Are We In Danger of Radioactive Exposure from the Japanese Nuclear Leaks?

George Washington's picture

If we could rely on the Japanese and American governments to inform us of any danger, we wouldn't have to be so vigilant.

But given the American government's cover up of the severity of the BP oil disaster, the health risk to New Yorkers after 9/11, and numerous other health issues, we will have to educate and empower ourselves.

As ABC News notes, experts says that Japan has a long history of nuclear cover-ups.

The New York Times points out:

The different radioactive materials being reported at the nuclear accidents in Japan range from relatively benign to extremely worrisome.

The central problem in assessing the degree of danger is that the amounts of various radioactive releases into the environment are now unknown, as are the winds and other atmospheric factors that determine how radioactivity will disperse around the stricken plants.

BBC reports (scroll down on left side):

Japanese engineer Masashi Goto, who helped design the containment vessel for Fukushima's reactor core, says the design was not enough to withstand earthquakes or tsunami ...

Indeed, Goto said:

“It is difficult to say, but that would be a core meltdown. If the rods fall and mix with water, the result would be an explosion of solid material like a volcano spreading radioactive material. Steam or a hydrogen explosion caused by the mix would spread radioactive waste more than 50km. Also, this would be multiplied. There are many reactors in the area so there would be many Chernobyls.

And Goto accused the Japanese government of deliberately withholding vital information that would allow outside experts help solve the problems:

For example, there has not been enough information about the hydrogen being vented. We don’t know how much was vented and how radioactive it was.

What We Know

The jet stream passes right over Japan on its way to the West coast of the United States.

The former editor of the Japan Times - Yoichi Shimatsu - states that after a high-level government meeting, “Japanese agencies are no longer releasing independent reports without prior approval from the top,” and that censorship of what is really occurring at the plant is being overseen under the Article 15 Emergency Law.

As I noted Saturday:

The jet stream passes right over Japan. The jet stream was noticed in the 1920's by a Japanese meteorologist near Mount Fuji, and the Japanese launched balloon bombs into the jetstream to attack America during WWII.

If a meltdown caused radioactivity to be thrown high enough, or if the radioactivity got blown by surface winds up into the jet stream, it could spread widely.

Here's how the jet stream looks today:

Here is an artist's impression of how the jet stream could spread radiation in the future:

And here's a forecast for the next couple of days.

Accuweather notes the following times for radiation - in a worst-case scenario - to reach the West Coast:

Calculated time for radioactive particles to cross the Pacific from the power plants in Japan to big West Coast cities if the particles take a direct path and move at a speed of 20 mph:

Cities Est. Distance (miles) Est. Time to Cross Pacific (days)
Anchorage 3,457 7
Honolulu 3,847 8
Seattle 4,792 10
Los Angeles 5,477 11

But Accuweather meterologists argue that the winds will likely shift in different directions on a frequent basis, making it less likely that the radiation would be blown all of the way to the U.S.

As CNN Meterologist Ivan Cabrera says:

If radioactive material gets into the jet stream then... we share that with the world.

However, Cabrera points out that the Jet Stream is at 30,000-50,000 feet in altitude. 30,000 feet is 5.7 miles up. So that's a long way up above the Japanese nuclear reactors, which are essentially at sea level.

Unless the radiation from the Japanese nuclear power plants is carried aloft that high, it will probably not make it into the jet stream.

So far, there is no indication of any kind that radiation has been carried into the jet stream. However, a U.S. aircraft carrier around 100 miles from the nuclear power plants have been exposed to radiation. 100 miles is obviously greater than 5.7 miles, but that is horizontal distance, and does not necessarily mean that radiation has risen high into the air. Obviously, if the wind is blowing off-shore at ground level, then that will move the radiation more or less horizontally. That is very different from blowing the radiation upwards.

As all of the experts agree, if a truly huge meltdown occurs, then the odds of radiation reaching the jet stream increase dramatically.

As national security expert Joe Cirincione told Fox News' Chris Wallace:

The worst case scenario is that the fuel rods fuse together, the temperatures get so hot that they melt together in a radioactive molten mass that bursts through the containment mechanisms and is exposed to the outside. So they spew radioactivity in the ground, into the air, into the water. Some of the radioactivity could carry in the atmosphere to the West Coast of the United States.

But a more difficult question is whether low-level radioactive release spread over many weeks or months could spread into the jet stream and then the Western United States.

As the New York Times notes:

Experts in Japan and the United States say the country is now facing a cascade of accumulating problems that suggest that radioactive releases of steam from the crippled plants could go on for weeks or even months.

Indeed, Japan's nuclear problems may be spreading.

There are currently 3 Japanese nuclear reactors experiencing meltdown, and 3 more in trouble.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is forecasting a magnitude 8.0 aftershock, which could completely destroy the damaged reactors at the Fukushima facility:

(Aerial view after Fukushima numbers 1 and 3 exploded; click for larger image.)

And the limited radiation readings which are available are rather worrisome.

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tim73's picture

Fuck you Yanks. What a bunch of narsistic fools. It is not about YOU now. Did Americans worry about radiation after Hiroshima or Nagasaki? Ouch. That is gonna hurt!

ebworthen's picture California is worried?

You already let Mexico invade and China take over trade, you want us to feel sorry for you?

Mexico can have you because you are next in line for the quake / tsunami that will put the coast of the late great golden state in the Pacific Ocean.

GW - go East young man, before it is too late.

Good riddance to California...


geekgrrl's picture

Well, hey, the NRC says no radiation has hit the US, so go back to sleep America.

What they're not saying is that it's just a few days out, at most. Technically they aren't lying. It's not here yet. Yet.

geotrader's picture

I think the S&P Futures will tell the real story about radiation spreading to the US.  If not today, then tomorrow, or the next day. 


Apocalypse Now's picture

I am surprised nobody has brought up the experimental fuel of MOX which is a blend of both plutonium and uranium (sourced from England).  They started experimenting with decomissioned weapons by deciding to recycle the weapons into a blend of uranium and plutonium.  From what I have picked up on other sites, plutonium is much much more toxic than uranium. 

The negative scenario would be plutonium leaking into the ocean which would impact sea life / seafood and creating toxic rain through evaporation as well as the potential for radioactive plutonium to get into the jet stream as a result of a radioactive cloud moving from the North to the South of Japan and catching updrafts from a volcano that has become active.  The cloud is moving south since they have just detected small amounts of radiation in Tokyo.

From what I understand about Chernobyl, they did not really admit how bad the situation was unti 20 years later so I am not sure how the Japanese culture of saving face would impact their transparency.  Not sure I would call a situation contained when there are explosions at nuclear plants, and corporations will always downplay impact for liability reasons. 

Something that is unusual is that the plant was due to be decommissioned in March.  After what we have witnessed, I am sure that there will be international pressure for a more global government control over the nuclear energy programs of individual sovereign nations (since fallout would affect many nations).  This may be warranted under the circumstances, and thorium comes to mind.  Irans program also comes under more scrutiny.

It would have been great for Japan to have coolant generators that would work submerged under water, and perhaps they could have been suspended from the ceiling (to allow for flooding on the lower level).


Perhaps a spray of barium salts or another radiation absorber could be applied above the reactor (modern day chemtrails) to reduce the spread of radioactive materials.

Some individuals predicted this quake accurately based on astronomical events with regard to the path of comet Elenin and the alignment of bodies with it (3/11).  Gravitational pulls have significant impacts on the earth (moon tide effect is just an example) along with solar CME flares (we were hit by a major CME flare just before the earthquake.  The heavenly bodies and the sun can impact each other like electromagnets.  As Einstein's famous equation shows, energy is often converted into mass and this also applies to the energy of the sun impacting the core of the earth and creating pressure like a tea pot.  Expanding earth theory.

CERN LHC and HAARP are also interesting subjects.

There is science behind everything (cause & effect), so earthquakes are not based on magic.

JimboJammer's picture

This  cloud  could  go  on  for  3  months..

Obama  is  playing  golf..

He  is  a  poor  president..

cyclemadman's picture

I think everyone on the left coast should kill themselves now to avoid a slow painfull death from radiation. This has the added benefit that they stop breathing and wasting oxygen. <sarcasm off>

Broker NotBroke's picture

Even without the radiation, your point is still valid.

ThePhysicist's picture

"An artist's impression of how the radiation would spread."



Augustus's picture

Isn't that about the same as those paintings in the Sistine Chapel?

When will Geo Wash return to the normal channel with the regular BS message that Tuvalu is Sinking?

medicalstudent's picture

potassium iodide. exposed


centella asiatica (gotu kola).




all for now. strontium repletion may be viable.

THE DORK OF CORK's picture

I am looking forward to the new Baywatch - the complex engineering solution of designing those red swimsuits to contain 3 tits should be worth the wait.

Stretch the edge of the envelope bitches.

ebworthen's picture


Is she married?

I love to count.

Thanks CD, good belly laugh after all this sad crap...

nmewn's picture

Awe inspiring...any relation to Uncle Sam? ;-)

Ying-Yang's picture

Memorable quotes for Stripes (1981)

General Barnicke: Are you telling me that you men finished your training on your own?
John Winger: That's the fact, Jack.
Soldiers: That's the fact, Jack.


Sergeant Hulka: Okay, Mr. Push-ups, let's hear your story.
John Winger: Chicks dig me, because I rarely wear underwear and when I do it's usually something unusual. But now I know why I have always lost women to guys like you. I mean, it's not just the uniform. It's the stories that you tell. So much fun and imagination. [points to the soldier next to him]

John Winger: Lee Harvey, you are a madman. When you stole that cow, and your friend tried to make it with the cow. I want to party with you, cowboy. If the two of us together, forget it. I'm gonna go out on a limb here. I'm gonna volunteer my leadership to this platoon. An army without leaders is like a foot without a big toe. And Sergeant Hulka isn't always gonna be here to be that big toe for us. I think that we owe a big round of applause to our newest, bestest buddy, and big toe... Sergeant Hulka. [the soldiers start clapping]

Sergeant Hulka: Well, okay, hotshot. We're gonna see what kind of soldier you are.

Ying-Yang's picture

Thanks GW...

Been reading up since the start. Obvious hopium from the Jap Gov as they get their info from TEPCO. TEPCO attempting to save face, a custom in Japan, even with their history of hiding facts.

Fuk-u-shit-ma had 1,450 workers on site risking their lives to manage reactors. They now are being evacuating leaving 50 poor souls to contain meltdowns. Think about staying behind yourself to perhaps save hundreds of thousands at personal risk.

Think about not being able to see or monitor the work that must be done. Working in an environment that will make your gonads glow.

GW is not crying chicken little. He is projecting chess moves, creating discussions that should be discussed so PISS-Ants that rant can rant another day.

You go GW... En passant good buddy.

treasurefish's picture

So, if I estimate the amount of radiation provided by the TSA to the amount provided by the FUCK-US-IMA-(Mother) Reactor, then how much Iodine should I be adding to my Cheerios?

blunderdog's picture

May as well be blunt and try to be clear on this: the West Coast of the USA is not in any danger of radiation exposure even from complete meltdowns of every one of the Fukushima reactors.  Not CA, not AK, not HI.

Radiation levels are safe by *many* orders of magnitude.

If you don't worry about a dropped baseball causing an earthquake that destroys the ballpark, you shouldn't worry about this, either.

treasurefish's picture

Oh?  What level of radiation is "safe" and how much radiation has been emitted so far?


A baseball has contributed to an earthquake that destroyed the ballpark btw - Candlestick Park, San Francisco.

blunderdog's picture

Short-term whole body exposure starts causing potentially-measurable symptoms at doses over 10 million micro-rems, directly perceptible symptoms at doses over 100 million micro-rems.

This is not difficult stuff to find out.  We did H-bomb tests in which thousands of US enlisted men watched the explosions and saw significant short-term radiation exposure that caused very noticable physical effects.  Most of those men recovered and lived full lives. 

Gotta keep a sense of perspective here.  Given that you're concerned about the baseball's contribution to the Frisco quake, I recommend you panic.

ATG's picture

These were posted on ZH before you joined bd:

Thyroid cancer following nuclear tests in French Polynesia

120,000 additional cases of thyroid cancer, 6000 deaths from Nevada Nuclear Tests

The headlines say the risk is less than 1/1000, small solace to those affected

And if that does not make the case, look here for the hall of shame gallery of military use of DU from HI to the Middle East, with a half-life of 4.468 B years:

blunderdog's picture

Yes, yes!  This is good stuff.  This is the kind of thing folks who are worried should be reading.

A dose of 1 rem of radiation is estimated to increase life-time risk of thyroid cancer by a factor of about 7, from about .5% to 3.5%.  That's a million micro-rems, or 10,000 micro-grays.

The highest available exposure levels in neighboring Japanese towns were reported here at about 3 micro-grays per hour earlier this evening.

If those levels climb by a factor of 100, it would take 30 hours of continuous exposure in those areas near the reactors to result in that 7-fold increased risk of thyroid cancer. 

YES this is very bad.  Some people who are there are going to be killed, just as they were at Chernobyl.  The idea that this is a meaningful health threat to people thousands of miles away is profoundly misguided.  Best to focus on spreading the data rather than the emotion.

(If panic is your thing, you really don't need THIS as an excuse.)

minus dog's picture

Even a Chernobyl sized disaster would not cause us much trouble over here.  It would suck for the immediate vicinity, but that's about it.  

A thorough understanding of what happened at Chernobyl would help put the Japanese's problems into perspective - the containment vessel there literally exploded, throwing fuel and burning control rods all the fuck over the place.  The remaining fuel slagged itself and flowed into the basement.  It was the burning radioactive material outside the containment vessel that created the most contamination outside of the plant.

Worst case for Fukushima?  The reactors actually melt down, molten fuel burns down through the reactor vessel and......  well, that's it.  The design is different from Chernobyl and they're already venting, so a large kaboom isn't very likely.  You now have a giant radioactive pile of suck that, while truly inconvenient, isn't really going anywhere.

While I appreciate GW's efforts as much as most of the rest of you, either he doesn't understand radiation dosing/units of measurement, or he's not taking the time to explain it.  When we start seeing doses measured in whole roentgens per hour, then it's time to worry.  Dozens per hour, over a large area?  Time to panic.   But a couple thousand microsieverts?  Bleh.  Wake me up when something actually happens.

Things could turn into a giant clusterfuck.   They have not yet turned into a giant clusterfuck.

nmewn's picture

"The design is different from Chernobyl and they're already venting, so a large kaboom isn't very likely.  You now have a giant radioactive pile of suck that, while truly inconvenient, isn't really going anywhere."


Granite tile tops...kitty litter and bananas all contain radiation...damn preppy, cat lovin vegan's will be the death of us all ;-)

TheGreatPonzi's picture

Sorry to spoil the party, dude:

Container Damaged, Radioactive Materials Feared To Leak At Fukushima Plant

(Tuesday morning)

But is the Nikkei newswire a lair of evil conspiracy theorists? That's the question. 

minus dog's picture

No party spoiled.

With radiation levels around at least one of the reactors now at several hunrdred times the levels they were when I posted that, now it is a clusterfuck.

Everyone was running around before screaming about amounts that were pretty much meaningless.   Now they're going to have an even harder time unfucking things because they'll need to work in short shifts to limit their exposure.

CPL's picture

If you guys are looking for potassium iodine, you all use it practically every day. 

It's called table salt.  No clue why people are running to eBay.  We've all been using it since birth practically.  Go get your box of Siflo Salt from the cupboard and go read the ingredients.  There are only two, sodium (So) and Potassium Iodine (KI).


It was put into salt because of the cold war and Sodium and KI bond nicely, where else but the kitchen table would you find a cold war left over.  Also helps regulate hyperthyriodism/goiter that was appearently a big problem after the start of the arms race.

chunga's picture

That's good stuff CPL. Thanks. My better half has to take synthroid and after reading your post I had to take a break from making tin foil hats. Your post also caused me to learn that Rome's armies were paid in salt and is the origin of the word "salary". (It's all over the Internet so it has to be true.) Seriously though, it's something to learn more about for a number of important getting nuked or not being able to get synthroid. Sure would suck to get all flipped out and charge into Walgreens guns blazing for the last bottle while it's sitting on the shelf in the cupboard waiting to be tossed on french fries.


SilverBaron's picture

Good observation.  I like extra salt on my fries. Now I have an excuse.

geekgrrl's picture

Anything that is released from those reactors will end up all over the Northern Hemisphere, eventually.

As far back as 1994, researchers were already testing ice cores in Greenland for heavy metals, and estimated that lead production prior to the discovery of cupellation, around 5000 years ago, was a little over a ton of lead per year. 2700 years ago, metal coinage was introduced, and the levels rose 5 orders of magnitude, peaking around 2000 years ago with the peak of the Roman empire. It fell through the Dark Ages by over an order of magnitude, and then from around 1100 years ago, the level has been continually rising, with 1994 levels exceeding a million tons a year.

If I could figure out a way to upload a pic, I'd upload the really great plots, but the data is in:

Hong, S. Candelone, J.-P., et. al. (1994) Greenland Ice Evidence of Hemispheric Lead Pollution Two Millenia Ago by Greek and Roman Civilizations. Science. vol. 265, 23 Sept 1994. p. 1841-3.

Shell Game's picture

Good point.  Also corroborated in Swiss pete bog cores:

Shotyk et al. in Earth and Planetary Science Letters (1996), "Two thousand years of atmospheric arsenic, antimony, and lead deposition recorded in an ombrotrophic peat bog profile, Jura Mountains, Switzerland", vol. 145, Pages E1-E7

Also..  J.O. Nriagu and J.M. Pacyna, Quantitative assessment of worldwide contamination of air, water and soils by trace elements, Nature 333 (1988)

Of note, the methods of detection in these papers is incredibly sensitive and measures amounts well below any physiologically relevant dose. And, dose is everything..

geekgrrl's picture

I'm curious about your comment: "the methods of detection in these papers is incredibly sensitive and measures amounts well below any physiologically relevant dose."

The reason I ask is because it is well understood that any exposure of heavy metals is deleterious. There are no threshold effects, and there is no "minimum dose." The proxy level, as measured in Greenland ice cores is, as I have just posted roughly a million times time higher than it was 5000 years ago.

Another source folks can look at for current levels of metals in people in the US, is the CDC's National Report On Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, available at:

CPL's picture

If anyone has seen the myth busters about shit back splash and germs on the tooth brushes in the bathroom.  If you take a dump, a tiny portion of it goes airborne in aerosol form and it doesn't matter where you put a toothbrush in the house, after around three days, you'll end up with shit on the brissels of the brush unless youa re storing your toothbrush in a vaccum.


Gasses and aerosols tend to fill the space given and mix it up.

SilverBaron's picture

I saw that one too, and I still leave my toothbrush in the little holder on the sink.  Bad habits are hard to break.  Maybe we need a little bit of shit to keep our immune systems on alert. 

geekgrrl's picture

I didnt see that Mythbusters, but I suppose it gives new meaning to the term Shitstorm, does it not CPL?

Paul Bogdanich's picture

Given the density of radioactive particles I doubt very seriosly whether any of the nuclear material itself could cross the Pacific.  However, if said material irradiated some water vapor or CO2 molecules or some such those could cross the pacific but what type of charge they would still have after crossing the ocean is another matter.  From the radioactive tests in Nevada, Bikini Atol, Kamchautka and elsewhere the primary danger was from heavy particles that came down typically within a few hundred miles of the blast.  And those were open air blasts.  Same with Cherynoble I think.  A localized pattern.  So while I am not trying to minimize the situation at all as it is very serious indeed I think the portrayal of a major threat to human health on the West coast of the US is most likely overdone and if it's not all the Japanese and the Koreans and the Chinese will likely be in far worse shape a lot sooner than the West coast of the US.        

George Washington's picture

France is also accusing Japan of downplaying the nuclear threat.

dumpster's picture

truth who want wants truth


9-11 lies


the truth comes out


the loud cry we do not want truth we want candy and circus sounds .

FeralSerf's picture

"You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns."

SilverBaron's picture

Yea, cause those angry muslims might throw rocks at us.

dumpster's picture

duct tape and large sheets of steel,  over yard

Mediocritas's picture

Before everyone gets excited, have a read of what MIT has to say about all this:

GW (and ZH) has a proven track record of playing Chicken Little (not that I don't enjoy reading it for another perspective. Just saying).

ATG's picture

Read the MIT site and did not find anything to contradict GW

In fact, their assertion that nuclear reactors cannot explode like nuclear bombs means they are much dirtier with radioactivity because their fuel is not designed to be consumed all at once

Suprisingly few are considering ecoterrorism

The Alarmist's picture

GW (and ZH) has a proven track record of playing Chicken Little (not that I don't enjoy reading it for another perspective. Just saying).

If you are going to toss around conjecture like that, you need to post the statistics to support it, so your homework is to go through a year or so of GW posts and tell us how many of them turned out to be chicken-little.  You might want to pick up on the Junks hypothesis from above for extra credit.