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Protecting Public Health

Within seven hours of the event at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility, Japan’s local and national governments, in conjunction with TEPCO, began to exercise the  emergency response plans and evacuate citizens out to 12.5 miles from the plant. Officials also distributed potassium iodide tablets, which help to prevent the absorption of radioactive materials into the thyroid gland. They began monitoring radiation levels in the environment, food and water to take proper actions to protect the local citizens within a 50-mile radius of the plant.

The Japanese government has conducted extensive monitoring of air, ocean waters near Fukushima, and water and food supplies. The monitoring has a two-fold purpose: to identify those water and food supplies that need to be restricted because the amount of radioactivity exceeds government action limits, and to verify that the majority of water and food supplies are safe for human consumption. Through early August, nearly 10,000 water and food samples had been analyzed and approximately 95 percent of the samples showed safe levels below the government limits.

While implications of the radiation releases on the health and safety of the wider public are still being assessed in Japan, there is no health impact in America. Much of the radioactivity released into the air traveled out over the Pacific Ocean. Very low levels of radioactive iodine and cesium were detected in March by monitoring programs at U.S. nuclear power plants, U.S. Department of Energy facilities and the Environmental Protection Agency’s radiation monitoring network. Since early April, no further radioactivity from Fukushima has been detected in the United States.

Computer simulations performed by Japanese and international organizations indicate that radioactivity from the accident will be dispersed and diffused by major currents across the northern Pacific Ocean, reaching the North American coast in several years. Levels of radioactivity at that time are expected to be largely non-detectable, except where there is a potential for concentration in some marine life and vegetation.

Ongoing Radiation Monitoring Keeps Public Safe

Continuous monitoring of changes and trends in radiation levels informs public health officials in making protective action recommendations well before citizens are in danger.

  • Radiation levels detected in the United States following the accident at the Fukushima nuclear facility were hundreds of thousands to millions of times below levels of public health concern, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “The levels we’re measuring are extremely low,” Mike Bandrowski, manager of EPA radiation programs in San Francisco, said on March 23. “They’re a fraction of natural background radiation. People should not be concerned.”
  • Public health and radiation protection professionals focus on any change in levels of radiation in the environment to identify those that may indicate the need to take protective action. This is a lot like the way your doctor looks for changes in your health through regular checkups. They may want further tests even though there may not be any immediate health risk.
  • Early detection of minuscule levels of radiation or small changes in radiation levels does not in itself signal danger.
  • By detecting small changes in the levels of radiation, such as iodine and cesium, public health officials can make detailed recommendations in response to events at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. As the Environmental Protection Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and other federal and state agencies have indicated, radiation levels detected in the United States from the Fukushima facility are minute and have no health impacts.

For more information on radiation and how the U.S. nuclear industry protects communities, see the “Public Health” section of the website.

What the Experts Are Saying

“The fear is out of proportion to the actual risk right now. With regard to health effects, probably the largest effect will be psychological.” (CNN)
— John Boice, Vanderbilt University epidemiologist

“Fear dominates our intention. The earthquake and tsunami are over, but with nuclear energy, who knows. We are used to thinking of industrial accidents, but with nuclear we are talking about what could happen. I cut my teeth on Three Mile Island, because there was a sense that we almost lost the Eastern part of the U.S. The biggest health problem from Three Mile Island was fear, the anxiety and mental stress that people had.” (NPR)
— Dr. Robert DuPont, Georgetown University professor of psychology

“The fact that they can detect something doesn’t mean it’s harmful. It’s important to understand that difference.” (USA Today)
— Richard Morin, American College of Radiology safety committee chair

“This is indeed a really serious event, but it has to be put in the context of the earthquake and tsunami which led to it – and which has been the direct cause of massive suffering, which is still continuing. Obviously there are threats from the nuclear power station, but they are limited and they are quantifiable. It’s not a Chernobyl. … One of the biggest risks from radiation is the psychological damage it causes. After events like the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, and the Chernobyl accident, there was substantial psychological trauma, even among people who were not affected, because there is such a fear of radiation and its long-term consequences.” (New Scientist)
— David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge

Activity ID: 1002943 Activity Name: NEI Remarketing Safety Activity Group Name: Remarketing Safety First