by the damaged nuclear plan. Nurses need the knowledge on how to minimize the risks of being exposed to radiation and also on patient decontamination. The article stresses how Japan lacks the help of disaster relief organizations due to the fear of exposing respondents to areas of high radiation. Meanwhile death polls continue to increase daily; this article is call for help.

  2. Libia Romero November 21, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    It is very disheartening to know that after having to endure an earthquake and a tsunami, the people of Japan must now deal with the health issues that come along with being exposed to extremely high levels of radiation. Even disaster relief organizations are somewhat hesitant to send their workers to these high-radiation areas because of the associated health risks. Health care workers should all know at least the basics when it comes to radiation, such as what levels are detrimental to health and how to decrease exposure and contamination. The people of Japan deserve to receive the help they need, especially after the destruction and loss they had to suffer through after these horrible natural disasters.

  3. jae kim March 16, 2011 at 2:28 pm

    It is an interesting post.

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.

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