By Wendy Sarubbi | April 15, 2011 1:42 pm

Two College of Medicine team members shared their expertise on the medical risks for victims of the recent earthquake and tsunami that damaged a nuclear reactor in Fukushima, Japan.

Dr. Rebecca Moroose, an assistant professor with a specialty in oncology, joined second-year medical student Keith Connolly, who spent 10 years in the nuclear power industry before coming to UCF in explaining the health ramifications of the recent nuclear emergency in Japan and those of a 1986 accident at Chernobyl in the Ukraine. Dr. Moroose saw the health effects of high levels of radiation when she was allowed to visit Chernobyl in 1996 and meet victims of the plant’s explosion and fire. She later cared for a physician from the region who suffered from breast cancer.

Keith explained that the Chernobyl accident occurred when plant officials tried a test procedure without proper controls, resulting in an explosion and fire in the reactor’s core. Radioactive particles entered the air and were detected as far away as Sweden. As Dr. Moroose explained, “this was an experiment that had gone very, very wrong.”

The hardest hit area was nearby Pripyat City, a rich farming community. The Chernobyl accident happened on a spring day when many people were outside when radioactive particles entered the air. Others ingested the particles from the crops they ate.

First responders to the plant died immediately from radiation poisoning. Another 237 people suffered acute radiation sickness. Chernobyl had 6,000 cases of adolescent and childhood thyroid cancer in the years following the accident. Perhaps one of the greatest tolls was psychiatric. “People were afraid of something they could not see,” Dr. Moroose said, adding that alcohol and drug abuse were very high after the accident.

Keith, a former Naval officer on the USS Oklahoma City, a nuclear-powered submarine, reviewed steps the Japanese are taking to stabilize their damaged nuclear plant. Radiation from the plant is a concern for surrounding sea water, fish and produce grown in the area.

Medical equipment such as CAT scans and imaging such as fluoroscopy expose health care workers to radiation and Keith reminded College of Medicine colleagues about protective barriers that reduce the risk of radiation exposure: Reduce the time and proximity spent with the equipment and ensure there is a barrier between your body and the equipment.

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