The events in Japan and the weather patterns in the Pacific can change from one minute to the next, and that is how our information sources are dealing with nuclear fallout news. Sitting here in Southern California, I can tell you that it's no comfort being advised all day that California is safe from nuclear fallout and suddenly, in late afternoon, reading that "Nuclear fallout has arrived in California," as one Google News headline read on March 18.
(The above is a real time, map released by Austria's Federal Ministry for Science and Research, showing the plumes of radiation traveling across the Pacific from Japan, and their levels of radioactivity. via Chicago Tribune.)
Fallout from the explosion of Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant has reached the U.S. in various forms; in suitcases and on clothing of persons travelling from Japan, on airplanes crossing the Pacific, and in the air crossing the Pacific. The question now is not whether the radiation will spread, but how severe it will be.
For those of you who don't trust (and I do) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention to give you the facts about a nuclear crisis, if and when it comes to that, we are fortunate to be living in an age where news from many sources can be obtained online, and you need only to look up, say 'U.S. nuclear fallout' and select 'past hour' on Google News, to get the most current printed and video information from anywhere in the world.
The best source of almost real-time information is the EPA's RadNet Air Monitoring Service, which is updated several times a day. It takes the data recorded by its radiation air monitors at each site and records it for the public by city and state. You may need to log on to the site, and if so, this link will give you instructions.
If you want information real close to home you can try your local air quality management district. There are real time maps published by other countries (such as the
one above by Austria's Federal Ministry for Science and Research) and
independent groups (such as Radiation Network) that may be able to provide some information.
EPA's RadNet air monitoring system captures the level of radiation above San Francisco: image via cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com
EPA's RadNet air sampling stations across the U.S.: image via EPA
The real crisis in Japan, however, has stirred up fear of similar crises in the U.S. and other parts of the world, resulting from the susceptibility of our own nuclear power plants, as well as potential terrorist attacks, such as dirty bombs. It is certainly advisable to be prepared for any of these possible dangers, just as we and our families should be prepared for other emergencies, like fire, floods, tornado, and hurricanes in affected regions of the country.
In Part 3 of this series, I cover what you can do to ready your family
in case radiation levels become dangerous to health in your area. But
in the next column, Part 2, I'd like to share with you how radiation
levels are calculated and when they are determined to be unhealthy.
sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and those specific sources referenced in the above text.
Radiation Exposure Readiness: Part 2: When Your Health Is At Risk
Radiation Exposure Readiness: Part 3, Preparing For The Worst