Radiation from Japan: Why the West Coast Shouldn’t Worry

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A radiation dosimeter indicates 0.6 microsieverts in Shibuya, Tokyo, March 15, 2011, after an earthquake and tsunami hit northern Japan. Japan faced a potential catastrophe on Tuesday after a quake-crippled nuclear power plant exploded and sent low levels of radiation floating towards Tokyo, prompting some people to flee the capital and others to stock up on essential supplies.


Worried about nuclear radiation swooping into West Coast states from Japan? The Washington State Department of Health says you shouldn’t be.

And even with a large-scale event (or, larger-scale then what is currently taking place) in Japan, the distance between the United States and Japan would dilute the radiation levels so much, concern over human health risks here are nonexistent, says department spokesperson Tim Church.

(More on TIME.com: See how to help earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan)

Since Friday, when the earthquake and tsunami first hit and a subsequent explosion Saturday at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant north of Tokyo, ongoing air monitoring has shown no radiation increases stateside and department officials don’t expect that to change.

“For radiation to get here, it would have to go very high up in the atmosphere and carry a very long way and be very concentrated when it got here,” Church says. “You add that together and we do not expect a health impact here.”

And the same tune is playing throughout Oregon, California, Alaska and even Hawaii, where health officials continually reiterate the non-risk of Japan’s nuclear issues.

With Washington anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 miles away from Japan, the distance is too great for any threatening levels of radiation to navigate, Church says. Even in Tokyo, about 150 miles away, the threat is uncertain. Washington, similar to other states, continually monitors air quality for increased radiation levels at all times, no matter what is going on internationally. That information gets sent to a national database.

Ever since Saturday’s explosion at the nuclear facility in Japan, the public has grown interested in threat levels here, Church says. While the department has fielded only about 10 emails and calls per day regarding radiation, all West Coast state’s health department websites have devoted portions of their front page to explain the lack of risk in the U.S.

As states throughout the West Coast downplay the situation, they also urge residents not to start taking Potassium Iodide (KI), which is commonly used during radioactive emergencies. Washington went as far as to say it doesn’t even have a stockpile of KI and defers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On the flip side, California notes it does have a stockpile, but only in an area around the San Onofre nuclear power plant. Good to know.

(More on TIME.com: See full coverage of the Japan quake)