In the aftermath of the 8.9 magnitude earthquake in Japan, one of the principal 
concerns was the state of Japan’s nuclear reactors.

One in particular, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, located 150 miles 
north of Tokyo in Onahoma city, suffered a massive power outage that disabled 
its cooling system and caused pressure levels to rise.

Now, radiation is leaking out, even though Japanese officials don’t know how much
and emergency steps are being taken to protect the population.

First, Japan ordered the evacuation of thousands of residents who live in the 
areas surrounding the affected nuclear power plants.

Authorities are also distributing stable potassium iodine doses to those people 
who may have suffered exposure.

Stable iodine helps protect the body from radioactive exposure by blocking the 
intake of radioactive material in the thyroid.

When the body is exposed to high levels of radioactive material, cells can 
become permanently damaged, losing their ability to die, and then go on to 
produce more damaged cells in a rapid, uncontrolled fashion.  This is the 
process that leads to cancer.

Children can be at a somewhat greater risk for cancer than adults after 
radiation exposure because they are in the midst of growing and developing, and so 
their cells are already reproducing rapidly.

For example, following the devastation caused by Chernobyl, the population saw a 
dramatic spike in childhood thyroid cancers – more than 6,000 cases.

However, scientists later proved that if children in the area had taken stabile 
iodine in the hours after being exposed to radiation, a sizeable percentage of 
the cancers could have been prevented.

I must stress, however, that stable iodine is not the end-all when it comes to 
radiation exposure.  Radiation does not just affect the thyroid.  In fact, the 
regions that are most vulnerable to radiation are the cells lining the intestine 
and stomach, and the cells in the bone marrow responsible for producing blood.

But, any potential reduction in the risk of cancers is a step in positive 
direction at this point, and this is why it is crucial that Japan has 
acknowledged the problem in a timely manner.  Speed is key when it comes to 
preventing and – in worse case scenarios, dealing with – radioactive exposure.

Now, Japan must keep a close eye on the rest of its population as well.  If 
current efforts to relieve pressure in Fukushima reactor fails and the reactor 
core melts through its steel containment system, a radioactive plume could 
disperse tens or hundreds of miles, affecting a huge number of citizens who 
would need severe remediation.  They also need to monitor radiation levels in 
livestock and in the water supply to ensure that there are no hidden dangers of 
contamination there as well.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Click here for more information on Dr. Manny's work with Hackensack University Medical Center. Visit AskDrManny.com for more.