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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 10:22 EDT

Radioactivity In The US? Maybe, But Not Likely

March 18, 2011

Radioactive particles leaking from Japan’s disaster-stricken nuclear power plant have been flowing eastward across the Atlantic in low concentrations and are expected to reach the North American coast within days, according to a Swedish official on Thursday.

But, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in Washington DC, said radioactivity would disperse over the long distance and it does not expect any harmful amounts to reach the United States.

“We expect the United States to avoid any levels of harmful radiation,” NRC spokesman Joey Ledford told Reuters. “We do not anticipate any threat to American interests.”

Research director Lars-Erik De Geer of the Swedish Defense Research Institute cited data from a network of international monitoring stations set up to detect signs of any nuclear weapons tests. He also stressed that the levels were not dangerous to people, but predicted they would eventually continue across the US, the Atlantic and then reach Europe.

“It is not something you see normally,” De Geer told Reuters reports Fredrik Dahl Fredrik Dahl by phone in Stockholm, adding the results were based on observations from earlier in the week. But the levels are “not high from any danger point of view.”

Eventually, the particles would be detected over the entire northern hemisphere, he said. “It is only a question of very, very low activities so it is nothing for people to worry about.” He added that in the past “when they had nuclear weapons tests in China … then there were similar clouds all the time without anybody caring about it at all.”

De Geer said while northern air masses typically move from west to east around the upper half of the planet, sometimes the direction changes and at times have turned.

The New York Times said a forecast showed the radioactive particles were churning across the Pacific and reached the Aleutian Islands Thursday, and would most likely reach southern California late Friday.

The NY Times said the projection was made by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), a Vienna-based independent agency that monitors possible breaches of the test ban.

The CTBTO has more than 60 stations around the globe which can pick up even the smallest levels of radioactivity. It continuously provides data to its member states, including Sweden, but doesn’t make its results public.

The NY Times said health and nuclear experts stressed that radiation would be quite diluted as it traveled and at worst would pose minor health concerns in the United States. After the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, radiation spread rapidly around the world and reached the west coast of the US in 10 days, with only miniscule measurements of radioactivity. 

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