Stuck on an island in radiation's path: Is Unalaska worried?

March 18, 2011 

A view of Unalaska

STATE OF ALASKA PHOTO

The Aleutian Islands community of Unalaska is about 2,400 miles from the earthquake-stricken nuclear reactors in northeast Japan -- roughly half the distance from them than the U.S. West Coast is. So Unalaskans can be forgiven if they're a little more worried than the rest of us about the likelihood of radioactive plumes reaching them. But Unalaska journalist Alexandra Gutierrez, writing for The Daily Beast, says nobody out there is freaking out. But that's not to say they're ignoring the potential dangers.

Both the news and chatter feel like they've been lifted straight from the early scenes of a Cold War-era B-movie: A worst-case projection by the United Nations shows a teal blob of nuclear waste enveloping the Aleutians. People offering a self-defense class here have promoted it with jokes about radioactive zombies. The Environmental Protection Agency has deployed a radiation monitor to the island -- while emphasizing that everything is completely fine. Those prone to conspiracy theories or survivalism might suggest a little more panic on the town's behalf. But when the nightmare scenario involves an unfathomable toxic plume and a giant government cover-up, it makes a lot more sense to shrug, laugh and perhaps prepare as best you can.And that's exactly what people are doing. At the lone sports bar in town, the only glowing, unnatural substance people were worried about last night was green St. Patrick's Day beer, and the hangover it might cause.

"We haven't worried about the radiation a bit," says Derek Campbell, a welder. "Even if it does come our way, what can you really do? What happens happens, and that's the way it is. Maybe I'll get that third thumb if the cloud comes in."

But some people have been worried enough to call the local Public Utilities office with questions about preparation, while others are more concerned that the reputation of Unalaska's chief source of income, fish, could be in danger.

Read more at The Daily Beast. The New York Times has published an animated projection of the reactor plume's path across the Pacific (Unalaska isn't in any projected "red zone"). And the Associated Press reported today that the first "minuscule" traces of radioactive fallout have reached California.

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