SALT LAKE CITY — Elevated levels of radiation have been measured outside the troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan. And now it's coming our way.
The jet stream is carrying a plume from Japan to the U.S. West coast, and possibly to Utah. But nearly all experts say there's no reason for concern here.
"At this point, I don't think so," said Peter Jenkins, medical physicist at the University of Utah Hospital who also chairs Utah's Radiation Control Board.
So far, Utah's network of radiation monitors has shown nothing unusual beyond background radiation. Experts say it won't get significantly higher unless the Japan crisis gets a lot worse than it already is.
"No, I don't think people should be worried today," said Craig Jones of Utah's Department of Environmental Quality.
Joseph Lyon, professor of family and preventative medicine at the U., played a key role as a whistle-blower linking thyroid and leukemia cases in downwinders to nuclear weapons testing in Nevada. Even he's not worried, yet, about America being downwind of Japan. "Now I'd say 'No, I'm not worried."
Lyon said the key health issue would be radioactive iodine, which decays rapidly due to its 8-day half-life. He said it will be greatly diluted during its passage across the Pacific, and wouldn't harm anyone unless they drank milk from cows that grazed in contaminated pastures. Lyons doesn't believe anyone will get any significant amount. "Increased dose is going to be so small it's probably not even detectable," Lyon said.
Jenkins said he understands the radiation level outside the Japanese power plant to be 100 times normal background radiation. And he believes it will be diluted about 1,000 times crossing the Pacific. "It's still a fraction of our normal background radiation," Jenkins said, "and so we might not be able to measure it when it gets here."
State monitoring equipment did detect contamination from the Soviet Union's Chernobyl disaster in 1986, but at insignificant levels. State officials predict a similar finding this time around. "Much more would have to happen before we should be worried," Jones said.
Lyon agrees, but he is concerned about the situation in Japan. "Who knows what's going to happen three, four days from now?" Lyon said. "This thing seems to be evolving."