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Nuclear meltdown in Japan probably would not threaten U.S. western coast, experts say

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March 14, 2011|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times
  • A hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station number three reactor on March 14, 2011.
A hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station number… (NHK / AFP / Getty Images )

A catastrophic meltdown of a nuclear power plant core in Japan probably would not threaten the health of Americans living in Hawaii or on the West Coast, nuclear experts say.

Most experts believe the chances of such a disaster are still remote. But if it occurred, it would be the Japanese people who would be in significant danger, said  Ken Bergeron, a physicist and former scientist with the Sandia National Laboratories, where he worked on nuclear reactor accident simulation. Bergeron spoke at a news conference Saturday arranged by the environmental group Friends of the Earth.

“This is a Japanese health issue of great significance and we shouldn’t confuse it with health concerns in the United States,” Bergeron said.

For U.S. residents “there would be no cause for any concern,” said Jerrold Bushberg, a medical physicist at UC Davis and a clinical professor of radiology and radiation oncology.

Any radiation being released, or that still could be released, would be diluted by air currents as it travels, experts said. The weather conditions in Japan at the time of a massive release of radiation, such as a calm and clear day versus a rainy day or the presence of a fire at the reactor site, would also influence radiation distribution.

Other experts said U.S. officials should have contingency plans for radiation exposure, such as the availability of iodine pills to counteract damage to the thyroid gland, which is vulnerable to radiation exposure.

“I think the chances of us having a major exposure here in the U.S. is not real high, but the problem is we still don’t know what’s happening,” said Dr. Ira Helfand, a member of the Physicians for Social Responsibility who also spoke at the news conference.

Related: Risk of meltdown increases at Japan nuclear reactor

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