Plumes Our Way
As a friend reminded me last night, we baby boomers were exposed to many radiation plumes throughout our childhoods when they were testing hydrogen bombs in the Pacific, so we shouldn't get panicked about this. So far we seem to be holding up ok. But it is still startling to see this in black and white:
A United Nations forecast of the possible movement of the radioactive plume coming from crippled Japanese reactors shows it churning across the Pacific, and touching the Aleutian Islands on Thursday before hitting Southern California late Friday.
Health and nuclear experts emphasize that radiation in the plume will be diluted as it travels and, at worst, would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States, even if hints of it are ultimately detectable. In a similar way, radiation from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 spread around the globe and reached the West Coast of the United States in ten days, its levels measurable but minuscule.
The forecast assumes that radioactivity in Japan is released continuously and forms a rising plume. It ends with the plume heading into Southern California and the American Southwest, including Nevada, Utah and Arizona. The plume would have continued eastward if the United Nations scientists had run the projection forward.
Earlier this week, the leading edge of the tangible plume was detected by the Navy’s Seventh Fleet when it was operating about 100 miles northeast of the Japanese reactor complex. On Monday, the Navy said it had repositioned its ships and aircraft off Japan “as a precautionary measure.”
The United Nations agency has also detected radiation from the stricken reactor complex at its detector station in Gunma, Japan, which lies about 130 miles to the southwest.
The chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory B. Jaczko, said Monday that the plume posed no danger to the United States. “You just aren’t going to have any radiological material that, by the time it traveled those large distances, could present any risk to the American public,” he said in a White House briefing.
Mr. Jaczko was asked if the meltdown of a core of one of the reactors would increase the chance of harmful radiation reaching Hawaii or the West Coast.
“I don’t want to speculate on various scenarios,” he replied. “But based on the design and the distances involved, it is very unlikely that there would be any harmful impacts.”
If there has to be a radiation plume that's pretty much how you'd want it to go. The longer it's out there in the Pacific the more it disperses. Better there than over Tokyo.