Japanese radiation won't hurt Alaska

Posted: Friday, October 01, 1999

Alaska's monitoring systems are reacting to the nuclear leak in Japan, but residents are apparently in no immediate danger.

``The radiation will reach Alaska and the upper Northwest sometime over the weekend. Anything reaching the United States is expected to be negligible,'' said Doug Dasher, an environmental radiation specialist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation in Fairbanks.

The leak occurred at a uranium-processing plant in Tokaimura, Japan, 70 miles northeast of Tokyo. The levels of radiation were 10,000 to 15,000 times higher than normal at one time during the release.

Prevailing winds do carry airborne particles to Alaska, but there are many variations in the wind patterns, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

``We are in the (wind) flow pattern,'' said Brad Hahn of DEC's Fairbanks office. ``But the pattern varies somewhat.''

Currently, the pattern is carrying particulates to Manchuria and Mongolia in northeast China.

State officials said trajectory projections are being done by the National Weather Service and the U.S. Department of Energy. The projections show that any radiation released into the atmosphere above the nuclear plant would remain over Japan for the first 24 hours and then drift west for the next 72 hours.

The National Weather Service said if the plume of released radiation stays in the lower atmosphere, the threat will remain localized. However, if it has penetrated the upper atmosphere, above 30,000 feet, weather could spread it.

``If the plume of radiation gets into the upper atmosphere - which some call the jet stream - it would act much like when a volcano goes off,'' said Commissioner Mike Gibson with the state Division of Emergency Services at Fort Richardson. ``It gets into the jet stream and can come down thousands of miles away.''

Plume models so far do not show this radiation as getting into the jet stream, he said.

As far as foods produced in Japan, such as seaweed wrappers for sushi, Gibson said, if products are shown to be contaminated, trade sanctions could be put on products.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains monitoring sites that include radiation measurements in Nome, Kotzebue, Point Hope, Seward and Fairbanks, Dasher said. Sites that filter air for radiation only are located in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau.

Juneau's filter was missing Thursday, ``but we sent one Gold Streak (special air delivery),'' said Hahn of DEC. The filter should be installed today.

Hahn thought the nuclear accident was a beneficial heads-up.

``We are pretty lucky on this. It was a very good exercise for us. It goes 10 years between these events, and you lose your readiness of response,'' Hahn said.

The state Department of Conservation maintains Gamma Radiation Air Monitoring Systems in Point Hope, Seward, Nome, Kotzebue and Fairbanks. The Gamma systems are real time monitors and will immediately detect radiation in the air, said a DEC release.Readers who wish to access the radiation levels at each of the Gamma sites can do so via the internet at the Web site: http://newnet.jdola.lanl.gov/usmap-lanl.asp

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