News / USA

US Experts Assure Nervous West Coast Residents: No Radiation Risk

Professor Kai Vetter of the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley kneels beside a germanium detector which is used to identify radioactive airborne particulates in a filter taken from air samples in Berkeley, Califo
Professor Kai Vetter of the Department of Nuclear Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley kneels beside a germanium detector which is used to identify radioactive airborne particulates in a filter taken from air samples in Berkeley, Califo

American public health officials are reassuring West Coast residents that radiation from Japan's troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant does pose a threat to the United States. Still, some residents are worried.

Public health and emergency officials say people in California and other Western U.S. states should not worry about radiation that crosses the Pacific Ocean. Charlie Sardou of the American Red Cross said they do anyway.

"There definitely is local concern about the radiation levels and fallout traveling. At this point in time, there does not look to be a risk here on the West Coast."

President Obama weighed in on the question Thursday. "So I want to be very clear. We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States, whether it's the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska or U.S. territories."

Christian Chung, a South Korean immigrant to the United States, thinks small amounts of radiation could still get here. "Could be, slowly, a little bit, tiny problem, a tiny problem." He fears the problem, though, could be bigger in his native South Korea.

Other nervous West Coast residents have bought out stocks of potassium iodide from many health supplement stories. The drug helps to prevent thyroid cancer by blocking radioactive iodine from reaching the gland. But it has side effects, and health officials say it is completely unnecessary for Americans right now.

People like Robert Shibao have looked for it anyway. "Actually we tried to do the same thing in case there was a significant amount of radiation, but it's sold out everywhere."

Fusae Hofer is a Japanese American whose sister has just arrived from Japan, fearful of the possible spread of radiation. She takes seriously assurances that radiation from Japan cannot reach the United States. "That's pretty far away so I don't think so. I just every day pray."

Both Japanese and American officials say radiation levels in Japan, while elevated in places, are safe except in the immediate area of the troubled nuclear plant.  Japanese officials have ordered a 20-kilometer evacuation zone around the Daiichi plant.  American officials have have been more cautious, urging US citizens within 80 kilometers to evacuate or seek shelter.

And American officials insist that any radiation released from the plant will drop to negligible levels by the time it travels thousands of kilometers to the United States.

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