Experts address Fukushima-related radiation concerns

RENO, Nev. ( & KRNV) -- Unconfirmed reports across the internet say radiation levels in the U.S. are spiking. Some sites say it's as high as 1400% of normal levels, but radiation experts say those numbers are being skewed.

"There's a lot of information that's put out there on the internet and on blogs and whatnot that doesn't really have a basis," said State of Nevada Radiation Control Specialist Jon Bakkedahl.

Bakkedahl said online reports saying radiation is reaching dangerous levels because of the 2011 nuclear meltdown in Japan have no scientific basis. "Modern technology shows that there is no increased level of radiation due to Fukushima," he said.

Argonne National Laboratory Principal Nuclear Engineer Roger Blomquist has been in the business since the 1970's and he agrees.

"You could say that something is much higher than normal, and that's presumably never good," Blomquist said. "But the question is, is it high enough to cause any health effects and the answer to that question has always been no, as far as Fukushima and the west coast of the United States goes."

University of Nevada Radiation Safety Officer Myung Chul Jo has been observing radiation in Reno for more than two decades.

"Radiation is everywhere and we cannot escape it," Jo said.

He said air, ground, water and cosmic radiation exposure is part of life, and he set up a measurement of the local natural radiation for this story.

"That's probably between 15-20 microroentgens per hour," which Jo said is average. "This one we measured from '99 to 2008 just the ambient background level. The average was about 15 microroentgens per hour."

Jo said the average person is exposed to about 300 millirems of radiation each year from nature - well below dangerous levels.

"It would be one hundred thousand millirems," he said. "Below that we don't expect any adverse health effects."

Fukushima was a different story, but Blomquist said it's still not a threat here.

"By everyday standards there's an awful lot," Blomquist said. "But if you took all of the radiation in all of the Fukushima reactor cores that were involved in this mess and dump all of that radiation into the Pacific Ocean, it would still be a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of the radioactive material that's already in the Pacific Ocean from natural sources and from the nuclear weapons tests, the atmospheric tests, during the early part of the Cold War."

Blomquist also said the radioactive isotope that's causing many of the concerns - Iodine 131 - has a half-life of only eight days. So three years later, the amounts would be miniscule.

"The only conceivable way anyone could ingest an unusual amount of contamination would be from seafood," Blomquist said. "Although I think that's very unlikely."

"I'm not going to speak for them, but for me nope, I'm not going to worry about it," Jo said.

If you have a Geiger counter and see something fishy, call Bakkedahl's office and they'll see if there's a reason to worry.

"If there is, we are actually able to run spectroscopy on it, which is like a fingerprint for that particular material, and we can determine what it is, at what level and if it's actually a concern for them or anyone else," Bakkedahl said.

If you're concerned about radiation levels, Bakkedahl said the place to start checking is at your home. It's National Radon Action Month, so through the end of February you can get a free testing kit through the University of Nevada by calling 1-888-Radon-10 or clicking here.