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Low radioactivity seen heading towards N.America
 
 
  Thu Mar 17, 2011 10:35am EDT
 
* Particles not normal, but not dangerous-Swedish official
 
* U.S. nuclear body sees no "levels of harmful radiation"
 
* U.N. weather agency predicts northwesterly winter monsoon
 
By Fredrik Dahl
 
VIENNA, March 17 (Reuters) - Low concentrations of radioactive particles from Japan's disaster-hit nuclear power plant have been heading eastwards and are expected to reach North America in days, a Swedish official said on Thursday.
 
In Washington, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said radioactivity would disperse over the long distance and it did not expect any harmful amounts to reach the country.
 
"We expect the United States to avoid any levels of harmful radiation," NRC spokesman Joey Ledford told Reuters. "We do not anticipate any threat to American interests."
 
The Swedish official, research director Lars-Erik De Geer of the Swedish Defence Research Institute, was citing data from a network of international monitoring stations set up to detect signs of any nuclear weapons tests.
 
Also stressing the levels were not dangerous for people, he predicted particles would eventually also continue across the Atlantic and reach Europe.
 
"It is not something you see normally," he said by phone from Stockholm, adding the results he now had were based on observations from earlier in the week. But, "it is not high from any danger point of view."
 
De Geer said he was convinced they would 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.
 
TOWARDS EUROPE?
 
De Geer said the main air movement in the northern half of the globe normally went from west to east, but suggested the direction occasionally changed and at times turned.
 
In Geneva, the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said on Thursday that a "northwesterly winter monsoon flow prevails over the eastern and northern part of Japan" and that this was expected to remain the case until around midnight GMT.
 
The New York Times earlier said a forecast of the possible movement of the radioactive plume showed it churning across the Pacific, and touching the Aleutian Islands on Thursday before hitting southern California late on Friday.
 
It said the projection was made by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), a Vienna-based independent body for monitoring possible breaches of the test ban.
 
The CTBTO has more than 60 stations around the world which can pick up very low levels of radioactive particles such as caesium and iodine isotopes.
 
It continuously provides data to its member states, including Sweden, but does not make the details public.
 
De Geer said he believed the radioactive particles would "eventually also come here".
 
The New York Times said health and nuclear experts emphasized radiation would be diluted as it travelled and at worst would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States.
 
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. (Additional reporting by David Morgan in Washington; editing by Diana Abdallah)
 
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US West Coast radiation risk low but fears persist
 
By Mary Milliken and Allan Dowd
 
LOS ANGELES/VANCOUVER | Fri Mar 18, 2011 6:26am EDT
 
LOS ANGELES/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - North America is at little risk of receiving harmful levels of radiation from Japan's nuclear crisis, officials said on Thursday, but that has not stopped a scramble on the West Coast for items like potassium iodide and Geiger counters.
 
Low concentrations of radioactive particles from Japan's stricken nuclear plants are expected to drift over the Pacific Ocean but nothing has been detected as of late Thursday by U.S. or Canadian monitoring stations, officials said.
 
Health and safety authorities sought to reassure nervous residents that any radioactive particles would disperse as they cross the Pacific from Japan and not pose a public risk when they arrive. Even President Barack Obama weighed in.
 
"We do not expect harmful levels of radiation to reach the United States, whether it is the West Coast, Hawaii, Alaska or U.S. territories in the Pacific," Obama said in a televised statement. "That is the judgment of our Nuclear Regulatory Commission and many other experts."
 
Officials have said it would take five or six days for any particles to cross the ocean. Vancouver is more than 4,700 miles (7,500 km) from Tokyo, while Los Angeles is more than 5,400 miles (8,800 km) away.
 
Public fear about the situation in Japan can be seen in prices being charged for online purchases of the potassium iodide antidote and Geiger counters that measure radiation.
 
At least five merchants on Amazon.com were selling packages of potassium iodide tablets for between $300 and $400, far above the usual list price of $10. Two big online sellers said on their websites they were sold out.
 
A website for a company offering Geiger counters also announced it was no longer accepting new orders because demand had out-stripped supply.
 
NO NEED, BUT NO SURPRISE
 
Potassium iodide tablets can saturate the thyroid gland and prevent the absorption of radioactive iodine. When given before or shortly after exposure, that can reduce the risk of cancer in the long term.
 
Health officials warn potassium iodide can pose its own risks if misused.
 
"People should not take it anywhere in North America for the things that are happening in Japan," Donn Moyer of Washington state's Department of Health told Reuters.
 
Authorities also discouraged people from shopping online for home remedies to fight radiation, and British Columbia health officials warned not to confuse iodide with iodine solution - which can hurt them if ingested.
 
The run on items is a common reaction in America's consumer-based culture, when media reports of possible disaster cause people to buy things they think will become scarce, said marketing expert Pamela Kennett-Hansel of the University of New Orleans.
 
"Under these conditions, people are not going through the rational consumer process they usually go through," said Kennett-Hansel, who studied patterns after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.
 
British Columbia's chief medical officer, Perry Kendall, said most people will heed warnings not to overreact but acknowledged his office has received calls alleging the government is engaging in a cover-up. (Additional reporting by Ross Kerber in Boston, Laura Zuckerman in Salmon, Idaho; Editing by Bill Trott)
 
 
 
 
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