UW Today

March 13, 2011

Danger to U.S. unlikely from Japanese nuclear reactors

News and Information

As Japanese officials continue trying to prevent a full-blown nuclear disaster in the wake of Fridays earthquake and tsunami, a University of Washington atmospheric scientist said Sunday it is unlikely North America is in any danger from airborne radiation.

“At this point, the levels of radiation released make it very unlikely we could detect anything here,” said Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric chemist at UW Bothell who was the first to document air pollution from Asia crossing the Pacific Ocean to the West Coast.

“If the nuclear incidents turn into a major meltdown and release of radiation, and depending on wind patterns, it could be transported in about seven days,” Jaffe said. “But even in that case, I would expect enough dilution that there would be no health risk here in the Pacific Northwest.”

Beginning in 1998, Jaffe documented instances when, under the right conditions, atmospheric ozone from China was able to cross the Pacific in a week at high enough concentrations to push ozone levels in the Northwest past limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Since then he has established an atmospheric observatory atop Mount Bachelor in the Cascade Range near Bend, Ore., to monitor pollutants, both those generated locally and those crossing the ocean.

“Currently we do not measure radiation at Mount Bachelor, but if there is a major radiation release in Japan I will probably try to get some detectors there in time to track it,” he said.

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For more information, contact Jaffe at 425-352-5357 or djaffe@uw.edu.