The nuclear catastrophe at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi plant continues to change rapidly for the worse. But so far the risks of harmful radiation exposure remain minimal for the general population, both the Japanese Government and outside experts say.
Residents living in a 12-mile radius around the site have already been evacuated. And, for those who are still living 18 miles away, the recommendation remains the same: stay indoors.
As long as you are not at the site, there is not a severe risk of radiation poisoning, William Martin, professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at the University of Michigan, tells Aaron in the accompanying interview.
Radiation did spike to unsafe levels at Unit 3 on Wednesday, at which time all workers were evacuated immediately. Earlier this week, radiation levels at the plant hit a point equivalent to that of one year's worth of radiation in just an hour.
Those are clearly unsafe levels for anyone, but the same hazard did not apply to the 17 USS Ronald Reagan crew-members who were exposed to the equivalent of a month's worth of radiation while on relief flights over Japan, says Martin. "You are talking about giving them an extra chest x-ray....You don't want to do that of course," but that amount of radiation is manageable.
Winds have pushed some radiation to Tokyo and on Wednesday, traces of radiation were also discovered in tap water 50 miles away. Authorities on the ground agree that both instances do not pose serious health risks. As the wind carries radioactive particles, the atmosphere dissipates the risks of exposure; the levels of radiation found in the water were too insignificant to pose a major threat.
Radiation Threat to U.S.
A run on potassium iodine pills in the United States was reported yesterday in The Wall Street Journal as people became fearful that winds could bring harmful radiation to our shores 5,000-6,000 miles away. The medicine is used as a preventive measure against radiation poisoning of the thyroid gland.
"This isn't Chernobyl," implores Martin. "Even if there [are] significant releases [of radiation], it has to go a long way in a concentrated form" to have any real impact.
Bottom line: While the situation at the plant is dire, the risk of radiation throughout Japan is minimal. Americans certainly don't have anything to worry about.