Is Japan Radiation a Threat to U.S. or Not?

Recently there has been the issue of Japanese radiation spreading across the U.S. Detected from coast to coast in the United States and Iceland, amounts continue to be far below levels that would cause health problems. The reason behind this unnecessary scare: super-sensitive equipment. “The development of super-sensitive equipment to detect radiation is both a blessing and a curse, allowing scientists to monitor materials released in nuclear accidents, but also causing unnecessary worry,” says Kathryn Higley, director of the nuclear engineering and radiation health physics at Oregon State University. Although the equipment has picked up on traces of radioactive cesium and iodine, such material is “below what would be hazardous.”

The amounts of radiation detected so far have been a fraction of what people are normally exposed to; doctors, pilots and others are often confronted with much higher concentrations. Ahmed Hassanein, head of nuclear engineering at the Purdue School of Nuclear Engineering says, “traces of radiation from Japan are absolutely of no concern.” Unlike Chernobyl’s disaster in 1986, Japan’s radiation has remained in the lower atmosphere, not allowing it to spread as quickly. This has led many officials to disagree with the incidents being compared to one another. “In the case of Chernobyl there was a large graphite fire that lifted radioactivity to high altitudes and spread it over large distances,” explained Yukiya amano, International Atomic Energy Agency chief. Others have also agreed with Japan’s radiation being an unnecessary worry.

“It could take as much as a year to spread throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It could take another year before it is widespread in the Southern Hemisphere because of blocking at the equator caused by rising air currents where winds from north and south collide,” explained Jeffrey Stehr, an atmospheric research scientist at the University of Maryland. Even though many believe that Japan cannot top what happened in Chernobyl, some disagree.

Dr. Natalia Mironova, a prominent leader in the anti-nuclear movement in Russia, believes that Japan could get worse. “Three reactors have exploded, not one like in Chernobyl. The region is overpopulated, so a big number of people live in a very small land. Lastly, there was some delay in informing people about the radiation exposure,” explained Mironova. “We need to use energy supplies that have absolutely no potential of harming the human population.” Individuals such as Wendy Hamilton, a New Haven resident and retired nurse at Yale-New Haven Hospital, supports Mironova’s opinion on nuclear energy.

“I do not want any more nuclear plants, and I want the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to decommission all the American plants,” said Hamilton. Hamilton, along with four other protesters stood outside General Electric’s corporate headquarters in Fairfield to urge the company to stop building nuclear power plants. “General Electric knowingly sold and built nuclear power plants on the coastline in an earthquake and tsunami-prone region, and now GE is revving up to unleash its latest nuclear technology in India,” explained Nancy Burton, a long-time anti-nuclear activist.

Lee Evans, another protester, said GE ought to concentrate on wind, solar and geothermal energy rather than nuclear energy. Evans mentioned how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had extended the license on the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant despite public opposition, and how the plant was “aging and leaking.”

Even though radiation may not be a threat from Japan it could very well become a threat from sources in the U.S., especially if not properly taken care of. “We must bring an end to this nuclear madness, this perpetuation of nuclear energy,” Burton said. “We send hope, prayers, a sense of solidarity, sadness and our sense of culpability in what has happened to our friend and neighbor, Japan.”

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