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Sunday, November 23, 2014         

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Japan’s crisis in perspective

Hawaii is in virtually no danger of radiation poisoning from the Fukushima reactor, unlike those working to fix it

By Michael J. Ferguson

POSTED:


As an educator in the community, I feel it is part of my job to help people understand the dangers we face from the Japan reactors.

The nuclear situation in Japan is not at all desirable. The focus of this commentary is on the dangers here in Hawaii.

It is difficult to determine exactly what is the status of the Japan reactors. For certain, it is not as bad as the Chernobyl event. The reason for this is that the reactor was turned off right after the earthquake, unlike Chernobyl. The Japan event, though, is worse than the Three Mile Island incident because water containing radioactive materials has left the containment of the plant.

It is difficult to determine if the groundwater has been contaminated because the levels of plutonium are the same that are expected from the radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb detonations. This situation may change because the Japan event is ongoing.

There has been venting and radioactive iodine and cesium have been released and contaminated water has entered the ocean.

The presence of radioactive iodine indicates a partial meltdown has occurred, meaning some shells of the fuel rods have been compromised.

The short lifetime of iodine-131 suggests that this iodine is from the Fukushima reactors.

To put things in perspective, let us look at nuclear events in the past. In human history, there have been more than 2,000 nuclear weapon detonations. About 500 of those detonations have been in the atmosphere. Those hundreds of nuclear detonations have caused radioactive fallout all over the world. If we looked close enough, we will find radioactive plutonium, cesium, and strontium in the soil of Hawaii and even in the snows of Antarctica.

Those hundreds of nuclear explosions released many times more radiation than could ever leave Fukushima. Also, no civilian nuclear reactor can explode like an atomic bomb. The nuclear fuel is not concentrated enough.

The iodine reaching Hawaii is far below any dangerous level. There is no need to take potassium iodine pills. Potassium iodine works by saturating the thyroid gland, preventing radioactive iodine from being adsorbed. We eat enriched food that contains iodine from salt. Our thyroid glands are full of iodine. Also, a diet that has ocean fish in it is rich in iodine. The facts are that there are very low levels of radioactive iodine that are falling, and we have diets rich in iodine. The only feasible way someone is iodine deficient is that if he or she ate no products from the ocean and consumed foods having only kosher salt. Even that person who is iodine deficient is not at risk from the radiation because the levels of radioactive iodine are not dangerous and falling.

There is little danger to our food supply. Radioactivity from the 2,000-plus nuclear blasts is still found in our food. Any current danger that could exist would be localized to food produced around Fukushima. Any radiation entering the ocean is quickly dissipated. Any dangerous areas would be from ocean products produced close to Fukushima.

The true danger is for the individuals working in the nuclear reactor. They are being exposed to dangerous levels of radiation. Hawaii residents are at virtually no risk. We should be comforted in our own safety, but our thoughts and prayers should be with those close to the reactor. We are not in any danger here.

I hope I’ve answered some questions, and I hope these facts bring comfort.

If there are still concerns or questions out there, I’m open to being contacted at mferguso@hawaii.edu. I will do my best to answer emails.






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