While members of the international community have voiced major concerns about the potential health effects of radiation released in the nuclear crisis in Japan, University of Wisconsin experts said lasting health effects for citizens remain unlikely in a panel held Tuesday.
The Understanding the Nuclear Emergency in Japan forum was held in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery building, and nearly 200 people were in attendance as panelists weighed the possible implications of the disaster on public health.
UW engineering physics professor Michael Corradini said the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in the Fukushima Prefecture of Japan seems to be less volatile after international relief efforts.
The magnitude nine earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, he said, caused significant damage to the plant, but the information he has received has indicated the plant is becoming more stabilized every day.
Bryan Bednarz, a UW medical physics professor, said the radiation levels leaking from the plant are for the most part too insignificant to have drastic health effects on the residents in the surrounding regions.
At the location of the plant, he said, 250 units of radiation are being released per hour, and 20 kilometers away from the plant the rating of radiation present drops to only 1.2 units.
The largest documented level of radiation exposure from the plant leak, he said, came from a plant worker who absorbed 100,000 units. At this level, there are little to no dangerous effects on the body.
Bednarz added the levels of radiation throughout Japan are likely to decrease over time. If not, he said, residents do not need to be concerned about possible health effects for quite some time.
“If radiation levels in Tokyo remain at the current level, it would take about one month of exposure for residents to experience the same risks they’d receive from a common dental x-ray exam,” he said.
Corradini said one significant cause for concern is the reactors, designed by General Electric, are similar in both design and scale to nuclear reactors located at plants in the United States.
UW engineering physics professor Paul Wilson said the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi plant bears more resemblance to the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 than it does to the Chernobyl disaster, historically the worst nuclear crisis to date.
He said this meltdown, like the Three Mile Island incident outside of Harrisburg, Penn., appears to be characterized by a small amount of radiation leaking over an extended period of time which is much less concerning than if the reactors were to release a large amount very quickly.
“Having 100 beers in a day probably wouldn’t be good for your health, but having one beer a day for 100 days won’t do much damage,” Wilson said. “The people in Japan are likely being exposed to the radiation equivalent of the latter.”
Pamela Ritger, a first year graduate student, said she left the forum feeling more secure about the situation in Japan, but said she still has concerns about the production of nuclear power.
She added she thought both the Japanese and United States governments have done a poor job of informing the public about the incident and the incident sheds light on the potential environmental hazards associated with nuclear power production.