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Experts say nuclear crisis in Japan poses little threat to U.S.

While experts analyzing the recent nuclear disaster in Japan have said that radiation dangers facing the rest of the world are low, some are still concerned about the health risks in the United States.

In terms of radioactive threat, the danger here in the United States is negligible.

“There is no reason to worry about radiation in California due to the Fukushima reactor release,” said Dr. Elizabeth Wade, head of the Mills chemistry department and a nuclear chemist. “While they have found iodine-131 from the Japanese radiation in milk in California, the radiation levels are very low, less than 0.1 percent of the radiation you get when you eat a banana, which is naturally radioactive.”

The 9.0 earthquake that hit Japan on March 11 knocked out electricity at the nuclear facility in Fukushima, causing a failure of the emergency cooling systems at the plant. The tsunami resulting from this first earthquake made the nuclear damage even more dangerous as the waste from the Fukushima plant was leaked into the ocean.

A month later, workers at the facilities are still trying to keep the cores of some of the six reactors from overheating by flooding them with seawater, effectively ending their use, in an effort to restrict the escape of radioactive vapors.

A second earthquake registering 7.1 hit Japan April 7 at 7:32 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, but has had no further impact on the Fukushima plant.

The tragedy in Northeastern Japan reminds many of the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island nuclear disasters.

“I’m terrified,” said sophomore and ASMC Vice President Rebecca Freeman, “but more so for future generations. If we’re getting power through poison, what kind of world are we leaving for them?”

First year Anne Glickenhaus is concerned about how the nuclear disaster in Japan could affect the United States. “The radiation makes me nervous,” she said. “Who knows what the consequences will be.”

There are some mitigating factors to take into account when discussing the nuclear fallout in Japan, according to Dr. Wade.

“The 30-year-old Japanese reactor didn’t include many of the safety systems that American nuclear plants added over the last 20 years,” said Dr. Wade. “Despite this, it took a massive earthquake and tsunami to cause the release.”

The threat from the Fukushima nuclear plant differs from that of both Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.  The effects of the latter were mostly a result of human error while the Fukushima plant was disturbed by the tsunami, a naturally occurring disaster. Also, unlike Chernobyl, Fukushima and Three Mile Island’s effects were limited due to containment vessels surrounding both reactors.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) rates nuclear disasters on a scale of 7, with each point on the scale representing a factor of 10. The nuclear crisis in Fukushima has been rated as a 4 on IAEA’s scale. Three Mile Island was rated as a 5, and Chernobyl was rated as a 7. According to this scale, the crisis in Fukushima is 1/10th as serious as Three Mile Island and 1/1000th of Chernobyl.

Presently, the threat is greatest to the fishing industry as seawater contaminated by the leaking plant has been leaking into the Pacific Ocean. According to an April 4 New York Times article, the water surrounding the plant contains 10,000 times the legal limit of radioactive material. The radiation collecting in the fish increased beyond safety levels but currently pose no danger to humans if consumed.

You can read more related posts on The Campanil’s special page about the disaster in Japan.