Monday, March 14, 2011

Prepare for Radioactive Fallout From Japanese Reactors

Unfortunately, radioactive fallout from the reactor leaks is going to hit the United States and Canada. Alaska, Hawaii and the west coast of the United States should prepare themselves for the invisible hazard that can rain down upon them within days or over the next weeks and months.

The wind paths will likely take the fallout to Alaska and Canada and the Northwestern coast of the United States first, but I expect we will see fallout in some small measure over most of the United States.

What to do:

1)Stay indoors as much as possible. No joke. Don't schedule any outdoor events, picnics etc. The radioactive fallout will be light but you want to expose yourself to as few radioactive particulates as possible. Turn off unnecessary air-conditioning systems to keep fallout out.

2) Buy a Geiger counter This is your own personal insurance device. You can test your environment at anytime for radiation levels above natural background radiation. The old pen sized clip-on dosimeters and readers designed for the CIVIL DEFENSE are still available from some sources but are not necessarily reliable after all these years.

3) Keep informed. Officials will be monitoring the fallout plumes as best they can. Unfortunately the government is not experienced in this and we disbanded the important CIVIL DEFENSE networks and centers across our nation. Now we see that they are necessary again. Planes, satellites and testing stations will be trying to track the plume. Unfortunately radiation is invisible and winds are extremely variable and can change speed and direction quite fast.

4) Don't panic. The radiation levels should be low. But to be quite honest, corporate officials always underplay the levels released from these things and because these are damaged reactors we don't exactly know what levels will be released over the next days, weeks and months. Hindsight is always 20/20. No one informed the crew of the USS Ronald Reagan that they were going to pass through a radioactive plume on their way to Japan. People make mistakes.

5) If you think you have been exposed. Take off your clothes and throw them away, wash yourself thoroughly and get checked by a hospital for contamination and any needed treatment.

Most of the radiation plumes will eventually disperse to levels not much more intense than background radiation. The difference between background radiation and fallout is that background radiation comes mostly from cosmic and gamma radiation - high energy particles that pass through ones body so fast that they don't linger in the body. Fallout from reactor steam often includes radioactive particulates that can be inhaled or imbibed into the body, linger longer and so are best avoided.

I really don't want to contribute to panic or exploit people's fears, but preparedness in this instance is a very good thing. Awareness is key. For the next few weeks or months make a point to be aware of the time you spend outdoors, keep well informed and if you can afford one a Geiger counter is a useful tool and educational as well. I've learned never to rely on the government for your protection or that of your family. And when it comes to atomic radiation there is just way too much ignorance about the topic and we live in a world that has barely scratched the surface in monitoring solar, cosmic or even background radiation levels. All events have silver linings and this disaster will prepare the world better for fallout, hopefully revive the CIVIL DEFENSE agency in the US and start the all-important mass education program the world needs regarding radiation.

UPDATE: 3/18/2011

Some radiation has reached the west coast of the United State. The lack of transparency is shameful from this administration. A foreign diplomat with CTBTO data was the first to announce the radiation spike. A private network of radiation stations can be accessed with very limited data as well:
Our data indicates the radiation, in small quantities, has been flowing over the west coast US for 24 hours already.

Again, no need to panic. The fallout, so far, as expected is very light. Most Americans have been living in the shadow of a nuclear reactor all of their lives and there has been some measure of radioactive releases into the atmosphere every time a nuclear weapon has been tested. Greater fallout was falling down on California and the entire US during the fifties, sixties and seventies. When testing above ground and underground still took place regularly on US soil.

Some believe ignorance is bliss. Sometimes it is. Fear isn't helpful to any situation, but the survival instinct from which people's fears spawn is quite natural and human. At the same time, I have a problem with keeping 100s of millions Americans in the dark, just because you fear what they might do if you tell them the truth. One can only imagine the discussions that have been had regarding evacuations if necessary. The line of thinking basically goes like this: "Mass panic and evacuation of the west coast would cause hundreds of deaths quickly and fallout might cause thousands of deaths much more slowly - often years or decades later and no one will know the real tally or be able to point the finger at us. So clamp down on the data, keep quiet and pray."

We need more radiation monitoring stations across the globe. They should be as common as thermometers - for they are an integral part of our weather and environment. The truth is, the US is woefully unprepared for this type of disaster, just as it was for Katrina. Our professionals have been kept out of the loop from interfacing with Japan, partly due to the Japanese culture of secrecy and honor and partly due to this administrations lack of an enthusiastic response.

It adds a whole new element to life - a constant knowledge of your radiation exposure. Suddenly places that have elevated rad exposure would see property values decline and those with the lowest radiation exposure would see an increase. People would soon know if their reactors were being maintained and run properly or if small radiation releases occur without public knowledge. Demand changes. Demand to know the background radiation of your community alongside the registered temperature and humidity in your local paper.

Information is power. It saves lives, creates jobs and perpetuates progress.

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