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Miniscule Radiation Fallout Reaches California

SACRAMENTO (CBS/AP) — Federal and state officials sought Friday to dispel fears of a wider danger from radioactivity spewing from Japan’s crippled nuclear reactors, saying testing indicated there were no health threats along the West Coast of the United States.

Driven by winds over the Pacific Ocean, a radioactive plume released from the Fukushima Dai-ichi reached Southern California Friday, heightening concerns that Japan’s nuclear disaster was assuming international proportions.

FAQ About Radiation From The Calif. Dept. Of Public Health

However, the results of testing reflected expectations by International Atomic Energy Agency officials that radiation had dissipated so much by the time it reached the U.S. coastline that it posed no health risk whatsoever to residents.

The U.S. Department of Energy said minuscule amounts of of the radioactive isotope xenon-133 — a gas produced during nuclear fission — had reached Sacramento in Northern California, but the readings were far below levels that could pose any health risks.

Initial readings from a monitoring station tied to the U.N.’s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization were about “one-millionth of the dose rate that a person normally receives from rocks, bricks, the sun and other natural background sources,” the U.S. Department of Energy said in a prepared statement.

The statement confirmed statements from diplomats and officials in Vienna earlier in the day.

Air pollution regulators in Southern California said they have not detected increased levels of radiation.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District said radiation measured at its three sites was not higher than typical levels. The district planned to post daily updates on its website.

The agency’s monitors are part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s network of more than 100 sensors across the nation that track radiation levels every hour.

A group of UC Berkeley grad students and researchers have set up a demonstration radiation monitoring station on the roof of the nuclear engineering building at Etcheverry Hall.

KCBS’ Margie Shafer Reports:

In Alaska, Dr. Bernd Jilly, director of state public health laboratories, also said monitoring had shown no readings of above-normal levels of radiation.

The same was true in the state of Washington, health department spokesman Donn Moyer said. The levels would have to be hundreds of thousands of times higher than current readings before health officials would recommend any response, he said.

Graham Andrew, a senior official of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, said that after consultation with the IAEA, the International Civil Aviation Organization found there was no reason to curtail normal international flights and maritime operations to and from Japan and “there is no medical basis for imposing additional measures to protect passengers.”

The CTBTO presentation Friday showed radiation levels peaking in Tokyo and other cities in the first days of the disaster at levels officials said were well below risk points before tapering off.

“The rates in Tokyo and other cities … remain far from levels which require action, in other words they are not dangerous to human health,” Andrew said.

While set up to monitor atmospheric nuclear testing, the CTBTO’s worldwide network of stations can detect earthquakes, tsunamis and fallout from nuclear accidents such as the disaster on Japan’s northeastern coast that was set off by a massive earthquake and a devastating tsunami a week ago.

Since then, emergency crews have been trying to restore the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant’s cooling system and prevent overheated fuel rods from releasing greater doses of radioactivity.

Japanese officials on Friday reclassified the rating of the accident at the plant from Level 4 to Level 5 on a seven-level international scale, putting it on a par with the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. The International Nuclear Event Scale defines a Level 4 incident as having local consequences and a Level 5 as having wider consequences.

Nuclear experts have been saying for days that Japan was underplaying the severity of the nuclear crisis.

Andrew refused to be drawn on that issue, saying severity assessments would be the task of a post-emergency investigation. Describing the situation as very serious, he nonetheless noted no significant worsening since his last briefing Thursday, when he used similar terminology.

Things are “moving to a stable, non-changing situation, which is positive,” he said. “You don’t want things that are rapidly changing.”

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

  • rebecca

    Take the pill, don’t take the Pill, Do this, Dont do that… I’m confused

  • anne

    I have a lung infection so the government’ reassurance’ is quite meaningless to me. There is no such thing as a “Miniscule” Radiation fallout. There is either a radiation fall out or not. Japan’s radiation is carried through the breeze which is directed toward the West side of the United States. Also, when the rain falls, think off the risk that carries along with it. Remember Acid Rain? When Japan has a radioactive material present and that the level of contamination remains high no matter how seemly far we are from Japan. There is a probable chance that a lung infection will gradually get worse if a highly toxic amount of contaminant is being released to the atmosphere due to a meltdown in the nuclear power plant. I’d do best to remain inside as long as the radiation fallout continues its destructive path to contaminate the clean air in California.

    • same old thing

      yes. if I were you I would dig a hole 1000 ft and climb down it until we call you to come back up….

    • bradley

      That’s not how radiation works. It’s not on or off, in fact you are exposed to radiation every second of every day. The question is how much… and in this case the amount is not worth bothering over.

      Relax. There is not yet, nor is there likely to be, anything to worry about.

  • D

    You should be worried only if you’re in Japan where levels are concentrated. Going to the dentist to get some x-rays done on your teeth exposes you to way more radiation that the particles that make it here. You should be more concerned about lead in Chinese products instead. I’ve always thought CBS is a trustworthy news but shame on the writer for causing such a scare.

  • xfactor

    Not sure why people think getting x-rays are so benign. I know someone with thyroid cancer whose doctor said you can get cancer from having too much exposure and that includes x-rays.

  • spatula

    Natural radiation levels are currently more than twice the level in Denver than the radiation level is here, and both are well below the level that would endanger public health. We are all bombarded by ionizing radiation from natural sources every hour of every day. What’s significant is the overall quantity, not the mere presence of it.

  • Jeff Muchow

    Has anyone seen any reporting of the actual radiation levels. So far all I have seen reported is “minuscule” and “not enough to worry about” but no actual numbers.

  • Gina

    I bet some of you already know about this but just in case you don’t, check out which is quite informative and a nice resource.

  • The tsunami last week and the Apocalypse . . . eventually : tsunami-california

    […] Miniscule Radiation Fallout Reaches California The first radioactive fallout from Japan’s crippled nuclear plant reached California early Friday, but the readings indicate levels far below those that could endanger people. Read more CBS San Francisco […]

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