Hiroshima Insight

Acute Radiation Syndrome

Condition caused by exposure to high doses of radiation

Acute radiation syndrome (ARS), also known as radiation sickness or radiation poisoning, is the result of exposure to high doses of radiation in a short period of time. People exposed to the atomic bomb, which emitted a strong burst of radiation, suffered from vomiting, diarrhea, fever, hair loss, bleeding, and loss of consciousness.

Explaining the underlying cause of ARS, Professor Kenji Kamiya, the director of Hiroshima University’s Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine, said that high amounts of radiation destroy bone marrow tissue, which is responsible for producing healthy blood and the cells of the digestive system, including the stomach and the intestines.

Beyond the short-term effects of ARS, the radiation exposure experienced by A-bomb survivors has been damaging to their health over the long term, resulting in such conditions as cancer and cataracts. This long-term damage is known as “chronic radiation syndrome.”

In addition to numerous cases of ARS in the aftermath of the atomic bombings, the crew members of a Japanese fishing boat, the “Daigo Fukuryu Maru” (“Lucky Dragon No. 5”) developed the syndrome when their boat was bathed in nuclear fallout from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test conducted in the Bikini Atoll in 1954. Six months after the incident, one of the crew members died of his exposure. ARS also claimed the lives of two workers at the JCO uranium enrichment plant in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture after an accident occurred there in 1999.

The accident at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, however, has not resulted in ARS among the local residents because the doses of radiation they have been exposed were comparatively low. As for the workers at the crippled plant, the true impact on their health has yet to be clearly determined.