News

Radiation from Japan not likely to reach Bay Area

Regional and federal authorities say Bay Area residents not at risk of contamination

Bay Area residents are not at risk of radiation contamination from a potential nuclear disaster in Japan, regional and federal authorities said Thursday.

Residents near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan have been evacuated since the plant was crippled by last week's deadly 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami, and models show that a radioactive plume from the plant could reach California on Friday. But Eric Stevenson, director of technical services for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, said any risk to people on American soil is negligible. The district operates a radiation detector for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at its San Francisco facility, and the detector has not reported elevated levels of radiation, Stevenson said.

"Everybody, for the most part, is saying the risks are insignificant," he said.

The EPA, Nuclear Regulatory Commission and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have all said California residents are not expected to be at risk, according to the state Department of Public Health. Japanese officials are working frantically to cool the plant's reactors, but Stevenson said that regardless of the magnitude of the crisis, it's unlikely harmful radiation will reach the U.S.

"It would have to be a major catastrophe for us to be significantly impacted," he said. "Most of these impacts will, unfortunately for the Japanese, be localized."

He pointed out that most of the impacts from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster were local, even though the facility didn't have a containment building and used graphite fuel that ignited and burned. The burning allowed materials to be elevated into the atmosphere and dispersed, which would be necessary for the nuclear radiation to spread widely.

Still, the U.S. government has implemented several policies out of "an abundance of caution" to reassure and protect residents. The EPA, whose California monitoring stations include locations in San Jose and Richmond, has set up additional stations in Guam, Alaska and Hawaii.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has directed its employees to specifically monitor maritime and air traffic from Japan for possible radiation contamination. So far no planes entering the U.S. have tested positive for harmful levels of radiation, and travelers are being observed for signs of radiation sickness, according to the agency. Mail and cargo are also being tested, and anything that could be cause for alarm will be denied entry to the country, agency officials said.

The California Department of Public Health is advising residents not to take potassium iodide as a precautionary measure.

"It is not necessary given the current circumstances in Japan," department officials said in a statement.

— Bay City News Service

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Local Observer
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm

"Everybody, for the most part, is saying the risks are insignificant," is an outright lie. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) is an even worse and more egregious liar than PG&E as can be seen in these articles
from reputable sources:

SFChronicle: Japan Nuclear Disaster Caps Decades of Faked Reports, Accidents
Web Link

BBC: US alarm over Japan atomic crisis
Web Link

NYTimes: Danger of Spent Fuel Outweighs Reactor Threat
Web Link

NYTimes: With Quest to Cool Fuel Rods Stumbling, U.S. Sees
‘Weeks’ of Struggle:
Web Link

U.S. Flights Over Plant Gather Crucial Data
Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Local Observer
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Here's the original article cited by the SF Chronicle at Bloomberg with the author's name and email address.

Article entitled "Japan Nuclear Disaster Caps Decades of Faked Reports, Accidents" at this URL:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:21 pm


We should be much more concerned about the massive amounts of lead, mercury and other toxic heavy metals that blow into California air and land every day for years

-- from dirty coal power plants in China.


Like this comment
Posted by Marty
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 17, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Sharon, You make a good point about the other sources of pollution. Coal has caused millions of deaths that have gone unremarked.

What this disater shows us is that we need better safety back-ups for nuclear plants.

The plant in California that worries me is the one in San Luis Obispo. It's quake country and near the ocean.


Like this comment
Posted by Local Observer
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 17, 2011 at 9:40 pm

For those concerned about California's two nuclear power plants, here's an interesting article in the Peninsula Press (affiliated with Stanford) yesterday (16-MAR-2011):

California nuclear power plants remain confident despite crisis in Japan

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Local Observer
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 17, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Marty wrote "What this disater (sic) shows us is that we need better safety back-ups for nuclear plants".

What's really needed are upgrades to current generation nuclear power plant designs from the old 2nd generation designs such as those at the Fukushima facility. Continuing to operate 40-year-old designs past their "sell by" dates is folly as we've seen this past week.

New Generation III reactors (not deployed in the USA) are quite a bit different and are 100% fail-safe.

An even newer type would be better, the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR). LFTR's have these five big advantages:

1) It uses thorium-232 as fuel, which is 200 times more abundant than uranium, and in a form that is inexpensive to make.

2) LFTR's by design are essentially meltdown-proof since the reactor can safely shut down "naturally" in case of coolant loss.

3) LFTR's no longer need expensive cooling towers or access to a large body of water, saving a lot in construction costs.

4) LFTR's can even use spent uranium fuel rods as part of fuel for the reactor itself, which means all those spent fuel rods now have a practical use.

5) The radioactive waste generated from an LFTR is a tiny fraction of what you get from an uranium reactor, and the radioactive half-life of the waste is measured in a few hundred years, not tens of thousands of years. That means waste storage costs will be vastly lower.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 17, 2011 at 11:31 pm

"New Generation III reactors (not deployed in the USA) are quite a bit different and are 100% fail-safe.

If so, why do they need big government to take over insuring the facility?

Why can't the free market insure them?


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2011 at 2:09 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Anon asks "Why can't the free market insure them?"
The free market could without government interference. Of course, like every insurance the ultimate limitation of liability is bankruptcy, so what difference does it make. What insurance covers the liability of coal? No one would write that policy.


Like this comment
Posted by Local Observer
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 18, 2011 at 2:41 am

Two interesting developments. In this 17-MAR-2011 11:58pm article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Web Link

Japan (finally) asks for US help in the crisis. But in this article dated 18-MAR-2011 4:12 ET from the BBC:

Web Link

we find "Power may then be restored to reactor 2 as early as Friday night and to reactors 3 and 4 possibly by Sunday, Japanese
news agencies reported."

Someone sure seems oddly optimistic, especially since it was written earlier this week the reactors were effectively destroyed by the application of sea water in futile attempts to lower temperatures.

The New York Times in its article dated 18-MAR-2011 5:36AM ET reports
little progress in cooling the fuel:

Web Link

This doesn't bode well.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Atherton
on Mar 18, 2011 at 2:49 am

Loacl Obs.: ""Power may then be restored to reactor 2"

Power for cooling, not for operation. All those reactors are toast, but they must cool the fuel.

"The free market could without government interference."

Walter: are you implying the govt keeps private insurers OUT of the market of insuring nukes?!?

Please share your links.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 18, 2011 at 3:05 am

Radiation will reach for sure ... It will just be very dispersed ... I hope they get this under control soon for everybody's sake!


Like this comment
Posted by Local Observer
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 18, 2011 at 4:06 am

To anonymous: thanks for the second set of eyeballs -- mine are weary from all the reading. :-)

There is another source of almost real-time updates along with a fascinating set of references (many PDFs: books, manuals, guides, etc.)
at Wikipedia for the article "2011 Fukushima I nuclear accidents" which also has many diagrams, all at this URL:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Local Observer
a resident of Los Altos
on Mar 18, 2011 at 4:19 am

Update (already) to the Wikipedia article I cited in the just-prior pposting; new subject is "Fukushima_I_nuclear_accidents" at this URL:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2011 at 7:37 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

anonymous, the market has never had an opportunity to cover reactors. At any rate, it would have been very good business for the insurers.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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