Should Americans Worry About Radiation From Japan?

Should Americans be worried about the radiation threat from Japan’s crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant?

U.S. President Barack Obama isn’t. On Tuesday, Obama told a Pittsburgh television station that he’s not worried about radiation from the damaged nuclear power plant reaching the United States. CBS affiliate KDKA-TV Channel 2 political editor Jon Delano asked the President, “Are you at all worried about radiation from Japan reaching American shores?” Obama’s reply?:

No. I’ve been assured that it… any nuclear release dissipates by the time it gets even to Hawaii, much less to the mainland of the United States.

Experts quoted in the mainstream media seem to agree with this assessment. From ABC News’ Ned Potter this morning:

To those of us here who might worry, nuclear engineers and meteorologists said the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, is safe.

“These releases from the plant, because they’re not elevated, because they’re not getting up high in the atmosphere, they won’t travel very far,” said Kathryn Higley, director of the department of nuclear engineering at Oregon State University. “There are so many factors in our favor. Rain will knock it down. There are 5,000 miles of ocean between us and Japan. It will be diluted, it will mix with sea spray, long before it gets remotely close to us.”

One computer model suggested the radiation won’t travel very far from Japan. Potter wrote:

But Jeff Masters, a former meteorologist at the National Weather Service who now works at Wunderground.com, ran a computer model and concluded that radiation would not get very far.

“Ground-level releases of radioactivity are typically not able to be transported long distances in significant quantities, since most of the material settles to the ground a few kilometers from the source,” he wrote.

“Given that the radioactivity has to travel 3,000 miles to reach Anchorage, Alaska, and 5,000 miles to reach California, a very large amount of dilution will occur, along with potential loss due to rain-out.

“Any radiation at current levels of emission that might reach these places may not even be detectable,” he said, “much less be a threat to human health.”

And if the worst-case scenario takes place, where radioactive particles are carried by upper-level winds to American shores? From the piece:

In that case, “we will get some fallout on the West Coast 2-3 days after its release in Japan,” said Edward Morse, a nuclear engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, in an e-mail to ABC News. “The levels will not be threatening to life and health but they will be observable.”

“If any radiation were to make it here, it would be merely background levels,”said Jere Jenkins, the director of Radiation Laboratories at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. “Nothing for people on the West Coast or people in the United States to be concerned about.”

Higley said she has been spending a lot of time over the last few days urging calm.

“We have monitoring capability here in the U.S. that is extraordinarily sensitive. We can detect radiation that is like a hundred-thousandth of what you get from a regular X-ray, and we don’t expect to see even that.

“For the stuff to travel, it has to be picked up by the wind,” she said, “higher-level winds that have global distribution. And that’s just not happening. This is a little like a campfire — the smoke is all near the ground.”

Despite these assurances, some are still concerned about the threat. Jim Meyers and Ashley Martella wrote Tuesday on the news site Newsmax.com:

If a radiation cloud from Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors eventually reaches the western United States, it could pose a threat to American crops and the people who eat them, nationally known neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, M.D., tells Newsmax.

Dr. Blaylock also says the radiation could pose a cancer risk, and explains steps to take to protect against the damaging effects of radiation exposure.

Blaylock is a health practitioner, lecturer, and editor of Newsmax.com’s “Blaylock Wellness Report.” His books include “Nuclear Sunrise,” which examines the threat nuclear radiation poses…

Prevailing winds in the area of the stricken Japanese reactors have been heading east into the Pacific, toward the Western Hemisphere. Dr. Blaylock was asked about the threat to Americans if radiation from the reactors eventually does reach Hawaii or the West Coast of America.

“Most of the health risks are not going to be due to acute radiation poisoning,” he tells Newsmax. “It’s going to be a risk of increased cancer.

“When we look at Chernobyl, most of West Germany was heavily contaminated. Norway, Sweden. Hungary was terribly contaminated. The radiation was taken up into the plants. The food was radioactive. They took the milk and turned it into cheese. The cheese was radioactive.

“That’s the big danger, the crops in this country being contaminated, the milk in particular, with Strontium 90. That radiation is incorporated into the bones and stays for a lifetime.”

Last night, the New York Times’ William J. Broad reported on a U.N. forecast projecting the radiation plume could reach Southern California by Friday. Broad wrote:

A United Nations forecast of the possible movement of the radioactive plume coming from crippled Japanese reactors shows it churning across the Pacific, and touching the Aleutian Islands on Thursday before hitting Southern California late Friday.

Health and nuclear experts emphasize that radiation in the plume will be diluted as it travels and, at worst, would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States, even if hints of it are ultimately detectable. In a similar way, radiation from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 spread around the globe and reached the West Coast of the United States in 10 days, its levels measurable but minuscule.

The projection, by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, an arm of the United Nations in Vienna, gives no information about actual radiation levels but only shows how a radioactive plume would probably move and disperse.

The forecast, calculated Tuesday, is based on patterns of Pacific winds at that time and the predicted path is likely to change as weather patterns shift.

On Sunday, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it expected that no “harmful levels of radioactivity” would travel from Japan to the United States “given the thousands of miles between the two countries.”

You can view an interactive map of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s forecast on the New York Times website here.

Sources:

“Obama: Radiation from Japan won’t reach Hawaii.” CBS News. 15 Mar. 2011. (http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7359774n). 17. Mar. 2011.

Potter, Ned. “Japan’s Nuclear Crisis: United States Safe From Radiation, Say Engineers.” ABC News. 17 Mar. 2011. (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/japan-nuclear-plant-radiation-united-states-risk-engineers/story?id=13150089&page=1). 17 Mar. 2011.

Martella, Ashley and Meyers, Jim. “Dr. Blaylock: Japanese Radiation Could Pose Risk to US.” Newsmax.com. 15 Mar. 2011. (http://www.newsmax.com/Headline/blaylock-radiation-us-japan/2011/03/15/id/389474). 17 Mar. 2011.

Broad, William J. “Scientists Project Path of Radiation Plume.” New York Times. 16 Mar. 2011. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/science/17plume.html?hp). 17 Mar. 2011.

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Thursday, March 17th, 2011 Asia, Health, Public Safety

4 Comments to Should Americans Worry About Radiation From Japan?

  1. By the time the radiation gets to the mainland if it gets here, more than half of the population in the world will have been affected. East West North South, all around.

  2. Doable Finance on March 17th, 2011
  3. Thanks for the comment Doable Finance.

  4. Editor on March 18th, 2011
  5. Despite constant reassurances from both scientists and government officials, many Americans are nevertheless worries about radioactive contamination.

    Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that these same entities have for years proclaimed nuclear power is safe.

  6. Mammoth on March 17th, 2011
  7. Thanks for the comment Mammoth. “Perhaps one of the reasons for this is that these same entities have for years proclaimed nuclear power is safe.” Great point. As someone who has both studied and worked in local and federal government for some years- I always take government assurances with a grain of salt. Just like I’m wary of any legislation that’s being touted as “fair” and “common-sense.”

  8. Editor on March 18th, 2011
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