Reaction to the nuclear threat in Japan

Robert D. Forrest, CHP
Director, Radiation Safety, University of Pennsylvania

James M Metz, MD
Associate Professor and Vice Chair, Clinical Division
Radiation Oncology at Penn Medicine and Editor and Chief of OncoLink

With the nuclear trouble unfolding in Japan we are receiving many questions regarding the current situation and risk for individuals and travelers to Japan. The situation remains in flux but the current recommendations are as follows:

  1. External dose rates for anyone other than a plant worker are a non-issue. While high radiation levels have been reported, it has been near the reactors. Therefore, acute radiation sickness is not a possibility for anyone outside the plant.
  2. Because of the explosions and other operations there have been multiple releases of radioactive materials into the atmosphere.
  3. Some contaminated food items, milk and water supplies have been detected at distances from the plant. The Japanese government is closely monitoring these contaminated items to ensure safety.
  4. Tokyo is roughly 140 miles south of the plant. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is recommending evacuation of anyone within 50 miles of the plant as a precaution.
  5. Iodine-131 is the most likely nuclide to cause radiation exposure if ingested from food or water supplies in the short term.
  6. Potassium iodide (KI) can minimize or eliminate harm from Iodine-131. You should only take KI if advised to do so and follow instructions closely.
  7. While the nuclear plant crisis has overshadowed the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami, the potential health effects caused by the nuclear plant are minimal to the general public of Japan.

We will continue to update as more information comes available.

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