State, feds monitor radiation but downplay risk in US

Richard Mauer

JUNEAU -- With the American public growing increasingly restive over the nuclear crisis in Japan, federal, state and local officials rushed to renew assurances Friday that there was no expected danger and began opening their data to scrutiny.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced it had created a new website for its radiation monitoring network RadNet, simplifying into graph format what had been a bewildering text database.

Three stations in Alaska's population centers -- Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau -- are part of the 100-station network, and units just deployed and now operating in Nome and Dutch Harbor may be linked to RadNet, the EPA said. The Dutch Harbor site could help resolve concerns expressed in Europe about the safety of Alaska seafood.

According to the EPA website, beta and gamma radiation monitors in Anchorage showed a slightly prolonged, slightly elevated reading on Thursday, though it was generally within the normal background range. After the uptick, readings spiked downward, below the usual background level. A state health official said it's common for radiation monitors to show varied readings over the course of a day or week, and the EPA charts showed that).

In any event, state officials Friday echoed their federal counterparts in saying there is no current or expected health risk anywhere in the United States associated with the Japan crisis.

Still, the federal government said there were measurable effects. The EPA and Department of Energy said in a joint statement Friday that sensitive instruments in Sacramento, Calif., associated with nuclear test ban monitoring had detected "minuscule" traces of radioactive isotopes iodine-131, cesium-137 and tellurium-132. The substances are fission products that most likely came from the stricken reactor complex, the agencies said. On Wednesday and Thursday, a device in Washington state detected similar traces of another radioactive fission product, xenon-133, an inert gas, they said.

The agencies said the health effects of the material would be insignificant.

"The doses received by people per day from natural sources of radiation -- such as rocks, bricks, the sun and other background sources -- are 100,000 times the dose rates from the particles and gas detected in California or Washington state," they said in a prepared statement.

Meanwhile, the Alaska House and Senate announced committee hearings Tuesday to look into state monitoring and preparedness, with testimony expected from officials from the departments of Health, Environmental Conservation and Military and Veterans Affairs. Anchorage city officials also issued a statement Friday that they were monitoring "the evolving situation."

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