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Radiation Monitoring After Japan Earthquake: Should America Worry?

Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, the source of radiation concern. Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, the source of radiation concern.

As the post-tsunami aftermath continues to unfold following the earthquake that devastated Japan, people on the west coast of North America find themselves increasingly concerned about radiation contamination floating across the Pacific Ocean. Mildly elevated radiation levels have been reported in California, leading consumers from Alaska to San Diego to start purchasing anti-radiation pills and medication. How much worrying is appropriate, and how much is undue hysteria?

The elevated radiation levels in California are minor, and things are okay, at least as they stand now.

Health officials from British Columbia to California, and even President Obama himself are telling people to relax – there’s no reason to panic. The elevated radiation levels in California are minor, and things are okay, at least as they stand now.

The AQMD [Air Quality Management District], which normally issues smog reports to the people of southern California, is monitoring radiation levels for the south part of the west coast. Their website offers frequent updates on the quality of air and the level of radiation in the area. William A. Burke, chairman of the regional South Coast Air Quality Management District, released a statement last week in which he stated, “There is no increased risk of harmful levels of radiation exposure in the United States, based on the situation to date and a review of actual monitored levels.”

Nevertheless, some California residents, as well as people in Washington, Oregon, and B.C. remain on alert, buying radiation-blocking pills. These pills provide the body with iodine, essentially saturating the thyroid, which blocks the way for radioactive iodine isotopes that would try to enter.

However, you would be hard pressed to find a single expert who seems worried about radiation from Japan affecting America. In fact, most parts of Japan itself are currently safe from radiation. Some areas of Japan have elevated radiation levels such that there are health concerns, and people are being told not to drink the water, but any worries that this could be another Chernobyl are misplaced. There could be a significant environmental impact if things get worse, but the direct danger to human life is minor. The reactors at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are constructed in a way that would do a much better job of containing radiation than those at Chernobyl.

If you find yourself among those hoarding anti-radiation pills, planning to stuff your thyroid with iodine when Japan’s nuclear dust clouds belt the west coast with radiation – relax. There’s virtually no chance of significant radiation even getting as far as Hawaii according to experts. And if it does, you still don’t need to panic. After Chernobyl, clouds of radiation floated over the rest of Europe and there’s no evidence that those clouds increased cancer rates. Residents of California, Oregon, and Washington can rest assured – this bogeyman isn’t coming to get you.

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Radiation concerns persist as Japan works to stabilize the situation.
Last modified on Monday, 10 September 2012 16:53

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