UPDATED – (please note differences in what was detected in Washington State and California)

WASHINGTON – The United States Government has an extensive network of radiation monitors around the country and no radiation levels of concern have been detected.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency RadNet system is designed to protect the public by notifying scientists, in near real time, of elevated levels of radiation so they can determine whether protective action is required.  The EPA’s system has not detected any radiation levels of concern.

In addition to EPA’s RadNet system, the U.S. Department of Energy has radiation monitoring equipment at research facilities around the country, which have also not detected any radiation levels of concern.

As part of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization’s International Monitoring System (IMS), the Department of Energy also maintains the capability to detect tiny quantities of radioisotopes that might indicate an underground nuclear test on the other side of the world.  These detectors are extremely sensitive and can detect minute amounts of radioactive materials.

Today, one of the monitoring stations in Sacramento, California that feeds into the IMS detected miniscule quantities of iodine isotopes and other radioactive particles that pose no health concern at the detected levels.  Collectively, these levels amount to a level of approximately 0.0002 disintegrations per second per cubic meter of air (0.2 mBq/m3).  Specifically, the level of Iodine-131 was 0.165 mBq/m3, the level of Iodine-132 was measured at 0.03 mBq/m3, the level of Tellurium-132 was measured at 0.04 mBq/m3, and the level of Cesium-137 was measured at 0.002 mBq/m3. 

Similarly, between March 16 and 17, a detector at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington State detected trace amounts of Xenon-133, which is a radioactive noble gas produced during nuclear fission that poses no concern at the detected level.  The levels detected were approximately 0.1 disintegrations per second per cubic meter of air (100 mBq/m3),

The doses received by people per day from natural sources of radiation - such as rocks, bricks, the sun and other background sources - are 100,000 times the dose rates from the particles and gas detected in California or Washington State.

These types of readings remain consistent with our expectations since the onset of this tragedy, and are to be expected in the coming days.

Following the explosion of the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine in 1986 – the worst nuclear accident in world history – air monitoring in the United States also picked up trace amounts of radioactive particles, less than one thousandth of the estimated annual dose from natural sources for a typical person.

As part of the federal government’s continuing effort to make our activities and science transparent and available to the public, the Environmental Protection Agency will continue to keep all RadNet data available in the current online database.  

Please see www.epa.gov/radiation for more information.


As noted below, all “general populations” must be moved 10 miles from a nuclear power plant during an evacuation.

The "minimum" mandated relocation distance for the general population is 5 miles past the 10 mile plume exposure boundary. (15 miles from the reactor)

The NRC recommends the general population be located 10 miles past the 10 mile plume exposure boundary. (20 miles from the reactor)

However, host school pick up centers for kids only need to be 10 miles and 1 inch from the reactor. Please note the proximity of host school centers for kids. TMI is the only community to evacuate an accident .

TMI-Alert's solution to the problem of proximity was for host school pickup centers to be located a minimum distances of at least five miles and preferably 10 miles beyond the plume exposure boundary zone

“The requirements that the NRC upheld allow host school pickup centers to be just outside of the 10 mile radiation plume exposure boundary zone, and fail to adequately protect kids." He added, "Why does the NRC insist on keeping children within a zone of exposure during a radiological emergency?


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From the Associated Press:

The partial meltdown at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island nuclear plant in 1979 routed more than 180,000 people living within 50 miles of the plant, a five-day evacuation nightmare that residents are reliving as the nuclear plant crisis unfolds in Japan.

Then-Gov. Dick Thornburgh advised pregnant women and preschool children within five miles of the Susquehanna River plant to leave after the March 28, 1979, TMI accident. Tens of thousands more responded.

Emergency sirens blared and massive traffic jams snarled area roadways through farmlands near the state Capitol amid fears the Unit 2 reactor could unleash a massive amount of radiation into the river or the atmosphere.

"People just left, and they left not knowing if they would return, or what provisions to take with them," said Eric Epstein, chairman of TMI Alert, a safe energy group that monitors Three Mile Island and two other nuclear plants in Pennsylvania.

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From the New York Times:

Years of procrastination in deciding on long-term disposal of highly radioactive fuel rods from nuclear reactors are now coming back to haunt Japanese authorities as they try to control fires and explosions at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

Some countries have tried to limit the number of spent fuel rods that accumulate at nuclear power plants: Germany stores them in costly casks, for example, while China sends them to a desert storage compound in the western province of Gansu. But Japan, like the United States, has kept ever-larger numbers of spent fuel rods in temporary storage pools at the power plants, where they can be guarded with the same security provided for the plants.

Figures provided by Tokyo Electric Power on Thursday show that most of the dangerous uranium at the power plant is actually in the spent fuel rods, not the reactor cores themselves.

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Dept. of Environmental Protection


HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the state departments of Environmental Protection and Health are working with federal partners to monitor the situation at Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors.

“We receive regular updates from federal agencies that are working closely with the Japanese authorities,” said PEMA Director Glenn M. Cannon. “At this point, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given us no indication that radiation from Japan poses a threat to Pennsylvania residents.”

The Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Radiation Protection is maintaining close communications with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or NRC, regarding the worsening situation in Japan.

Although little, if any, radioactive material is expected to reach the continental U.S., DEP has an extensive environmental surveillance program in place around Pennsylvania’s five nuclear power plant sites that would be able to detect if any radioactivity from Japan reached the state.

The NRC requires that U.S. nuclear power plants be designed and built to withstand the most severe natural phenomena historically reported for each specific site and surrounding area, such as earthquakes and even tsunamis.

The best way for residents to stay safe is to stay informed and monitor local media, Cannon said. If necessary, health and emergency management officials would alert the public as to what action they should take.

“While there is no imminent threat to Pennsylvania, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan serve as vivid reminders that everyone should take steps to learn what to do in an emergency, be it a fire, flood, nuclear incident or a chemical spill,” Cannon said. “Visit ReadyPA.org to learn how you and your family can be better prepared.”

ReadyPA is a state campaign that encourages citizens to take three basic steps before an emergency or natural disaster:

• Be Informed: know what threats Pennsylvania and your community face.
• Be Prepared: have an emergency kit with at least three days’ worth of essentials at your home, including food, one gallon of water per person per day, medications and specialized items such as baby or pet supplies. Create an emergency plan so family members know where to meet if everyone is separated when an incident occurs.
• Be Involved: Pennsylvanians have a long history of helping one another in times of need. Specialized training and volunteer opportunities are available so citizens can help others in their community in a disaster.

Information such as checklists for emergency kits and templates for emergency plans, as well as other information and volunteer opportunities, is available at www.ReadyPA.org or by calling 1-888-9-READYPA (1-888-973-2397).

While evacuation is always the best way to protect human health during a large release of radioactivity, potassium iodide, or KI, provides another layer of protection. KI tablets help protect the thyroid gland from harmful radiation but should only be taken under direction from state health officials or the governor.

Pennsylvanians should not take potassium iodide in response to the current radiological events in Japan, health officials said.

As part of its ongoing preparedness efforts, the Pennsylvania Department of Health offers free KI tablets to residents that live, work or go to school within a ten-mile radius of a nuclear power plant. Those residents can pick up free potassium iodide during normal business hours at state and/or county health department offices located near nuclear facilities. A list of offices is available at www.health.state.pa.us or by calling 1-877-PA-HEALTH.


Central Pennsylvania is middle America. We enjoy holiday parades, Friday night football and old fashioned everything. We welcome the change of seasons and pretty much stay put from generation to generation. We’re used to America coming to us to visit Gettysburg, marvel at the Amish, and smell Hershey Chocolate.

My father admired the technology that was Three Mile Island. Driving towards the nuclear power plant he confidently welcomed the billowing steam clouds. Many residents boated, fished or water skied around the Island. School students routinely were paraded through the plant to greet their future. My dad was assured that an accident at Three Mile Island was “not possible.” I believed my dad. We believed the nuclear industry and the government.

The last week of March 1979 was unseasonably warm. Central Pennsylvanians stepped outside for their first, prolonged post-winter break. While Governor Richard Thornburgh was acclimating to Harrisburg, the “new” reactor in Middletown was struggling to stay on line.  On Wednesday, March 28, 1979, TMI became a household name. Two days later, while school was in session, area residents fled the area not knowing if or when they would return. America now knew us for all the wrong reasons.

Evacuation plans in 1979 were little more than an afterthought stashed in a drawer. The problem is that people are not hypothetical planning numbers. Human behavior rarely conforms to scientific predictions. People don’t want to leave their homes. Farmers don’t want to desert their animals. And Coatesville isn't Middletown.

I was away at college. My sister waited for my mom to pick her up at Linglestown Junior High School, my brother was in his first trimester, and the family furniture store, which had survived three floods and a fire, remained open.

  • Hershey still made chocolate, the Amish continued to plow Lancaster’s  fertile earth, and the Battlefield at Gettysburg still attracted visitors.
  • In Middletown, Mayor Robert Reid directed traffic out of town as fleeing residents asked him to protect their homes while they were gone.
  • To the north, streams of citizens from Harrisburg flowed down Market Street to line up for busses heading anywhere.
  • Across the river, Goldsboro became a ghost town, dairy cows continued to graze in Etters, and the City of York, like Harrisburg and Lancaster, had no nuclear evacuation plan.

The TMI community remains a living case study of how not to evacuate.  Many residents still keep an overnight bag packed, a stash of “TMI money”, and make sure their cars have a full tank of gas. For those of us who live, work and parent in the shadow of Three Mile Island, the Accident continues to exact a toll.

No reactor community should have to endure another nuclear nightmare. At the very least, we should stop pretending that emergency evacuation planning for small children is adequate.   I need to be able to get in my car, drive past Three Mile Island, and tell my daughter that adults are doing everything humanly possible to make sure there is no “next time.”


Eric J.  Epstein,  

Mr. Epstein is  Chairman of Three Mile Island Alert, Inc., tmia.com  a safe-energy organization  based  in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and founded in 1977, and a member of the American Nuclear Society.