Entries in Radiation (8)


San Onofre Nuclear Plant Closed After Radiation Leak

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- A small quantity of radioactive gas leaked inside one of the buildings at San Onofre nuclear power plant north of San Diego, according to a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The spokesman said the radiation levels were “barely measurable,” but concern was high enough to shut the plant down.

Officials say the radiation leak likely occurred in the steam generator tubes of San Onofre’s reactor #3. The steam system, which is supposed to be shielded from exposure to radiation, was replaced in December 2010.

San Onofre is one of dozens of U.S. reactors facing new scrutiny after Japan’s nuclear crisis. It is located right on the coast, and in the heart of America’s earthquake country.

It also is right next door to Camp Pendleton, the Navy’s West Coast hub, where 70,000 sailors, marines and their families would be in immediate danger if there’s ever a meltdown.

ABC News visited San Onofre the day the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan melted down. At the time, plant officials were eager to reassure the public that the same thing could not happen on the California coast.

“This plant is safe,” California Edison’s Chief Nuclear Officer Pete Dietrich told ABC News.

After Japan, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission updated its seismic model and in a report issued Tuesday found that 96 reactors in the central and southern U.S. may be at a higher risk for quakes than previously thought.

The report included parts of the country that are not traditionally seen as geologically active, places like Chattanooga, Tenn., Savannah, Ga., Jackson, Miss., Manchester, N.H., and Houston, Texas.

Major metropolitan areas are uncomfortably close to major nuclear plants, with as many as 120 million Americans living within 50 miles of a nuclear reactor, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Indian Point, outside of New York City, has 20 million people living within a 50-mile radius. And Dresden is just 50 miles from the heavily-populated suburbs of Chicago.

Nuclear regulators plan to give plant operators four years to re-evaluate seismic risks, but some of the plants may be too expensive to make earthquake safe.

However, in the case of San Onofre, it’s unlikely the leak had anything to do with seismic safety and was probably just faulty equipment.  Officials have been taking extra care to reassure the public that there’s no danger, since after Japan, the idea of radiation leaking from a nuclear plant tends to set people on edge.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Los Alamos Fire: First Air Samples Show No Elevated Radiation

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(LOS ALAMOS, N.M.) -- The wildfire that surrounds the nuclear lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico, has grown to at least 61,000 acres amid mounting concerns about what might be in the smoke that's visible from space.

Such fear has prompted fire crews to set their own fires along the perimeter of the lab.  So far, the strategy is working.  The first air samples show lots of smoke, but no signs of elevated radiation.

"Those results show that what we see in this fire is exactly what we see in any fire across New Mexico," said Charles McMillan, the lab's director.

Environmental officials aren't taking any chances.  The Environmental Protection Agency is bringing in dozens of air monitors all around the state, along with a special airplane that takes instant radiation samples.  So far, officials have not been able to find anything amiss.

"Our facilities and nuclear material are protected and safe," McMillan told ABC News.

Some observers are worried not just about the barrels of nuclear waste stored at the lab, but also what's in the canyons that surround the sprawling complex.  Nuclear tests were performed in the canyons dating back to the 1940s.

"The trees have grown up during that time frame and the soil could be contaminated," said Rita Bates of the New Mexico Environment Department.  "If it gets heated and that stuff goes airborne, then we are concerned about that."

The canyons were a dumping ground for radioactive materials decades ago, but are now open to the public and are considered safe.

Still, one graduate student armed with a Geiger counter took to YouTube to show there was no shortage of metal or radioactivity.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


EPA Testing for Radiation in New Mexico Wildfire

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(LOS ALAMOS, N.M.) -- The wildfire that surrounds the nuclear lab in Los Alamos, New Mexico, has grown to at least 61,000 acres amid mounting concerns about what might be in the smoke from the blaze that's so big it's visible from space.

Such fear has prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to bring in air monitors, along with a special airplane that checks for radiation levels. So far officials have not been able to find anything.

"Our facilities and nuclear material are protected and safe," Laboratory Director Dr. Charles McMillan told ABC News.

The Los Alamos facility -- the birthplace of the atomic bomb -- was shrouded in secrecy long before it was surrounded by smoke after the Las Conchas fire began Sunday.

"It contains approximately 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste," former top security official Glen Walp said.  "It's not contained within a concrete, brick and mortar-type building, but rather in a sort of fabric-type building that a fire could easily consume."

"Potential is high for a major calamity if the fire would reach these areas," he added.

Reports have indicated that the flames from the 95-square-mile fire have reached as close as 50 feet from the grounds.  With a wildfire this close, lab officials, along with government officials such as New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, are trying to reassure the public of the plant's safety.

"I'm confident in saying that they are committed to making it safe," Martinez told ABC News.

After a mass evacuation, the city of Los Alamos remains a ghost town.  Most of its 12,000 residents were evacuated Monday, some leaving their sprinklers on to protect their homes.

Still, according to Police Chief Wayne Torpy, about 150 die-hard residents have stayed behind, unfazed by the danger presented by their nuclear neighbor.

Firefighters have made progress in the past few days, and have said that the risk of the flames reaching radioactive material is slim.  Still, they caution that winds Wednesday could change, as could their level of confidence.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Radioactive Iodine Found in Washington State Milk; Levels Safe

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Government officials say radioactive iodine particles have made their way from Japan's crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to Washington state, infiltrating milk.

Traces of radiation have been detected in samples of milk taken in the state, but the levels are low enough that they do not pose a health threat.

"It's hard to hear about radiation in milk and not be concerned but let me put it in perspective," says Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' senior health and medical editor.  "The amount of iodine in milk from Spokane is five thousand times below the level of concern for iodine -- five thousand times -- so while it is concerning that there's radiation there, this is not a threat to health."

"The level of radioactive iodine in milk is safe," adds Besser, who says he would drink the milk and give it to his children.

Besser says although the level is safe now, "it's worth paying attention [to] to make sure the levels don't continue to rise," and the government is doing just that -- the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration are stepping up their radiation monitoring.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Trace Amounts of Japan's Radioactive Fallout Found in US Rainwater

Michael Blann/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan has had a residual effect felt all the way in the U.S., with rainwater here showing trace amounts of radiation.

It seems that the very lightly contaminated rain is turning up coast-to-coast, with radiation showing up in Nevada and other Western states and as far East as North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

One of the radioactive by-products found in U.S. rain is in iodine-131, which briefly caused Japan to institute a ban on tap water in Tokyo and other prefectures.  However, there are no such worries here, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In fact, the risk to the public is so low that the EPA says that Americans are exposed to far more radiation when they take an international airline flight.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Japan's Nuclear Crisis: US Safe From Radiation, Say Engineers

DigitalGlobe via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As radiation levels continue to rise in Japan while engineers keep struggling with the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, many people in the U.S. are wondering if the danger could spread to American shores.

To those who might worry, nuclear engineers and meteorologists said the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, is safe.

"These releases from the plant, because they're not elevated, because they're not getting up high in the atmosphere, they won't travel very far," said Kathryn Higley, director of the department of nuclear engineering at Oregon State University.  "There are so many factors in our favor.  Rain will knock it down.  There are 5,000 miles of ocean between us and Japan.  It will be diluted, it will mix with sea spray, long before it gets remotely close to us."

The high-aititude winds over Japan are primarily out of the west, which is good news for Japan in a worst-case scenario if there were a large release of radiation into the air.

And in a worst-case scenario, where radioactive particles would be carried long-distance by upper-level winds, Edward Morse, a nuclear engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, told ABC News in an email that "we will get some fallout on the West Coast two to three days after its release in Japan."  He added that "the levels will not be threatening to life and health but they will be observable."

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

Higley said she has been spending a lot of time over the last few days urging calm.

"We have monitoring capability here in the U.S. that is extraordinarily sensitive.  We can detect radiation that is like a hundred-thousandth of what you get from a regular X-ray, and we don't expect to see even that."

"For the stuff to travel, it has to be picked up by the wind," she said, "higher-level winds that have global distribution.  And that's just not happening.  This is a little like a campfire -- the smoke is all near the ground."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Radiation Exists Across US but Mostly Harmless, Experts Say (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


Napolitano: Radiation from Japan's Nuclear Reactors Not a Threat to US

Alex Wong/Getty Images(DENVER) -- With Japan’s nuclear radiation situation worsening, officials in the United States are taking a sharper look at the safety, and faults, of America’s nuclear facilities. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the nuclear failures in Japan will “undoubtedly” expedite disaster planning at U.S. nuclear plants.

“We constantly think about, prepare, exercise, work with our states, our localities, our utilities and the private sector on thinking about what would occur and exercise to the point of failure,” Napolitano told ABC News Tuesday after a conference in Denver.

Napolitano sought to quiet fears of radiation drifting from Japan to California shores.

“The level of radiation coming out of Japan does not put the United States at risk,” she said.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people living 12 to 19 miles around the plant to stay indoors Tuesday after fears that a containment vessel at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was leaking radiation. Concerns that the radiation would spread across the Pacific to the United States sparked a mad dash in California for potassium iodide, which protects the thyroid from radiation poisoning.

There are 15 American nuclear power plants that have the same or similar design as the site in Japan where explosions near three reactors have the country on high alert for nuclear radiation. The U.S. plants are located along the New Madrid fault line which runs through eight states -- Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi -- and could affect more than 15 million people.

“As we look at something like the upcoming New Madrid fault exercise, we will be stressing our systems and looking to what they can withstand and where we need to continue to improve,” Napolitano said.

“Just as we have learned as a nation from Katrina, on response when there’s a major incident, just as we have learned from the BP oil spill this last year, I’m sure in the, sure in the aftermath when all is said and done we’ll learn something from the tragedy occurring in Japan,” Napolitano said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio