What does nuclear radiation really do to living organisms?

My question has to do with popular cultures portrayal of radiation. We are all aware of the effects fiction usually describes: growth of extra limbs, superpowers, zombification, extreme mutation (turning people into giant monsters), induced cannibalism and insanity, etc.

Are any of these things true? I’ve been playing Fallout 3 and almost all of these mechanics are present. What would the effects of nuclear fallout really be?

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6 Responses to “What does nuclear radiation really do to living organisms?”

  1. Kyle M said:

    Radiation would cause a mutation commonly called cancer to living things.

    It can cause dwarfism, fused eyes and mouths and maybe the extra limb thing among unborn babies.

    Radiation is very unpredictable, but it will NOT make you able to fly or move things with your mind. (I will admit that it would be cool though)

  2. Randy C said:

    None of those things are true. as you increase your exposure to radiation it begins to kill the cells and tissue at the point of exposure. as it get heavier exposure it starts to burn like a sunburn except the skin and tissue are so badly damaged they do not grow back. when your exposure reach a certain RAD level it has killed the living tissue and your body cannot defend itself against various infections, and your skin will not grow back. that is radiation poisoning and you slowly die a very painful death. that is what nuclear fall out does. that is why the radius of a nuclear explosion is so important. our most powerful nuclear device has a 100% kill radius of 300 miles. 95% at 400 miles and 90 % at 500 miles and the radiation cloud can spread for thousands of miles.

  3. Smoorthy said:

    Radiation, in sufficient quantity or strength can cause damage to biological tissues. This includes damage to lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, and most of all DNA. If a cell has its DNA damaged, there are internal repair mechanisms – enzymes that repair DNA. But if enough radiation or toxins are present, it can overwhelm the repair mechanisms and cause the DNA to be damaged. When the cell’s DNA is damaged there are 4 options:

    1. The DNA is damaged to the point where the cell cannot carry out life functions anymore, the cell dies.
    2. The cell’s DNA damage is minimal and it recovers.
    3. The cell’s DNA damage is minimal but the damaged DNA is not healed and the mutation is carried on to successive daughter cells.
    3. The cell’s DNA damage is minimal but it causes damage to a key sequence regulating growth and differentiation – a cancer cell is formed.

    Aspects of radiation effects held by pop culture are a bit exaggerated, because the view is that organisms can sprout extra arms or legs spontaneously as a result of radiation damage to DNA. In truth you would have to be born with an extra limb (due to embryonic DNA damage, or damage to your parent’s DNA), you cannot spontaneously sprout new limbs. The only thing radiation ever causes one to sprout is a tumor.

    Most likely at first many people would die of multiple tumors. Survivors would not be so riddled with extra limbs or over musculature, i.e. they would not look like huge freaks. Rather new generations born in nuclear fallout radiation environments would be less evolutionarily fit, they in all probability loss of a function mutations are much more probable than gain of a function, i.e. – loss of a key enzyme in digestion as opposed to gaining extra eye balls.

  4. Steve E said:

    None of the ‘popular culture’ symptoms of radiation exposure are true. The most likely result of an exposure to radiation below about 25 RAD is nothing – your body has the capability to repair damage at that level or below. Above 25 RAD to about 400 RAD, blood chemistry changes – would be detectable, then the damage would start to be systemic – your immune system would break down – at 450 RAD, about 50% of the population would die without treatment – mostly from opportunistic infections because of the breakdown of your immune system – above about 1000 RAD, most people would die – again of infections (even benign bacteria would kill you – as your immune system couldn’t keep it in check.) Above 5000 RAD, your nervous system dies – it will take a few days, but you would shut down systematically.
    Those are all acute effects of a large radiation exposure such as from fallout. If you were exposed to radiation above about 100 RAD and survived, you might develop cancers – leukemia or thyroid cancers predominantly, which might take 20+ years to show up. Children are particularly susceptible to such cancers as their cell replication rate is much higher than adults – essentially the higher the cell replication rate, the more susceptible a cell is to damage from radiation which could cause cancer.
    No zombies, no extra powers, extra limbs, etc. Makes for nice stories, but grossly untrue in reality.

  5. hreta said:

    this website sucks cuz i cant find wat im looking for4

  6. hi said:

    would it be possible for 2 people 2 be eposed small amount of radition and years of imbreading and increasing radation and eventually they will become more immune and they will adapt


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