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Hawaii radiation levels normal; feds say threat here low

By William Cole

LAST UPDATED: 2:23 p.m. HST, Mar 14, 2011

The state Department of Health said today it has not detected any elevated radiation readings in Hawaii, and that air samples remain at normal background levels following the release of radiation in Japan from nuclear reactors damaged by Friday’s earthquake and tsunami.

The chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, meanwhile, said today there is a “very low probability that there’s any possibility of harmful radiation levels in the United States, or in Hawaii or in any other U.S. territories.”

The state’s indoor and radiological health branch is monitoring information on the radiation release, and “with the current size of the release and the distance from Hawaii, no public health risk to the state is expected,” the Hawaii Health Department said today.

The Health Department said it has a system in place for ambient monitoring for radioactive dust in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The system, called “RADNET,” looks at particulate sampling from monitors on Oahu and the Big Island that are analyzed by the Health Department and at a laboratory in Alabama.

The department said it has no indication of any readings above normal background levels and does not expect any spikes due to the limited amount of material released and the current environmental conditions.

The Health Department’s response so far is based on a “relatively small” radiation release.

“However, should the situation change, the department is making preparations by coordinating with national and statewide partners and ensuring medical stockpiles are readily available,” the Health Department said.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Greg Jaczko said in a briefing at the White House today that there is a low probability of harmful radiation making its way to Hawaii based on the nature of the Japanese reactors and the large distances involved.

“So 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,” Jaczko said.

Jaczko was asked to clarify that even with a reactor core meltdown, there wouldn’t be the chance of harmful radiation reaching Hawaii or the West Coast.

“I don’t want to speculate on various scenarios, but based on the design and the distances involved, it is very unlikely that there would be any harmful impacts,” he said.

As a precaution, the U.S. Navy said the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and other Navy ships providing disaster response were moved out of the downwind direction of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant after low level radioactive contamination was detected in the air and on U.S. aircraft operating in the area.

The carrier was operating about 100 miles northeast of the power plant. “Low levels” of radioactivity were detected on 17 air crew members on three helicopters returning from disaster relief missions near Sendai, the Navy said.

The contamination was removed by washing with soap and water and no further contamination was detected, the Navy said.

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