UN: Radiation to Hit U.S. By Friday

George Washington's picture

The New York Times notes:

A United Nations
forecast of the possible movement of the radioactive plume coming from
crippled Japanese reactors shows it churning across the Pacific and
touching the Aleutian Islands on Thursday before hitting Southern
California late Friday.


The projection, by the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization, an arm of the United
Nations in Vienna, gives no information about actual radiation levels
but only shows how a radioactive plume would probably move and


The forecast, calculated Tuesday, is
based on patterns of Pacific winds at that time and the predicted path
is likely to change as weather patterns shift.


Japan forecast shows that the radioactive plume will probably miss the
agency’s monitoring stations at Midway and in the Hawaiian Islands but
is likely to be detected in the Aleutians and at a monitoring station
in Sacramento.


The forecast assumes that radioactivity in
Japan is released continuously and forms a rising plume. It ends with
the plume heading into Southern California and the American Southwest,
including Nevada, Utah and Arizona. The plume would have continued
eastward if the United Nations scientists had run the projection

The Times provides a series of images to illustrate the projected path of radiation, ending with this one:

(click here for a moving graphic timeline.)

Similarly, Yoichi Shimatsu - former editor
of the Japan Times Weekly, who led the field research for an
architectural report on structural design flaws that led to the tsunami
death toll in Thailand - wrote a couple of days ago:

Pacific jetstream is currently flowing due east directly toward the
United States. In the event of a major meltdown and continuous
large-volume radioactive release, airborne particles will be carried
across the ocean in bands that will cross over the southern halves of
Oregon, Montana and Idaho, all of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado,
Wyoming, the Dakotas, northern Nebraska and Iowa and ending in
Wisconsin and Illinois, with possible further eastward drift depending
on surface wind direction.

The timeline of the UN's forecast is suprising, given that the earthquake hit on March 11th, and Accuweather formerly estimated the following times for radiation - in a worst-case scenario - to reach the West Coast:

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

it is vital to note that many experts are saying that only extremely
low levels of radiation will hit Americans. As the New York Times

and nuclear experts emphasize that radiation in the plume will be
diluted as it travels and, at worst, would have extremely minor health
consequences in the United States, even if hints of it are ultimately
detectable. In a similar way, radiation from the Chernobyl disaster in
1986 spread around the globe and reached the West Coast of the United
States in 10 days, its levels measurable but minuscule.




On Sunday, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it expected that no “harmful levels of radioactivity” would travel from Japan to the United States “given the thousands of miles between the two countries.”


Wednesday, the agency declined to release its Japanese forecast, which
The New York Times obtained from other sources. The forecast was
distributed widely to the agency’s member states.


chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Gregory B. Jaczko, said
Monday that the plume posed no danger to the United States. “You just
aren’t going to have any radiological material that, by the time it
traveled those large distances, could present any risk to the American
public,” he said in a White House briefing.


Germany on Wednesday, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection held a
news conference that described the threat from the Japanese plume as
trifling and said there was no need for people to take iodine tablets.

It is also important to remember that this is likely not just a one-day freak-out kind of event. As the Times previously noted:

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.

And keep in mind that iodide only protects against one particular
radioactive element: radioactive iodine, technically known as
iodine-131. Iodine-131 has a half life of only 8.02 days. That means that half of the iodine loses its radioactivity within 8 days.

In contrast, plutonium has a half life of up to 80 million years, and is one of the most hazardous substances in the world. Fukushima reactor number 3 burned a plutonium-uranium mix, and has lost containment.

However, as NPR points out:

plutonium is a long-lived emitter of radiation, it is also quite
heavy, so it is not likely to move very far downwind from its source.

Therefore, Americans will likely not be exposed to any plutonium.

Other possible radioactive elements from Japan include some elements - like radioactive nitrogen (with a half life of seven seconds) - decay so quickly that they could not possibly make it to the U.S. in radioactive form.

The New York Times noted last week that - in addition to iodine-131, the big danger is cesium:


Over the long term, the big threat to human health is cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years.


At that rate of disintegration, John Emsley wrote in “Nature’s Building
Blocks” (Oxford, 2001), “it takes over 200 years to reduce it to 1
percent of its former level.”


It is cesium-137 that still contaminates much of the land in Ukraine around the Chernobyl reactor.




Cesium-137 mixes easily with water and is chemically similar to
potassium. It thus mimics how potassium gets metabolized in the body and
can enter through many foods, including milk.




Environmental Protection Agency says that ... once dispersed in the
environment ... cesium-137 “is impossible to avoid.”

Cesium-137 is light enough to be carried by the wind a substantial distance.

But this is still largely conjecture, as neither the government or
private sector scientists have yet publicly disclosed the exact
radioactive elements headed towards the U.S.

Again, the important thing is whether a little or a lot of
radiation makes it to America. If only a little bit, it's no big
deal.  We've all had x-rays, eaten bananas (which - believe it or not -
contain radioactive potassium-40),
and been exposed to other forms of low=level radiation.  Indeed, the
Times notes we've all been exposed to some cesium-137 our whole lives:

Environmental Protection Agency says that everyone in the United
States is exposed to very small amounts of cesium-137 in soil and water
because of atmospheric fallout from the nuclear detonations of the cold

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SWRichmond's picture

GW, you seem to have temporarily halted your war on modern life.  Good decision.

InformedSpectator's picture

In the major article above, there are considerable mistakes.

The difference in ATOMIC WEIGHT between Cesium and Plutonium

makes NO DIFFERENCE as to how far they will go in the air. What

matters is the SIZE of the aerosol containing the element.  Aerosols

are particles so small that they float in air--- think of cigarette smoke.

Aerosols are so small that THEY DON'T SINK out of the air--- they

are brought to earth by RAIN.  The situation is bad, but it is unclear how

much radioactivity will reach the U.S.  The statement that far-away

there will be a dilution effect only occurs when expansion occurs in

3 dimensions.  The statement is NOT true for restricted FLOWS,

such as the Jet Stream.  Measurements of radioactivity on the 

ground will be all important.  There is a network of privately owned

Geiger counters that may be helpful here, in supplementing the 

"official" ones.

scrappy's picture

A better way? After this disaster perhaps we might consider...


The DBI Thorium Breeding/Breeder Reactor designs represent an evolutionary advance in nuclear reactor design. Under development for four decades, the reactor consists of a small number of robust, mechanically elegant and low-pressure core systems. This elegance reduces overall manufacturing, installation, operations and maintenance costs. The design simplicity includes extensive use of modern automated controls that also translates into greater operational safety.

The DBI designs comply with all safety requirements and specifically obviate nuclear accidents like those that occurred at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

The DBI Thorium Reactor designs provide for enhanced safety from a variety of perspectives including the mechanical design, fuel type usage and fuel waste.

DBI reactors are designed to comply with the prevailing “Defense in Depth” philosophy of nuclear reactor safety. Remote automated monitoring and operational control redundant computer systems and gravity driven fail-safe controls, etc. are just some of the safety features. These mechanically simple and robust engineered features have been used in the United States nuclear industry since first-generation nuclear reactors to eliminate the possibility of radiation release to the environment, catastrophic failure through operator error or core meltdown.

ALL Key Advantages of Thorium-powered nuclear reactors.

Wired Magazine also ran a story on this technology a while back.


Uranium Is So Last Century — Enter Thorium, the New Green Nuke


Your job as a reader of this get informed and support what you think is best regarding nuclear energy. I personally believe this is a good technology (transitional) even if I would like to see renew-able energy to be our ultimate future.

franzpick's picture

Has the less efficient but much safer pebble-bed reactor used I believe in China been made obsolete?

DeltaDawn's picture

All you naysayers can just keep organizing "races for the cure" and believing the government officials. 

Xkwisetly Paneful's picture

No group of human beings has stunted the human race in my lifetime more than the zealous anti nuke plant group.

To pacify their own irrational fears they have set back the entire race moreso than any other whacko group and it is not a close race.


All three nuke disasters created by human error.

This one because safety dictated when the ground rumbles enough shut down the reactor which killed power which killed the reactor, the revisionists will say otherwise but that is what happened.

Chernobyl was caused while safety testing a new emergency cooling system.

TMI caused when someone shut off the emergency cooling system during a safety test.


Great trifecta of safety systems wreaking havoc on the future of mankind.


The mass hysteria/panic from the self loathing wannabee intellectuals at ZH though is priceless everytime. From the oil spill to global warming including the pig flu pandemic and I am sure others before I started visiting.

the grateful unemployed's picture

okay should we continue to engage in outdoor activities such as jogging? will they report the radioactive component of the air quality in my city. If i jog wearing a superfine particulate mask, and an Obama 2012 T shirt will I be arrested. If the other side says "Drill Baby Drill" will they let me go?

Yardfarmer's picture

hell, I grew up downwind of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant and in the era of above ground nuclear testing when clouds of radioactive particles, not only from US nuke testing, but also in the jet stream all the way from China as well, were deposited across the western plains . I well remember the duck and cover drills during the Cuban missile crisis. The legacy of the Manhattan Project http://kushmonster.blogspot.com/2010/02/explosions-compilation-funny-bloopers-r.html

Franken_Stein's picture

Do you own a geiger counter and if so, what does it show ?

Citxmech's picture

I've got a couple - nothing showing here in Seattle but normal background.

AN0NYM0US's picture

US Energy Chief Urges All Us Citizens Within 8000 KM of Japan To Evacuate


(link coming soon)

Franken_Stein's picture


Bingo !

Found the same stream just recently.

This must be one of the sold out counters.

Only the early bird catches the worm.

Thank goodness there are still non-egocentric people around the world who care about the common good.


Unlawful Justice's picture

I can't think of one thing that has turned out better than expected in the last week. NONE!

RichardP's picture

Would you be happier if all of the fuel rods in the reactors had melted and then the container itself had ruptured?  I think that part of this situation has gone better than some expected.

JimboJammer's picture

now  Japan  is  nuking  the  USA ...  not  a  planned  event...  but  still  bad..

ArkOmen1's picture

Man are we fucked!

surfsup's picture

2lbs epson salt & 2lbs of Baking Soda in a hot bath -- 15 minutes -- handles the Rads on a transcontinental flight just fine.  Try it -- you'll like it -->

johnQpublic's picture

in army NBC training they told us to wash with Dial soap....leaves no soap residue on your skin

Franken_Stein's picture


Radioactive decay is an exponential function with negative exponent and a base of 2.

N(t) = N(0) * 2^(-t/T)




1. t >= 0

2. N(t) - number of radioactive (i.e. isotopic) atoms at time t

3. N(0) - initial number of radioactive (i.e. isotopic) atoms

4. t - time

5. T - half-life


This is a case for Gordon Freeman.

He has to walk into the test chamber in order to close that dimensional portal. :-P


"Please don't shoot, I'm with the science team."


css1971's picture

Am I the only one thinking this would make a great doomsday device?


nmewn's picture

What are they doing with all the Japanese citizens with radiation burns & sickness?

Drag Racer's picture

very clear live video just shown on NHK. appears to be light amplification but still very clear close up shot. definite steam coming from reactors 2, 3 and 4

GoldbugVariation's picture

There's a lot of conjecture when not even the experts really know what can happen here.

The "plutonium and uranium are heavy metals" argument seems the weakest, possibly deliberate disinformation.  One flake of ash or dust can be light as anything, light enough to be carried thousands of miles by the wind, but could still contain dangerous micrograms of plutonium or uranium.

Apart from the human tragedy, I think one concern for investors (hope this is an investment website, still?) is the mid- and long-term effect of this on all Japanese exports and the high-tech industries globally.  Even apart from factory closures, power shortages, evacuated zones and the probable months or years now needed for earthquake, tsunami and nuclear cleanup operations in Japan, the fear of radiation is going to be there indefinitely, at least for a whole generation.  I would therefore anticipate that in the coming years, consumers will be fearful of all goods manufactured in Japan - possibly Japanese goods will be routinely screened for radiation at import docks.  Consumers may not easily distinguish between a Playstation manufactured in Japan and a Playstation manufactured in Malaysia, I would also expect to see false labelling of origin.  The Japanese export economy may never be the same again.  One quick example: will you drink Asahi beer now?  (Take a look on a map to see where the town of Asahi is located.)

There may also be global shortages of certain items due to factory damage or long-term closures.  Japan manufactures a large number of items which are key to all high tech industries, high-quality electronic components like capacitors and transistors.  Even if a flat-screen TV or PC is manufactured in China, it is likely to contain some Japanese components.  If a TV or PC is missing even one critical component then obviously it cannot be manufactured.  There may therefore be unpredictable shortages of various big-ticket electronic items.  Not immediately, but in 6 months to a year as inventories are worked through all the way down the supply chains.

flattrader's picture

Amazing lucid commentary for this site during these difficult days.


Cant see me's picture

thanks for the heads up on Asahi beer:)

geekgrrl's picture

So I suppose TPTB strategy here is: dilution is the solution to pollution? Just like in the Gulf of Mexico?

One important difference is that very few people can easily sample the air or water for chemicals. But we can easily measure radiation ourselves. We can have direct knowledge that can be used to check "authorities" who are more interested in trying to keep the herd from stomping all over them than in being honest about the situation so that people can take appropriate action.

BTW, I don't think this is TEOTWAWKI. In the US, at least, the cancer rate will just ratchet up a bit, but few if any people will be able to correlate their untimely death to Fukushima. And so it will be counted as lung cancer, or thyroid cancer, anything but death due to radiation. On the other hand, I also know that particles come out of the atmosphere when it rains, and it is raining here as I speak, and is supposed to keep raining for as long as the meteorologists can forecast....


RichardP's picture

The radiation will be in the jet stream, 7 - 9 miles up.  How high are the rain clouds?  Or do the particles stay in the jet stream until they get over your house, and then fall out so they can settle on you.

Not trying to be nasty here.  Just looking for some perspective.

geekgrrl's picture

Particles come out of the clouds when it rains. It rains in the Pacific Northwest all the time during this time of the year. California, not so much.

I have no doubt whatsoever that some of that stuff will come out in the rain here. Whether it will be significant or not remains to be seen, but I am monitoring the situation and collecting my own data, so in that regard, I am not personally afraid of the situation because there is much less uncertainty in my mind since I have what I believe to be reasonably reliable data.

From your comment, it seems like you are suggesting this will all just disappear. I'm curious where you think all these particles and radioactive elements will end up? Experience after TMI showed conclusively that cesium accumulated in cow's milk, so I am certainly interested in hearing your response as to why this situation would be any different. 

dondonsurvelo's picture

Why should we trust your monitoring anymore than anyone elses?  You misled people on your oil spill predictions and now you are a radition expert. 

What is even more amazing is how many fools are following you.

barkingbill's picture

what are you talking about? go on and believe the liars who tell you this is nothing. your comments are retarded. and what about the gulf oil spill? what do you know about how the gulf is doing right now? 

dondonsurvelo's picture

Please please please tell us how we are screwed by everyone but you.  You are nothing but a fear mongerer.  You did it with the oil spill and you are doing it with the nuclear crisis. 

You sir are no George Washington.

DaveyJones's picture

Asking please three times will establish the truth you're after. So there is little fear or damage connected with either? He's a monger because both events have little fallout and are "petty" and "discreditable?" It should be easy for you to correct his "disinformation" by submiting your articles and your information sources  

ShatteredArm's picture

Lots of fearmongering going on.  Can't believe there has been a run on potassium iodide pills; we've officially lost it as a society.  Iodine and Cesium don't pose much of a threat; even if they can somehow make it across the ocean without latching on to water droplets and falling out of the sky, they will be so dispersed and so deteriorated that they won't pose a health threat.  And as TFA states, uranium and plutonium are really heavy, and aren't likely to travel very far.

Parts of Japan might be rendered uninhabitable, in the worst case scenario.  But the US will be fine.

ShatteredArm's picture

Looks like the tin foil hat crowd considers science to be junk.

Buck Johnson's picture

I totally forgot about the infrared satellites that we have.  I bet they knew about this because they probably got an infrared vid and/or pic of the reactors.

geekgrrl's picture

That was exactly what I thought when the NRC expressed concerns. They know, because they've looked at it with all the imaging satellites at their disposal, including infrared.

cheesewizz's picture

 Why has our government not shed and light on whats happening? Not even a fireside chat! Do people in California need to take any precaution's? Will the radiation continue to across to NYC? The outrage continues...


Roger Knights's picture

"Why has our government not shed and light on whats happening?"

It has started to, via the NYT story today (Thursday), hitting newsstands shortly. Here's the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/17/world/asia/17nuclear.html?_r=1&hp=&pag... )

jmc8888's picture

NerObama ain't no FDR.

If he was, we'd have Glass-Steagall and the banksters bets would be fucked.  He'd be on the side of the worker in Wisconsin.  He'd be increasing manufacturing.  He wouldn't be sucking Wall Street's dick. 

From such a wellspring, came the idea that, since I'm actually doing what my country needs, I can talk about it during fireside chats.  I can actually pimp my shit.  It's that good.  I don't need fundraising, or polls, or bending over.  I can actually run on what the fuck I'm doing for the American people. 

Obama can only read complete horseshit from a telemprompter, after being scanned by his handlers, to make sure he doesn't give a hint to the banksters and cronies that he is against them, because then he'll be forced to prove that he is with them, which means more fucking over of regular Americans.  You see, he's protecting us, that way.  That's the change we got.

If you had shit to run on or talk about like NerObama, would you fireside chat?  What principles would he tell us to fight for?  What would he describe our problem as being? What would he promise when he can't even deliver walking with Wisconsin's like he promised on the campaign trail.  Forget legislation, forget fireside chats, when he won't even walk against blatant fascism.  He could never get through a single fireside chat.  He's never had a conversation with us that even resembles 1/100th of a fireside chat.

Remember, you can get them online...and remember when a president actually had the balls to put a pointy stick up Wall Street's ass.

Audio (mp3) and text of fireside chats


Obama has no clue on how to be a president.  But he is. 

johnQpublic's picture

he picked his sweet 16 on video ,and played some golf

what more do you want?


and he's sending the Japs Brawndo to spray on the fuel rods....its got electrolytes!

Xkwisetly Paneful's picture

Awe what's wrong union bot?


Government being the largest consumer, borrower, lender, employer, landlord, renter and parents to 50million people not enough in a country founded on limited government ideals,

cry me a river while you people strangle anything remotely close to productive from the citizens.


Just raise taxes in the rich and when that is gone in two months try taxing stupidity so the neo marxist union bots actually experience real pane for a change. Live like a king and whine like a queen, real poignant.

ShatteredArm's picture

No, the people in California are just fine.  Driving to work will pose a greater threat to your health than radiation from Japan.

Dr. Porkchop's picture

It will prepare you for a future of walking through body scanners.

newbee's picture

Folks used to watch the nukes explode from Las Vegas hotels.  How many nukes have been tested - hundreds?  As bad as the Japan nuke issue is, there are plenty of nuts who would love to keep us energy dependent either by killing our own oil, gas, coal and yes nuke energy sources and dream of wind mills / solar panels blanketing the country that simply can't economically replace the standard energy sources.  Thorium reactors are not out of the question, a thousand years of nearly free energy already sourced with our existing nuke waste; so why do we let these kooks kill our chances to develop this technology? 


I can't help but wonder if the point is not only to destroy our chances of being energy independent, but also to distract attention away from other much more important issues - like to fact we're about to go to war AGAIN, this time with Libya.  OOOhhh! look over here little sheeples - pay no attention to that trivia stuff over there.....



tony bonn's picture

thank you george for speaking empowerment for self monitoring....i don't a believe a goddamned thing the government utters....i would love to see some empirical radiation readings....

on a slightly happier note, there are low doses of radiation which are actually healthy....not sure the quantities or types but there is absolutely a healthy form of radiation...

ThePhysicist's picture

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Step outside and observe that great fusion reactor overhead!

Bend down and pick up a handful of soil, its radioactive!


Bicycle Repairman's picture

Don't stay under the great fusion reactor too long.  You'll get skin cancer and die.

Cthonic's picture


Bend down and pick up a handful of soil, its radioactive!


Don't forget the bananas!