State: Crisis in Japan poses no health risk in Washington

March 16, 2011

By Staff

NEW — 6 p.m. March 16, 2011

Radiation levels in Washington have not climbed above normal levels during the ongoing crisis at nuclear reactors in Japan, and state health officials do not expect radiation to exceed the normal level.

State Department of Health officials said several factors play a role in protecting Washington residents from radiation releases at the damaged reactors.

Most of the radioactive material is contained at the damaged plants. Even if radioactive material reaches the upper atmosphere, officials said the material would not reach Washington in concentrations high enough to pose a health risk.

The released radioactive material did not reach the upper atmosphere where the material could be carried toward North America by the jet stream in amounts capable of causing a public health impact.

The fires and explosions at the Japanese reactors have not been as intense as the Chernobyl accident in the former Soviet Union in 1986.

Radioactive material ejected into the jet stream from Chernobyl reached Washington in small amounts. Even after the Chernobyl disaster, protective action was not needed in Washington, and the Japan incident is, so far, smaller than the Chernobyl disaster.

Even if radioactive material is released in Japan and reaches the jet stream, the material would take several days to reach Washington, because the nuclear plants sit about 5,000 miles away.

The material would mix with air and be diluted, and rain would wash some of the material from the air into the ocean.

Health officials said radioactive decay, especially for short half-life radioactive materials, such as iodine-131, would substantially reduce the amount of the radioactive material able to reach Washington.

Even if a small amount of radiation reached Washington, health officials said the amount would be well below levels capable of posing a public health concern.

Public Health – Seattle & King County has posted frequently asked questions and responses about the nuclear crisis.

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