U.S. may be ill-prepared to track ground fallout from Japanese meltdowns

By Michael Collins

The first reactor explosion Sunday left the top half of the built blown to smithereens. A second nuclear reactor building blew apart in earthquake and tsunami-devastated Monday blowing material high into the air. The blast could be felt 30 kilometers away.

Tuesday brought another blast in another reactor at the Fukishima site in northeastern Japan. And just as alarming, a fire erupted in the spent fuel rod pools in the fourth reactor the same day which has far more radiation in it than a reactor core.

Thousands are dead with an unknown number of radiological exposures. 200,000 civilians were told to evacuate because of the multiple nuclear meltdowns but the grim scenario got even worse.

The evacuation zone grew from ten to twenty to thirty kilometers around the hot zone as radiation levels are ten times normal in a city 100 kilometers north of Tokyo.

Emergency broadcasts on NHK television underscored the near-apocalyptic scenario that was unfolding at Fukushima.

“For those in the evacuation area, close your windows and doors,” said emergency broadcasts on NHK television. “Switch off your air conditioners. If you are being evacuated, cover yourself as much as possible and wear a facemask. Stay calm.

And it’s going to get worse. Much worse.

But according to the government, everything’s going to be okay in the US as of this writing with no heightened radiation and plenty of anti-radiation potassium-iodide, or KI, pills stockpiled here in California.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the county’s public health honcho, Jonathan Fielding, dismissed any problems with planning and said so today:

Fielding, in a news conference Tuesday, said his office has checked local government stockpiles of potassium iodide. If risk of radiation exposure became an issue, Fielding said, “there would be plenty of warning and opportunity to obtain the medication.”

That may not be the case, according to an expert panel at a March 12 press conference including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and EnviroReporter.com. Not only is the availability of KI questionable, people are finding that the relatively cheap compound is nowhere to be found at their pharmacies or over the Internet.

Even for the lucky folks who have KI pills, which should only be used during an actual nuclear event like heavy fallout over LA and under a doctor’s supervision, the press conference also revealed that California and the rest of the United States have very few static land-based radiation monitoring stations. We are radiation-blind on the ground.

If the unthinkable happens – a full Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown or multiple meltdowns with spent fuel rods on fire – and huge amounts of radiation is shot skyward in superheated groundwater steam, it is possible that Southern California could experience nuclear fallout.

But who would know? Even if the Air Force can track radiation plumes coming over the Pacific, that is if they do, once they make landfall, there is no network of readily-accessible live-time radiation detecting in the area.

Could an unseen and silent killer could move among us and we not even know it? Could Los Angeles be headed for a “soft disaster”? Certainly none of us want that to happen but short of having a nuclear radiation monitor, as EnviroReporter.com does, how could anyone know?

“We just don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Dr. Ira Helfand, a radioactive exposure expert and board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Quite frankly, the operators of the plants don’t either.”

Helfand explained that each of these reactors had enough radiation in their cores to be equivalent to that of 1,000 of the atomic bomb the United States dropped on Hiroshima in World War II.

“We’re in uncharted territory,” said Ken Bergeron, a physicist and former Sandia scientist where he worked on nuclear reactor accident simulation. “We’re in a land where statistics tell us we shouldn’t be.”

But we are in this land together and the worsening news points to the possibility that radiation could flow on the jet stream across the Pacific to the west coast of the United States and Southern California.

“”The wind direction for the time being seems to point the [radioactive] pollution towards the Pacific,” said Andre-Claude Lacoste of the French Nuclear Safety Authority, briefing reporters in Paris on the burgeoning disaster this weekend.

But you would never know it from the now repetitious pronouncements of the California Department of Public Health including this one uttered to the Los Angeles Times today by CDPH spokesperson Mike Sicilia.

“It’s a matter of distance,” Sicilia told the Times. “Dangerous radioactivity could not cross the 5,000 miles of the Pacific without petering out.”

That is totally inaccurate and implies that somehow that the distance will completely dissipate the destructiveness of the radiation. It does not. We just don’t know at this point and to say that is not only ignorant but possibly dangerous because it could lull a already shell-shocked populace into complacency about the potential for fallout.

The fact that the explosions and fires at Fukushima have been spewing radiation at fairly low altitudes, however, does mean that most of this radiation will drift eastwards towards the U.S. and probably drop into the Pacific Ocean before getting here.

That may not be the case if the worst possible scenario plays out: multiple meltdowns including spent reactor rods in cooling ponds catch fire and burn out completely.

A meltdown would probably see the intensely hot radioactive goo burn its way through the earth until hitting the groundwater which would result in a huge explosion of radioactive steam which would shoot high in the atmosphere if the weather conditions are right.

If the prevailing winds of the jet stream take these toxins across the ocean towards America, this country could be looking at a “soft disaster” where the West Coast, and beyond into the heartland, could experience radioactive fallout that could last weeks or even months.

Would people in Southern California even know it? The Environmental Protection Agency says it tests the air, water and food for radiation though precisely where is not common knowledge. But will there this enough on-the-ground information that is accurate to give Americans a so-called ‘comfort level’?

Not according to Robert Alvarez who is a senior scholar for the Institute for Policy Studies where he is currently focused on nuclear disarmament and environmental and energy policies. Alvarez is also a former senior policy advisor for the U.S. Secretary of Energy where he coordinated the effort to enact nuclear worker compensation legislation.

“We just don’t know the magnitude of release might be if things really turn out to be the worst,” Alvarez said in response to a question of this reporter. “But in terms of answering part your question of ‘how would we know’ in this country; right now I’m very sure that the US Department of Energy and Department of Defense are deploying their assets around these reactor sites in terms of aerial radiological surveillance. If there are any major releases, especially those that would travel over great distances, there would be quite a bit of tracking of the plume particularly by the energy and defense department aircraft.

“On the ground, in terms of picking up radiological measurements, that becomes problematic because states have their own radiation monitoring systems but because of the tremendous problems of funding state functions now a lot of these activities in the United States are being curtailed. If there were to be a major release, then it would go over the United States in some way or form. It would be up to the federal government to warn the public and the actual on the ground reading would be very very sparse. That’s a concern.”

That’s a concern of ours at EnviroReporter.com as well. That’s why we’ve set up EnviroReporter.com‘s Radiation Station which will go online soon. The station will also link to other Geiger Counters that are streaming via webcam should other Americans choose to monitor the air for the airborne goo.

Utilizing a RadAlert Inspector nuclear radiation monitor streaming via webcam, viewers will get a real time idea of whether any spikes in radiation are being detected in the Los Angeles Basin.

The monitor location on the border of West Los Angeles is well-placed as the prevailing sea breezes blow through Santa Monica and West LA before moving inland to Hollywood, Downtown and beyond. The readings at our office will be online 24/7 and accessible at EnviroReporter.com‘s Radiation Station.

But what most viewers of this free information won’t see is where to get KI pills in case the unthinkable happens and the radiation levels start to soar in Southern California. By then, it will be too late to efficiently, and without panic, distribute the pills.

Health honcho Fielding should know this. The reporters questioning him and other responsible official might want to consider the logistics of these statements of preparedness when it comes to KI pill distribution.

It seems selfish to think about the potential needs of Americans when the Japanese have been so devastated by this triple disaster. But it would be unconscionable not to provide the public with as much information and resources to prepare for the hopefully slim chance that we’re headed for the hot zone. EnviroReporter.com can provide some information but it can’t provide the pills.

The situation is simple and time may be running out: the government has the KI pills and the people don’t. Give the people KI pills. Now.

If it’s all for nothing then we can thank our lucky stars. The government can produce more pills and the people pack them away to be handy the next time a big earthquake breaks a nuclear reactor sitting on top of or next to a fault.


  1. We are now at 122 days out. Except now we KNOW we were lied to initially and I would say it’s safe to assume we still are.

    “We just don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Dr. Ira Helfand, a radioactive exposure expert and board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Quite frankly, the operators of the plants don’t either.”
    (We still don’t.)

    “We’re in uncharted territory,” said Ken Bergeron, a physicist and former Sandia scientist where he worked on nuclear reactor accident simulation. “We’re in a land where statistics tell us we shouldn’t be.”
    (We still are.)

    …as told to the Los Angeles Times:
    “It’s a matter of distance,” Sicilia (CDPH spokesperson) told the Times. “Dangerous radioactivity could not cross the 5,000 miles of the Pacific without petering out.”
    (NOT True obviously, but we knew that then and we for sure know it now.)

  2. Enviroreporter has a long history of what happened at the Santa Susana Field Lab, and as a result the concerns reported here are entirely legitimate. The establishment of a monitoring station is greatly appreciated.

    Coincidentally, the New York Academy of Sciences just published one of its “Annals” which contains the English translation of Russian and Belorussian Physicists Yablokov, Nesterenko and Nesterenko summary of Slavic language medical and scientific literature on what really happened to the people, animals and biota downwind of Chernobyl. The book is called Chernobyl Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. Their book shows that “down wind” included Norway, Sweden, Bavaria, Greece and Turkey with massive amounts of radioactive fall out…well beyond the geographic fall out zone which ordinary people would have been expected in Ukraine, Belorussia, Southwestern Russia and Poland.

    So, sadly we still learn from Chernobyl and what we learn is that concern for California and the rest of the western U.S., in terms of public health issues is well founded. Just yesterday, the French government told its citizens not to feed tap water, milk or soft cheese to their infants and children. Just yesterday there were news stories about radioactive Cesium and radioactive Iodine being detected in Idaho. Just today, there was a news story that used cars being shipped from Japan to China were turned away because they were screened and found to be highly radioactive. EPA now purports to be testing milk in some locations, but by the time the test reports are posted, they are a week old. See: http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-sampling-data.html#milk

    The emission of radionuclides from Fukushima is continuing, and will continue for a long period of time. The situation at Fukushima is not under control. If a catastrophic melt down occurs, those of us in the west, and in particular our children and grandchildren will be doubly screwed. Enviroreporter gets it. Few other commentators do.

  3. Your site goes a long way to creating some comfort. People should realize that the government has little real concern about its citizens. Look how they purposely released radiation from the Hanford site in WA to see what effect it had on the citizens.

  4. Thanks for creating this outstanding site. My heart goes out to all the Japanese who suffer greatly as a result of the triple disaster, and am at the same time concerned about the long term effects here in the US.

    If the radiation can be brought under control and our worries alleviated, great. But the chance for things to go so wrong is rising each day that they fight for that control that is so difficult in this situation. The number of toxic sources of long term radiation are not being discussed in any depth. The one type of radiation that is constantly mentioned has the 8 day half life, and so everyone seems satisfied, complacent, that it’s basically a “non-issue” anymore.

    And yet… the jet stream keeps moving, and the situation gets hotter in Japan.

  5. Thank you for setting up a monitor I will be checking it daily. I am very concerned about the plutonium releases from reactor #3 and do not know if anyone is monitering the plutonium?

  6. Thanks for the Extra Support for us concerned citizens. At a time of a poor economy and folks out of work – we can ill afford to purchase what you have so graciously provided us to view. Thank you again. (Saved me $600) LOL

  7. Markus from Germany

    i’m watching the tv reports for days now – with rising fear of a multiple meltdown. our authorities say there will be no danger for germany, although the official measuring posts in germany aren’t allowed anymore to show the values in real-time !!! this article from a local newspaper could be read yesterday on a private website http://www.wisnewski.de – now this site is offline…the officals stated the values are not posted real-time to avoid misreadings by amateurs. this sounds like massive censorship to avoid panic reactions. i can imagine the fear at the american west coast as it’s thousands of miles nearer to the hazardous reactors…in my opinion japan will go down as changing wind directions will spread massive radioactivity over the whole island, even without total meltdowns…

  8. Hey, thanks for setting up the rad monitor ! Forget about Madjerry comment, he’s probably a Government Troll…. The only slant his brain can handle is Regurgitated Disinformation from the Corporate TV programming boxes.

  9. The Canadian government set up NINE new radiation monitoring stations in British Colombia while here in California where we’re expecting radiation fallout from Japan AND where we have nuclear reactors of the same type on the ocean and in earthquake country there are few and no new stations set up.

    Although I agree with the previous reader that your station may not be wholly accurate or representative of radiation exposure it is a great step toward independent monitoring. And it’s a great idea to encourage others to do the same. Thank you!!

  10. mad jerry! the name says it all. you are an arrogant bastard. how dare you bad mouth people that are only trying to educate the people. obviously the government has shown it lack of care before in previous disasters. they are merely trying to help. no need to get your panties in a bunch and type a fucking novel. do me a favor step away from your comfortable computer chair and walk outside of your nice home or office (wherever you may be) and find a way to get to fukushima then let me know how you feel after being there for a week. my guess will be oohhh idk thyroid cancer maybe……. no your facts before you try and get high and mighty…

  11. if you wanted to get clear of any possible fall out. Wher would be the safest place to be in california?

  12. Am EXTREMELY grateful for your monitoring station. MUCH appreciation. : )

  13. Wow- (to madjerry)- have you, or the government anything better? I don’t think this article was attempting to say that the radiation has yet killed thousands of people. I think it was trying to express that the situation is serious, and yet the government is still trying to keep us in the dark, so to speak. How much worse can it get, a lot worse if the governments do not care about the health of the people. How is that for morale? We, as grown adults, do not need to act like scared children. We, as adults, need to act like informed adults that are responsible, and even though we are scared still, we can keep a level head even if the government goes out on a limb and is HONEST with anything that is occurring. We need to be truthful to each other as adults. Keeping the truth away in order to protect from any kind of hysteria should be done only with children, (as it is understandable that most- although not all- children may panic)And, even with children there are times when we need to be honest and tell them the truth for their own sake.
    Also, in regards to your comment on his rad monitor, is he saying that any radiation picked up would be from Japan? Also, is he saying to disregard any radiation unless it is from Japan. I know he is intelligent, so he would understand the implications of a large amount of radiation coming here from Japan. 9the environmental implications would be disgraceful if the amount of radiation from Japan made it over here in amounts that made it over here, and were still considered to be large. But, radiation is always bad and so it does not hurt to have something like this turned on as long as possible. By the way, he is trying to help inform us capable ADULTS by giving us information that we need in order to make smart decisions. I say the earlier we know about any levels of radiation that are starting to get higher than average the better. You do know that if we end up needing to take emergency levels of potassium iodine, that the earlier we take it, (after getting approval from our doctors if someone is over 40, pregnant, already has a thyroid condition or is a child), the better it protects us?
    In conclusion, I want to thank the gentleman, and everyone that contributes to this website. i feel they all deserve an award in publishing, since the government fails to do so.

  14. Wow, this article has some of the most slanted writing I have ever seen in what pretends to be a journalistic endeavour. “Thousands are dead with an unknown number of radiological exposures.” You don’t think that could have been worded to sound less like you are trying to say radiation was responsible for thousands of people who are dead. Not to mention they died because of copious amounts of water pouring over them. The nuclear reactor has yet to kill anyone.

    And about your rad monitor… If it does spike how do you know that its from Japan. You have a super small sample of background data to measure it against. For all anyone knows it could be a navy ship floating by or someone driving home from the radiology clinic…

    Based on what I have seen on my first trip to this “thing” I am certain you would automatically say it was from Japan anyway, without the slightest attempt to confirm it. Let me know if the rads you “capture” brought any miso soup with them to let us know they are japanese neutrons.

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