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Update - February 27, 2014:

Finding the Facts on Fukushima

On March 11, 2011 an earthquake and the tsunami that followed resulted in the deaths of more than 19,000 people, and severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, resulting in an eventual loss of power to the plant and a subsequent meltdown of some of the nuclear reactor cores and stored spent fuel rods at the plant. The Community Environmental Monitoring Program (CEMP), which functions primarily as the off-site radiological monitoring program (for more info, visit http://cemp.dri.edu/cemp/moreinfo.html) around the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), [formerly known as the Nevada Test Site], was the first monitoring program to report detection of radionuclides in Nevada (http://cemp.dri.edu/japan.html) that were associated with the accident at Fukushima.

While a certain degree of misinformation and disinformation was promulgated during and immediately after the accident at Fukushima, there has been a recent resurgence in late 2013 and early 2014 of articles claiming present or imminent dangers to US citizens from radiation associated with past or ongoing activities at Fukushima. They include such claims as deaths of infants in the US, the die-off of sea life on west coast of the US, high radiation at Half Moon Bay, California and elsewhere, and high radiation "alerts" in US cities across the country, among others.

Following are links to a variety of different sources and articles that address the claims mentioned above. While the CEMP does not imply endorsement of the following web sites or individual authors of these articles, or of additional links that may be encountered within these articles, the CEMP believes that they provide reliable information in non-technical language on the subject matter discussed within the individual articles.

For more background information on the preceding, continue here.


Professional Society and Agency Resources

The CEMP considers the following organizations to be good sources of scientifically credible information on Fukushima, and on ionizi ng radiation in general. Again, this list is not considered to be exhaustive in nature, but rather a starting point for those who h ave more interest in learning about this issue.

Update - June 25, 2012:

WHO Preliminary Dose Estimation for Fukushima
This report describes a preliminary estimate of radiation doses to the public resulting from this accident. These doses are assessed for different age groups in locations around the world, using assumptions described in the report.

Update - March 8, 2012: From the Health Physics Society

Risks and Effects of Radiation: Putting Fukushima in Context

The Health Physics Society (HPS) convened a panel of leading scientific experts on radiation safety at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, on 1 March 2012 for the benefit of invited media personnel.

As the world remembers the one-year anniversary of the 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan and set off a tragic chain of events that included the nuclear reactor incident in Fukushima, the panel of leading scientific and medical experts reported on the risks and effects of radiation on the Japanese and other populations. A first-hand account of the impacts on the Fukushima population was provided by two members of the distinguished panel. The discussions included the health effects of radiation immediately following the event to present day and an analysis of future risks for the population.

The panel consisted of John Boice, ScD; Robert Emery, DrPH, CHP, CIH; Robert Peter Gale, MD, PhD, DS. (Hon); Kathryn Higley, PhD, CHP; and Richard Vetter, PhD, CHP. It was moderated by Howard Dickson, CHP, CSP, and CIH.

Members of the Washington panel agreed that while they considered the physical health risks from the exposure too small to measure, the accident would still have an impact. Psychological trauma from the evacuation and months away from home could end up being the biggest health risk from the accident.

Dr. Gale said he believed the exaggerated environmental and health risk claims from alarmists could backfire by making it harder for people in Fukushima Prefecture to resume their normal lives and businesses. "Already we see a stigmatization of people from that area or products from that area," he said. "It's very hard for them to survive. It's quite unfortunate."

While the quake and tsunami killed an estimated 20,000 people, radiation has not killed anyone so far, and members of the Health Physics Society, drawn from academia, medicine, and the nuclear industry, suggested that the doses were too small to have much effect.

"There's no opportunity for conducting epidemiological studies that have any chance of success,'' said Dr. Boice. "The doses are just too low. If you were to do a proposal, it would not pass a scientific review.''

Members of the press asked several questions of the panel during the press conference and visited individually with panel members after the event.

A video of all the proceedings will be available in a few days. Watch for it being posted on the HPS website (hps.org).

Update - April 5, 2011:
April calibration response tests of the ion chambers located at the CEMP stations will occur according to the following schedule. These calibration checks will result in brief spikes in gamma radiation readings, and are not related to actual increases in background radiation. These calibration response spikes will be subsequently removed during regular quality-assurance checks of the data, so as not to skew data averages.

  • April 5 - Indian Springs, Amargosa, Pahrump, Tecopa, Beatty, Sarcobatus, Goldfield
  • April 6 - Tonopah, Rachel, Alamo
  • April 12 - Caliente, Pioche, Garden Valley, Twin Springs, Nyala, Ely
  • April 13 - Cedar City, Milford, Delta, Overton, Mesquite, Duckwater, Stone Cabin, Medlin's Ranch
  • April 14 - St. George, Las Vegas, Henderson, Boulder City

Update - April 4, 2011:
Regular updates on Fukushima and other nuclear news at the Health Physics Society News Cafe Facebook Page.

Update - March 29, 2011:
As the situation in Japan continues to evolve, this blog will keep you abreast of the latest information on the assistance and expertise that DOE is providing to the Japanese response and recovery efforts.
→ US Department of Energy Blog on the Situation in Japan

Update - March 25, 2011:
Results of air filter samples collected by DRI from CEMP stations located in Las Vegas, Henderson, and Boulder City are becoming available. Air samples from other communities in the CEMP network will be analyzed as they are received, beginning the week of March 28th.

Here is a blog designed for those who may have no knowledge or background in nuclear power and who are trying to understand issues related to the recent events in Japan. Any opinions expressed in the blog are those of the author, and DRI neither endorses any opinions expressed nor vouches for the accuracy of technical information provided. However, it is believed to provide an excellent primer on a number of different issues to those who are unfamiliar with these topics, and provides occasional updates of ongoing scenarios at the damaged plants as well as the opportunity to interact with the author and others in the forum.
Plain English Nuclear

Update - March 24, 2011:
Analysis of air samples collected by UNLV using a high-volume air sampler placed on the roof of the Bigelow Health Sciences building detected small amounts of radionuclides attributable to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant accident in Japan. Click here for the results of the analysis.

Results of air filter samples collected by DRI from CEMP stations located in Las Vegas, Henderson, and Boulder City will be reported as they become available, beginning on March 25th. Air samples from other communities in the CEMP network will be analyzed as they are received, beginning the week of March 28th.

Update - March 23, 2011:
A calibration response test of the ion chamber located at the CEMP stations in Las Vegas will be carried out on March 23rd. This calibration check will result in a brief spike in gamma radiation readings which is not related to an actual increase in background radiation.

Update - March 18, 2011:
There is a chance of precipitation forecast throughout the region covered by the CEMP beginning this weekend through early next week. Precipitation, as well as decreases in barometric pressure, both usually result in a small increase in background radiation. This is due to an increase of radon released from the ground, as well as the removal of naturally-occurring radionuclides from the atmosphere by rainfall. Increases observed in background gamma radiation readings during these meteorological events are expected, and are unlikely to be related to a radiation plume from Japan. DRI will examine any observed increases to ensure that they fall within the expected range for these events.

Information on the nuclear reactor accidents in Japan

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan have caused damage to multiple nuclear reactors in Japan, resulting in the release of some radioactivity into the airborne environment. Prevailing winds may carry a plume of radioactivity associated with these releases towards the United States. If a radioactive plume reaches the United States, it is unlikely to present a public health hazard, based on the information thus far reported regarding the release of radioactivity from the reactors. The pressurized ion chambers employed at monitoring stations in the CEMP are highly sensitive and can measure very small changes in environmental background gamma radiation exposure rates. It is likely they will detect such a plume if it does pass through the area. The CEMP will report any increases believed to be a result of the events in Japan, and will conduct further analyses of air filter samples as appropriate.

NOTE: Monthly calibration tests of the ion chambers located at the CEMP stations in Overton and Mesquite are scheduled to occur on March 17th, and at Las Vegas, Henderson, and Boulder City on March 18th. These calibration checks will result in brief spikes in gamma radiation readings which are not related to actual increases in background radiation.

For further information, please contact Ted Hartwell at (702) 862-5419.

Additional Information

Here are links to organizations that can provide additional useful information on the ongoing events associated with the nuclear power plants in Japan: