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On March 11th, an earthquake in Japan caused a Tsunami that killed upwards of 20,000 people. The Tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant which houses six nuclear reactors. Power and the ability to cool the reactors failed. Explosions with release of radiation occurred at reactors number 1, number 2, number 3, and number 4. As of Sunday, reactors number 5 and 6 are safe. Power has been restored to reactor 2, and reactor 1 appears stable. Even with this good news, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) calls the situation “very serious”.
Radiation was released numerous times during the crisis. Unsafe levels of radiation were found within 50 miles of the plant in milk and leafy vegetables, as well as trace amounts (a safe level) of radioactive iodine was found in the drinking water of Tokyo. The Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant is located on the north eastern shore of Japan and fortunately the prevailing winds is pushing radiation away from the devastated country.
Radiation from this catastrophe has been detected in California on Friday. However, independent and government groups have not seen any noticeable increase in the background radiation. What this means is that the specific form of radiation that was released at the plant was detected in California, but they were not able to measure an increase in the overall background radiation level. While increased radiation levels are expected to hit California this week, most experts expect it to not be harmful. Even if there is a two to three times increase in background radiation in California from the accident, it will still be less than the amount of background radiation normally found in Denver Colorado.
While there has been a huge demand for potassium iodide pills (this non-radioactive iodide blocks the absorption of the radioactive kind), medical experts have been warning Americans not to take the high dose (50-130 mg) that is recommended for those close to the accident. Dr. David Brownstein, author of Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It, is recommending for people to consider 12-13 mg of iodine/iodide as a precaution to adults (for children: 0.08mg of iodine per pound of body weight). This is the equivalent of what is found in the Japanese diet (which is 9x the amount found in the typical American diet).
I am currently recommending the above dose only for those with low thyroid/iodine deficiency symptoms such as low body temperature, cold hands and feet, hair loss, low metabolism, and difficulty losing weight. These people would be the most vulnerable to any radioactive iodine. For others, I am recommending to just follow independent news sources, in case I am wrong about any increase in iodine, or if there is a change for the worse at the reactors. I would take a couple of days for any worse case scenarios to reach us from California.
Radioactive iodine is one of several radioactive isotopes given off. If there were a situation where radioactive fallout was occurring (such as close to the plant in Japan), then using an N-95 respiration mask would decrease the inhalation of these isotopes. Also stripping your clothes and then showering will reduce your exposure by 95%.
The global impact of these disasters has been significantly less than the disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. During that disaster, there were explosions that sent radiation into the jet stream. Also all of the reactors in Japan were shut down at the time of the tidal wave. The IAEA classified the Chernobyl accident as a 7 on their severity scale (with 7 being the worse), and the Fukushima reactors at 5 and 3 on the 7 part scale.
While I am cautiously optimistic that a total meltdown has been averted, I think it is wise to stay alert of any changes.
Yours in health,
IAEA Update on Japan Earthquake
Status of the Nuclear Reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant
Decontamination After Radiation Exposure: Simpler Than You May Think
As “increased” radiation hits California: Still no cause for panic.