VIENNA — Low concentrations of radioactive particles are heading eastward from Japan's disaster-hit nuclear power plant, and scientists are projecting that the radioactive plume could hit Southern California by Friday.
Lars-Erik De Geer, research director at the Swedish Defence Research Institute, a government agency, confirmed the eastward movement of the radiation Thursday with data from a network of international monitoring stations established to detect signs of any nuclear weapons tests.
Although De Geer stressed that the levels are not dangerous for people, he predicted the particles would continue across the Atlantic and eventually also reach Europe.
"It is not something you see normally," he said during a phone interview from Stockholm with Thomson/Reuters. But "it is not high from any danger point of view."
Despite the assurances, it's hard to be nonchalant about radiation of any level, when medical technicians and dental hygienists take such care to shield themselves when they X-ray patients.
The New York Times reported that the radiation will be diluted as it travels eastward, adding that, "at worst, [it] would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States, even if hints of it are ultimately detectable. In a similar way, radiation from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 spread around the globe and reached the West Coast of the United States in 10 days, its levels measurable but minuscule."
De Geer predicted that radiation from Japan eventually be detected over the whole northern hemisphere.
"It is only a question of very, very low activities, so it is nothing for people to worry about," De Geer said.
"In the past when they had nuclear weapons tests in China . . . then there were similar clouds all the time without anybody caring about it at all," he said.
Before he spoke, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission advised any Americans living near Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to move at least 50 miles away, but it played down the risks of contamination to the United States.
"All the available information continues to indicate Hawaii, Alaska, the U.S. Territories and the U.S. West Coast are not expected to experience any harmful levels of radioactivity," it said Wednesday.
De Geer was commenting on data from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation, a Vienna-based independent body for monitoring possible breaches of the test ban.
The organization has more than 60 stations around the world that can pick up very low levels of radioactive particles such as caesium and iodine isotopes.
It provides data continuously to its member states, including Sweden, but does not make the details public. Its projection gave no information about actual radiation levels but showed only how a radioactive plume probably would move and disperse, it said.
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