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Karl Grossman's Commentary on the Japanese Nuclear Emergency

Markey, Pallone Query FDA on Radiation in Japanese Imports, Pacific Seafood

March 20, 2011

Reports of radiation in food near Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan underscore need for monitoring

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In response to reports of variable but high levels of dangerous radiation being emitted from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan, today on CBS's "Face The Nation," Reps. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Ranking Member on the House Natural Resources Committee and senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced he and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Ranking Member on the House Subcommittee on Health of the Energy and Commerce Committee, today sent a letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Margaret Hamburg asking for information on how the Agency is ensuring that contaminated radioactive food or other agricultural products are prevented from entering the domestic food supply here in the United States.
Media reports confirm that trace amounts of radiation have been found in spinach and milk up to 75 miles from the distressed reactor prompting Japanese officials to halt shipments of milk from contaminated farms, though officials warn that some products may have already entered the market. The Japanese government has found contamination on canola and chrysanthemum greens in additional areas.
“Radiation can pose a dire threat to our food chain, and it is imperative we monitor all food imports and agricultural products from Japan, as well as seafood harvested from areas that might be contaminated from radiation,” said Rep. Markey. “We have to ensure nuclear fallout doesn’t defile our food chain.” 
“We don’t want to see the people of Japan suffer any more due to radiation contamination from the damaged nuclear power plants, but we also don’t want the danger spread to America,” said Rep. Pallone. “Radioactive particles are an insidious threat that can enter the food chain in so many different ways, resulting in contaminated products on the dinner tables of American families. We should take all precautions to prevent that from happening and we should do it now.”
In the wake of the nuclear emergency in Japan, several countries, including South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines have stepped up efforts to ensure that produce and seafood imported from Japan are checked for radiation. The European Union has also advised all member states to check levels of radioactivity in food imports from Japan. Russia has begun testing Pacific Ocean fish and other sea life for radiation on Friday in the wake of the nuclear crisis.
In the letter today, the lawmakers ask for additional information from the FDA on the monitoring and testing of animal and plant products for the presence of radiation and the federal standards that exist to protect the public from consuming contaminated food.
The full letter can be found HERE.

Update on Fukushima

JOINT EPA/DOE STATEMENT: Radiation Monitors Confirm That No Radiation Levels of Concern Have Reached the United States

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 for more information.

What Are the Evacuation Standards for School Kids? What Was TMIA’s Proposal?

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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Peach Bottom: Review of Relief Request


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Japan nuclear crisis stirs deep memories of TMI; Pa.'s near-meltdown in 1979 routed thousands

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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TMI: Control Rod Drive Housing Examinations


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Greater Danger Lies in Spent Fuel Than in Reactors

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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