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Japan’s Plume (Radiation Cloud) Headed to the USA May Not Be That Bad

March 17th, 2011

03.17.2011 original publish date
03.18.2011 minor edit & update

Japan’s Plume (Radiation Cloud) Headed to the USA May Not Be That Bad

original article written by Net Advisor

On or about Friday March 18, 2011, Japan’s Plume – radiation released from the damaged nuclear reactor(s) is expected to hit the western United States.

A number of U.S. naval ships in the waters of Japan lead by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan moved away from the downwind of the Plume. The U.S. 7th Fleet Commander and Spokesman Jeff Davis reportedly stated:

“The maximum potential radiation dose received by any ship’s force personnel aboard the ship when it passed through the area was less than the radiation exposure received from about one month of exposure to natural background radiation from sources such as rocks, soil, and the sun.”

— Source: ABC News

The New York Times published an interactive graphic that suggests the current path of the plume. The report suggests that the level of radiation to hit the USA should be highly dilutive, and have “extremely minor health consequences.”

The amount of potential radiation has been suggested to be about 0.1 millisivert at the optimistic level but not too much more than that. This is apparently equaled to getting a chest x-ray (chart).

Bogus Radiation Cloud Graphic on the Net
There is a bogus graphic that has been circulating the Internet that suggests imminent death to about a third to half of the United States from the plume, which does not seem to pan out to any fact. One could imagine if that there was any truth to this, aside from the death and psychological toll, if the stock market got wind of it (no pun intended) the market would suffer a fall out (again, no pun intended) where the market and the U.S. economy would collapse. That would not mater too much because most of us would be deceased anyway. We just wanted to point out this bogus graphic.

About that Chest X-Ray
The one question we have is about this chest x-ray. We are used to getting our teeth x-rayed, but we don’t always go in for a chest x-ray.  A chest x-ray can last for a few seconds (Source: Duke University). So what we have is a cloud hovering over us for how long depends on the direction of the wind, and how it dissipates. This seems like the exposure may go beyond “a few seconds.” So what the true exposure is here we could not find specific answers to this question.

However we did find an article published in 2005 that discusses the lower risk of chest x-rays compared to a CT Scan of the whole body can produce about 10 millisievert of radiation. This would be significantly higher than the plume’s current known radiation content. However the the 2005 article also noted that “each unit of radiation — no matter how small — is assumed to cause cancer” (Source: MS-NBC).

According to the Cleveland Clinic, founded in 1921, the risks of a chest x-ray are low, however the clinic points out that some people tend to be at increased risk.

“In general, chest X-rays are very safe and unlikely to produce side effects. The amount of radiation used is very small, so the risks are minimal. Young children and a developing fetus carried by a pregnant woman are more sensitive to X-rays and are at greater risk for tissue damage.”

— Source: Cleveland Clinic

On The Bright Side
On the bright side, it seems that it would take a lot more concentration of radiation to cause serious health risks:

“The scientists estimated that one out of 100 people exposed to 100 millisievert of radiation over a lifetime probably would develop solid cancer or leukemia, and that half of those cases would be fatal.”

— Source: MS-NBC, 07-07-2005

So if the radiation is only .01 millisievert and assuming that is the maximum amount of exposure we will have, the health risks appear to be very low for most of us.  In a White House briefing Gregory B. Jaczko, chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) suggested that the Japanese reactor plume ‘posed no danger to the United States’ (Source: CNBC/ NY Times).

Are all you attorneys writing this down? To say that radiation has no risk seems to be contrary to other independent data cited here. However perhaps what Mr. Jaczko should have said is ‘the risks are relatively low.’ Mr. Jaczko did indicate that “…it is very unlikely that there would be any harmful impacts” (Source: CNBC/ NY Times).

Sales of Potassium Iodide (“anti-radiation pills”) Soar
Despite the what appears to be science-based fact and government assurances of low radiation risk, sales of anti-radiation tablets have soared (Sources: CNBC, Guardian.co.uk, Sidney Morning Herald.AU). Apparently over 200,000 Potassium Iodide (“anti-radiation pills”) have been sold (Source: Fox News). Merchants on Amazon.com are selling Potassium Iodate tablets from about $9.00 to as much as $199.00 a bottle (Source: Amazon.com PDF, 03-17-2011) (HTML Link).

Relatively Small Area Thus Far Affected?
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) it seems that people who have been in direct contact have suffered very little in terms of radiation exposure. IAEA Quote:

  • “17 people (9 TEPCO employees, 8 subcontractor employees) suffered from deposition of radioactive material to their faces, but were not taken to the hospital because of low levels of exposure.
  • One worker suffered from significant exposure during ‘vent work,’ and was transported to an offsite center.
  • 2 policemen who were exposed to radiation were decontaminated.
  • Firemen who were exposed to radiation are under investigation…”

— Source: IAEA Staff Report 03-17-2011 19 page PDF (highlight added) (updated info)

The IAEA noted that this information can change as conditions change (Source: Reuters). We probably won’t get too much media fanfare this weekend from this and it will likely blow over. Hopefully matters don’t get any worse for anyone.

Supportive Assistance: The American Red Cross

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