Diplomat says minuscule radiation reaches California

Friday, March 18, 2011 | 12:27 p.m. CDT

LOS ANGELES — Government experts in the United States are keeping a close eye on any radioactive particles that could travel from Japan, and they might already be seeing trace amounts.

A diplomat who has access to radiation tracking by the U.N.'s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization told The Associated Press in Vienna that initial readings show tiny amounts of radiation have reached California. But it's not dangerous in any way — "about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the organization does not make its findings public.

U.S. government experts also insist there's no threat to public health from the plume, but they are still closely monitoring the situation with detection monitors deployed along the West Coast.

The new California reading came from a measuring station of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization. The monitor was apparently located in Sacramento.

"Radiation is one of those words that get everybody scared, like 'plague,'" said Jonathan Fielding, director of public health for Los Angeles County. "But we're 5,000 miles away."

The amount of any fallout that wafts across the Pacific Ocean to the U.S. coast will be so diluted that it will not pose any health risk, officials say. Wind, rain and salt spray will help clean the air over the vast ocean between Japan and the United States.

Nuclear experts say the main elements released are radioactive cesium and iodine. They can combine with the salt in sea water to become cesium chloride and sodium iodide, which are common and abundant elements and would readily dilute in the wide expanse of the Pacific, according to Steven Reese, director of the Radiation Center at Oregon State.

"It is certainly not a threat in terms of human health" added William H. Miller, a professor of nuclear engineering at MU.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deployed extra radiation detectors throughout the country to allay public concerns. On Thursday, President Barack Obama said harmful levels of radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear plant are not expected to reach the U.S.

The radiation stations will send real-time data via satellite to EPA officials, who will make the data available online. The monitors also contain two types of air filters that detect any radioactive particles and are mailed to EPA's data center in Alabama.

That information, as well as samples that numerous federal agencies are collecting on the ground and in the air in Japan, also will be sent to the Department of Energy's atmospheric radioactivity monitoring center in California, where teams are creating sophisticated computer models to predict how radioactive releases at Fukushima could spread into the atmosphere.

Inside the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco, scientists, engineers and meteorological experts were analyzing those charts and maps to help policymakers predict where radioactive isotopes could travel.

"The models show what happens if the situation gets worse, if the winds change or if it rains, to predict what could happen," said Damien LaVera, National Nuclear Security Administration spokesman. "The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said they see no radiation at harmful levels reaching the United States, and we're not seeing anything that is inconsistent with that."

In the unlikely event that the situation escalates, the California Emergency Management Agency would coordinate emergency response efforts with state public health officials and local officials.

"Worst-case scenario, there is no threat to public health in California," Mike Dayton, the agency's acting secretary, said.

The California Department of Public Health, which set up a hot line for concerned residents, also has its own network of eight monitors sampling the air, water and soil for harmful substances, including radiation, said agency spokesman Ron Owens.

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Dawn Wilson March 18, 2011 | 1:12 p.m.

"Minuscule Amount of Radiation - but it's not dangerous in any way"???

There is no such thing as a small amount of Plutonium - just 1 isotope can kill you! That's the problem with all these radiation monitors and detectors going off everywhere - they don't tell what the radioactive source actually is - Cesium, Plutonium, etc. etc. And just because the radioactive particles are "dispersed" to "minuscule" levels they don't just disappear with half-lives from 30-years to 24,000 years.

Again just takes 1 particle to cause cancer so really just a game of Russian roulette with every breath you take and whether that head of lettuce you just ate or glass of water you just drank contained one of these particles - good luck!

(Report Comment)
Anonymous III March 18, 2011 | 7:43 p.m.
This comment has been removed.
Ellis Smith March 18, 2011 | 9:38 p.m.

Is the name shown on the second post a person's real name? When were the Missourian's rules suspended? They're still shown here as being active.

(Report Comment)
Yves Montclear March 19, 2011 | 12:10 a.m.

Doctor Kurtz said it best.

Sitting in my Chemistry class at the University of Missouri, long ago, when the nuke plant was trying to get built, in Missouri, down near Mokane...

Dr. Kurtz words in class (paraphrased): I met a person outside a store that wanted me to sign a petition against the project. I told her 'no'. She told me, that she couldn't understand why I wouldn't sign the petition, why anybody would want radioactive electricity in their house.

True story. I still remember it. There are a lot of people that have an incomplete understanding of the technology that exists today.

I recall a Middle East woman on campus, that told me she wouldn't use a microwave oven, because she didn't want to feed her that had radiation in it.

Now, that was a long time ago. But times haven't changed that much, for the uneducated, which is still much of the world.

(Report Comment)

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