Japan s persistence prevails over panic

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Ten days after a devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami wreaked havoc on Japan, engineers worked around the clock to successfully restore power to the cooling pumps in reactors No. 5 and 6 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. The partial restoration of electricity caused many to heave a sigh of relief as the threat of a nuclear meltdown became less and less likely.

But even though radiation levels have been reduced and stabilized, the aftermath following these combined natural disasters is overwhelming, with the death toll, recently estimated at 18,000, continuing to rise while another 452,000 displaced civilians currently live in shelters.

Public health organizations should continue to reiterate that the radiation levels as presently detected do not pose a health threat, says ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross. “In a disaster and tragedy of such historic proportions, it is easy for the fear of radiation exposure to divert valuable resources, time and energy from more important public health efforts.”

While levels of radioactive iodine-131 in Japanese spinach have been shown to exceed safety limits by three- to seven-fold, Japanese food officials say that people would have to consume approximately one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of the leafy greens daily for the next year in order to experience any adverse health effects. Iodine-131 and cesium-137 were also detected in small amounts in milk, but the radiation exposure from drinking the tainted milk for one year would be comparable to undergoing a CT scan, Japanese health officials say.

ACSH’s Dr. Josh Bloom suggests that we keep exposure to small amounts of radiation in perspective. A recent report calculated that, while some radiation from Japan was detected on the West coast of the U.S., the amount of radiation found in the U.S. from the Japanese reactors was the equivalent to one-millionth of the dose we get from picking up a rock.