Geoffrey Sea holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Science from Harvard. He did graduate work in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT and in radiological health physics at San Jose State University. He is co-founder of Southern Ohio Neighbors Group, which successfully defeated plans for the centralized storage of spent nuclear fuel at Piketon, Ohio. He is the director of Adena Core, a historic preservation group in Portsmouth, Ohio. He has published in the American Scholar, the Columbia Journalism Review, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and many newspapers. He can be contacted via email at SargentsPigeon@aol.com
Restoration of power systems to the reactor complex and reported success in bringing temperatures down, along with the development of contingency plans, make it very unlikely that we will see any large plumes of the nasty stuff — cesium and iodine — on anything like a Chernobyl scale. Therefore, those outside Japan should relax as regards their own vulnerability. There is nothing that Californians or Hawaiians should be doing out of self-concern, and frankly, the run on potassium iodide pills in California is, if anything, making it harder to get those supplies to Japan. Health concerns should now focus entirely on Japan.
I am not saying there will be zero health effects downwind. I am saying that the downwind effects will be so small and diluted that nothing will be discernable. The effects that do happen will be tiny increases in statistical risks of cancer, especially for those at risk from other causes, like smokers. So quitting smoking or reducing exposure to second-hand smoke will be greatly more effective at reducing risk than worrying about Japan. Generally healthy eating habits are also advised.
In Japan, especially within 100 km of Fukushima, which does not include Tokyo, small amounts of radioactive isotopes from the accident have started to show up in milk and produce: Elevated Radioactivity Found in Japanese Milk, Spinach – WSJ.com Reported levels are very low, but this would be the time to avoid dairy products that come from the affected region, especially for nursing mothers. According to that article, an unnamed isotope has appeared in trace amounts in Tokyo tap water. This would be the time to start drinking tap water stored on the shelf a week ago, while continuing to store tap water in dated bottles. One week on the shelf will greatly reduce the radioactivity from isotopes like I-131.
I-131 has a half-life of eight days, so shelving water for eight days reduces the radioactivity by half. Other emitted radionuclides have even shorter half-lives and can be completely eliminated by shelving or drying food and water, so this is a good practice, if you are concerned about the honesty of reports. But levels reported are very low and need generate no great alarm.
My biggest concern is about fish caught in the north Pacific, especially by nationals of other countries besides Japan i.e. Russian, Chinese, Korean, and American fishing fleets. I have not read anything about such fleets being restrained or reducing their catches. I would be concerned about any fresh fish that may have been caught in the waters east of northern Japan.
Some anti-nuclear sources are continuing to spread false and misleading information about imminent plumes of plutonium or cesium. This kind of disinformation following the TMI and Chernobyl accidents did much to confuse the public, thwart sound health advice, and discredit all nuclear critics. So it’s important to stress — there are NO plumes of plutonium or cesium on their way to North America at any levels that should generate health concerns. (All of us do breathe in plutonium every day as a result of the age of atmospheric nuclear testing.)
I sincerely hope that the disinformation will be combated.
— Geoffrey Sea