Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Concerns
Frequently Asked Questions as of July 8th, 2011
Updated 7/8/11 Q. Has any
radioactivity from the Japanese reactor accident been detected in
A. Beginning in March, 2011, the Department's environmental
radiation monitoring program detected very low levels of radioactive
material attributed to the Japanese reactor accident in Wisconsin air
and precipitation samples. These levels were consistent with levels seen
in other states. The levels have been decreasing over time and are
currently at normal levels. Milk samples collected in
Wisconsin and analyzed to date have all tested negative for radioactive
materials of concern, including iodine-131. The EPA has also reported on
their RADNET data site at http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-sampling-data.html
that drinking water samples from the Madison site tested negative for
Q. What is the impact of the event in Japan on people in the United
A. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is beginning to
receive reports of elevated but trace levels of radioactive iodine in
precipitation samples analyzed by state laboratories. EPA is analyzing
its own RADNET samples to confirm these reports. At this time, there is
no indication that materials from the incidents in Japan have the
potential to have any significant radiological effect on the U.S.
Q. Where should I go for information on environmental radioactivity
levels in the United States?
A. USA.gov is the U.S. government's official web portal
to all federal, state, and local government web resources and services.
It is an easy-to-search, free-access website which is a centralized
place to find a variety of important information on this situation. http://www.usa.gov/Japan2011.shtml
Q. What's the risk for Wisconsin from the current nuclear power
emergency in Japan?
A. Currently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says
Japan's nuclear emergency presents no danger to the United States. The
NRC is involved in the Japan emergency both at home and in Japan.
Q. What are you doing to assess the risk?
A. The Division of Public Health (DPH) in the Wisconsin
Department of Health Services is monitoring the situation closely in
conjunction with state and federal partners. DPH will continue to follow
the effects of the damaged nuclear power plants as long as there are
potential concerns. DPH will share verified information through the
Department of Health Services website, www.dhs.wi.gov, as it becomes
Q. Does Wisconsin have a plan in place to respond to a radiological
A. DPH works closely with the Wisconsin Division of Emergency
Management and other state agencies in all emergencies. The state has a
well developed radiological emergency response plan that is regularly
exercised during federally evaluated, nuclear plant emergency
Q. Should I be taking potassium iodide (KI) to protect myself?
- No. Potassium iodide (KI) tablets are not recommended at this
time, and can present a danger to people with allergies to iodine,
shellfish or who have thyroid problems. Dosages can vary and should
only be taken as advised by a medical professional.
- If it ever would become necessary for Wisconsin residents to take
potassium iodide, the federal government's Strategic National
Stockpile keeps supplies of KI and can deliver emergency equipment
and supplies within 12 hours. Potassium iodide may be distributed in
other states that have nuclear power plants. Wisconsin has two
nuclear power plants.
Q. What are the health effects of radiation exposure?
- The risks from radiation always depend on the amount of radiation
in the atmosphere, the distance from the radiation source, and
whether there is any shielding between the source and a person.
- Radiation can be dangerous if the dose of radiation exceeds a
certain level. If a nuclear power plant is damaged, health effects
are most often seen among the first responders and nuclear power
plant workers. This is because they are working in the accident area
and they are more likely to be exposed to the high levels of
radiation that must be present to cause immediate effects. Some of
the immediate effects show up as skin redness, hair loss, and burns.
- In a nuclear power plant accident, the general population is not
likely to be exposed to enough radiation to cause these effects.
Wisconsin's distance from Japan reduces our risk of exposure to the
radiation that has been released as a result of this accident.
Q. What are the long-term effects from radiation exposure?
- Exposure to high levels of radiation could increase the risk of
cancer. For instance, among the atomic bomb survivors after World
War II, the risk of leukemia increased a few years after radiation
exposure. The risks of other cancers increased after more than 10
years following the exposure to high amounts of radiation.
- Radiation can be released into the air during nuclear emergencies.
Until the radiation is analyzed by experts, there is not enough
information to predict the potential impacts of the radiation upon
people and the environment.
Q. Is it true that we are all exposed to radiation daily?
- Yes. It is important to understand that people are exposed to
natural radiation on a daily basis. The radiation comes from the
sun, from natural materials found in the ground, water and air, from
our televisions, cell phones and computers, and from every structure
around us. Levels of exposure to natural radiation also depend on
the local geology and elevation.
- People can also be exposed to radiation from X-ray machines and
other types of medical imaging.
Q. How does radiation become a health hazard during a nuclear power
- If radiation is released from a nuclear power plant during an
accident, the radioactive particles might become airborne.
- Those particles that drift in the atmosphere could settle on water
and land. If the particles come in contact with people, there is a
possibility of radiation contamination both internal (breathing and
eating) and external.
- It is important to monitor the instructions from the authorities
to determine if there is a risk. You may be advised to stay indoors
for a period of time.
- If there has been external contamination, such as radioactive
particles falling on the skin, you may be advised to take a shower.
Q. Who is at highest risk of exposure in the Japanese nuclear power
A. Nuclear power plant workers may be exposed to higher
radiation doses due to their professional activities and direct exposure
to radioactive materials inside the power plant.
Q. What will public health be doing in an emergency involving
- In the case of a nuclear power accident, protective actions may be
implemented within an area around the site. Those could include
staying indoors, and in more extreme cases, evacuation.
- The public health impacts depend on the amount of radioactivity
released in the atmosphere and the prevailing weather conditions
such as wind and rain. It may be helpful to evacuate people within a
certain distance of the nuclear power plant; to provide shelter in
order to reduce exposure; and to provide potassium iodide pills,
commonly called KI, for people to take to reduce the risk of certain
cancers. These steps are determined by medical authorities after
consultation with radiation experts.
- If warranted, steps such as restricting food use of vegetables and
dairy products produced in the area of the power plant can help
Q. How can I protect myself?
- It is important to remember that according to the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission, there is no risk to anyone in the United
States at this time. The Environmental Protection Agency has
permanent radiation monitoring stations on the West coast, and the
EPA is keeping federal agencies informed.
- Keep yourself and your family informed by obtaining accurate
information. Know where to get information, such the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
rather than relying on unverified websites, where invalid
information may spread quickly.
- Follow the instructions of your local government's authorities
after any emergency. The Division of Public Health communicates with
local media, such as radio and TV, regularly.
Q. Does Wisconsin have plans in place to monitor and decontaminate
individuals arriving from Japan ?
A. CDC developed a protocol for screening individuals for
radiation on incoming flights from Japan. Part of the protocol is to
provide contaminated individuals with information and contacts to call
or e-mail. It's important to note, Wisconsin has a network in place with
hospitals and other partners to monitor and decontaminate individuals as
Added 7/13/11 Q. Where should I go to find out information about
travel to Japan or for US citizens currently in Japan?
A. For information about travel to Japan or for United States
citizens in Japan, please go to the US State Department website at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/pa/pa_5454.html.
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Last Revised: December 28, 2011