Thursday, March 17, 2011

Will radioactive materials from Japan reach the US? (updates)

New: See latest post, IAEA: Health hazard to USA may have to be reassessed

Update 2: Mike Adams, the Health Ranger from Natural News, clarifies that the real danger is a full meltdown in the Japan reactors, which would release a large amount of radiation into the atmosphere, which according to UN calculations, would send a powerful nuclear cloud towards the US West Coast. This has not happened yet, but at Natural News, they are taking the approach that it is better to be prepared than to be kept in the dark by government caution. Adams tells us the role of government in this situation is to keep the public calm until there is no choice but to tell LA it has 3 days to evacuate. So, don't panic, but remember this website and these tips in case things get worse.

Update 1: US boosts radiation-sniffing system
Federal agencies are beefing up their radiation-monitoring capabilities at home and abroad, even as they insist that significant amounts of fallout won’t waft from Japan onto U.S. territory. At home, the Environmental Protection Agency said it's adding seven monitors in Alaska, Hawaii and Guam to its RadNet radiation-tracking system, which operates about 100 air-sniffing stations nationwide. Putting in those extra stations "allows us to gather data from a position closer to Japan," EPA said in an online question-and-answer guide.
The combination of the earthquake and the tsunami has botched the emergency cooling systems at the Fukushima power plant, leading to a drying-up of the spent fuel pools at units 3 and 4, raising fears of nuclear meltdown.

According to Professor Menachem Luria of Hebrew University, the situation in Japan could be more dangerous than Chernobyl in terms of the spread of radioactive materials:
This is very worrying. There is no doubt that we have not seen anything like this in years, perhaps ever since nuclear experiments were conducted in the atmosphere in the 1950s. From what we can gather, this disaster is even more dangerous than Chernobyl, both from the standpoint of the population's exposure to radioactive material and the spread of radioactive contamination in the area. Once there is an uncontrollable heating up, the nuclear fuel undergoes a metamorphosis into the gaseous phase. Since we are talking about metals and solid items, they turn into particles that are capable of traveling great distances. They can wander thousands of kilometers.
Yossi Melman of Haaretz, who quoted Professor Luria, explains:
If these gases are indeed emitted into the atmosphere in large quantities, the wind regime could carry them all the way to China, South Korea, and eastern Russia, or in the other direction, toward Hawaii and the west coast of the United States.
Melman qualifies this doomsday prospect by saying that the likelihood of this is not high. But check out this map on AccuWeather:

And these estimated time spans for the arrival of radioactive materials to the US West Coast:
Calculated time for radioactive particles to cross the Pacific from the power plants in Japan to big West Coast cities if the particles take a direct path and move at a speed of 20 mph:

Cities          Approx. Distance (miles)             Approx. Time to Cross Pacific (days)
Anchorage          3,457      7
Honolulu          3,847      8
Seattle          4,792     10
Los Angeles          5,477     11

While this article from Agence France-Presse downplays the public health threats to the US, it indicates current wind direction would blow a potential radioactive cloud across the Pacific (see also the NYT forecast):
Experts have suggested that, if there were a reactor meltdown or major leak at Fukushima, the radioactive cloud would likely be blown out east across the Pacific, towards the US West Coast. “The wind direction for the time being seems to point the (nuclear) pollution towards the Pacific,” said Andre-Claude Lacoste of the French Nuclear Safety Authority, briefing journalists in Paris on the Japanese crisis.
The question of course is how much radiation will be released in Japan, and until that is known, no one can say with 100% assurance that harmful levels will not reach the US. If Japan faces nuclear meltdown at multiple plants - a scenario which is not ruled out by the way things are going - officials will began to change their tone.

Needless to say, experts in the US and Japan have an interest in playing down the situation and keeping the public calm until the evidence is rock-hard, but the truth is that right now no one knows where the situation in Japan is heading, and as the studies suggest above, intercontinental movement of airborne particles is a phenomenon we are just beginning to understand. That's why the prediction of the Israeli scientist above and the article from the French press are particularly telling.

There's also a deeper message here: Until now, it seems as if most disasters have hit the so-called "periphery", yet the Japan earthquake-tsunami-nuclear-power-emergency disaster marks a key shift. On Sunday morning, many Californians woke up to a warning they had never heard before: Tsunami alert along the coast. Many West-Coasters were shocked that events in Japan could ripple (literally) to the serene California coastline. Sure, we always knew Hawaii and Alaska were kinda close to Japan, but for most of the US, what happens in the far East and really in all of the developed world is in the category of "really sad things that happen to such unfortunate countries".

We all know Tom Friedman's theory: global interconnectedness will eliminate poverty and war, one Facebook friend at a time. Friedman's writing is dangerous, misguided and naive, but he is right about one thing: What happens in one place affects another, whether immediately in the delivery of an email or over 11 days in the case of the spread of radiocative particles. As disasters grow in their proportions, they are less about "people out there" and more about "how this can affect you".

For Jewish readers, my best guess is that moving to Eretz Yisrael is the safest choice. But even more important, prayer and teshuva where you are, as best you can. Remember that Hashem is in charge.

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