The following three radioactive elements can be released in a nuclear accident:
Cesium-137 mimics potassium in the body and can cause cancer, blood diseases and birth defects. It has a 30-year half-life, the time it takes for half the atoms to disintegrate.
Iodine-131 an be inhaled or ingested. It concentrates in the thyroid, leading to thyroid cancer. It has a half-life of eight days. Taking iodine pills prevents the thyroid from absorbing iodine.
Strontium-90 spreads in dust. It accumulates in bones and teeth, causing bone cancer and leukemia. It has a half-life of 29 years.
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