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Entries in Nuclear Power Plants (2)

Wednesday
Mar162011

Radiation Exists Across US but Mostly Harmless, Experts Say

Ablestock.com/Thinkstock (file photo of a Geiger counter)(NEW YORK) -- Despite U.S. consumers' growing awareness of iodide pills, Geiger counters and emergency kits in the wake of Japan's nuclear scare, most Americans have little to worry about, according to experts.

Radiation, they say, is all around us, even inside of us, and it's perfectly safe for the most part.

To illustrate the point, ABC News took a Geiger counter around New York City to test different objects and locations.  Even in the middle of Central Park, there was always a background level of radiation.  At a food stand in the park, a banana made the Geiger counter rise a little bit.  Bananas contain potassium, which people need to live, but is also radioactive.

Over at Grand Central Station, the meter on the Geiger counter moved a lot.  Grand Central was built with granite and marble, which are both radioactive.

Eric Hall, a nuclear researcher at Columbia University in New York City, said that the thousands of people who walk through Grand Central every day are not at risk of getting sick because the radioactivity around them comes in "very, very small" doses.

Another activity that exposes people to radiation is air travel.  In the course of a year, a flight crew flying between Tokyo and New York is exposed to 14 millisieverts of radiation.

In fact, every year, just walking around the planet, each individual is exposed to about 3.5 millisieverts of radiation.  That's about 67 chest X-rays, or 134 cross-country plane trips.

Here is a comparison of the radiation levels of everyday items and activities:

-- Banana: .0007 mSv
-- Pistachio: .001 mSv
-- Smoke Detector: .0029 mSv
-- Abdominal CT Scan: 10 mSv

Experts say even a full meltdown in Japan would be no reason for alarm in the United States.

"If any radiation were to make it here, it would be merely background levels and nothing for people on the West Coast or people in the United States to be concerned about," said Jere Jenkins, the director of Radiation Laboratories at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.

In order to get radiation sickness, a person would need to be exposed to at least 1,000 millisieverts of radiation at once.  For most people, a fatal dose is about five times that amount; a range of 3,500 to 5,000 mSv of radiation at once is deadly, which would be equivalent to spending 10 hours close to the  Fukushima Daiichi reactor.

To put that in perspective, the radiation levels at the scene of the fire at the nuclear plant in Japan have reached about 400 millisieverts per hour, meaning a person would have to be right there at the fire for two and a half hours to get sick.

Radiation workers have a limit of 50 mSv per year.  Workers who are reaching that limit are being pulled out now.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Mar142011

US Nuclear Plants Safer than Those in Japanese Crisis, Industry Says

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- As experts in Japan race to stave off a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, the U.S. nuclear industry says a similar emergency is unlikely to happen in this country.

Even though 23 of the 104 nuclear reactors in the U.S. are of the same General Electric design as the Fukushima reactors causing the crisis in Japan, a nuclear industry spokesman said there are guidelines in the United States that would decrease the likelihood of such a disaster here.

"We think we're pretty well equipped," said Tony Pietrangelo, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group.  "We do plan for blackouts, earthquakes, and tsunamis.  Clearly what happened in Japan is well beyond what they were designed for.  It's highly unlikely but we have a station blackout rule to deal specifically with what happened in Japan.  We think we're pretty well equipped."

The 23 General Electric-designed reactors are more than 40 years old and are spread throughout the U.S., in cities such as Toms River, New Jersey; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Vernon, Vermont.  To generate electrical power, these nuclear reactors use a boiling water system known as a boiling water reactor.

These reactors continue to produce heat even after fission reactions have stopped.  Normally, water pumps are used to cool them, but the pumps are powered by electricity.

Following the tsunami caused by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan on Friday, the widespread loss of electricity meant emergency crews had to truck in sea water to cool the reactors.

At the Fukushima plants, 175 miles north of Tokyo, experts told ABC News Sunday that it appears evident that there has already been some damage at the core of one or more reactors.  If the reactors don't cool down soon, the world could experience another disaster on the scale of the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986.

"We're at tipping point," said Joe Cirincione, a nuclear security expert.  "In next 48 hours we will either see the reactors start to cool down, or these last-ditch efforts will fail and reactors will spin out of control and we will see meltdown at one or more [reactors].  Totally unprecedented."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio