Southern California called free of radioactive fallout

Stanley O. Williford | 3/23/2011, 5 p.m.

Sensors in Southern California monitoring locations have yet to pick up any appreciable amount of radioactive fallout from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors in Japan, and so far the diasater is said to pose no threat to residents of the state.

In its daily reports, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has continually stated that there has been no "increase in radiation levels above typical background levels" detected since the earthquake and tsunami in Japan that has claimed more than 9,500 lives.

And Los Angeles County health officials insisted this week that "there is no danger to local food or water supplies due to radiation...." Dr. Jonathan Fielding, director of the county Department of Public Health, told City News Service that no harmful levels of radiation have reached the state to impact California-produced food and livestock, and there is no danger in food imported from Japan.

"Food and other products previously imported from Japan into our state are also safe, as these were produced and distributed well before this tragedy occurred," Fielding said.

Most nations, however, are clamping down on food items currently being imported from Japan. Such items as fava beans have been shown to contain increased levels of radiation. Other food items grown as far as 40 miles away from the nuclear plant have registered several times the desirable level of exposure, including spinach, milk and chrysanthemum greens.

The threat of such a nuclear disaster here points to the serious concerns regarding safety at nuclear plants in America, particularly on the West Coast.

The probability of a similar occurrence in California puts the spotlight on the state's two reactor sites. State officials are demanding a review of the San Onofre nuclear plant near San Clemente and the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant near San Luis Obispo, to determine if they can indeed handle the level of earthquake they are purported to withstand.

Both California plants are located near earthquake fault lines.

State Sen. Sam Blakeslee, a Republican from San Luis Obispo whose district includes the Diablo Canyon plant, has been unrelenting in his determination to get Pacific Gas & Electric, owner of the plant, to detail the hazards of the newly revealed nearby fault. Blakeslee and other state political leaders want to determine if both plants are likely to withstand the kind of earthquake devastation that have been predicted in their locations.

The quake that rocked the north coast of Japan on March 11 was a magnitude 9. The San Onofre plant has been modeled to withstand a magnitude 7 earthquake; Diablo Canyon, a 7.5.

Shortly after news of the quake and tsunami hit, scores of Southern Californians rushed out to health stores to purchase potassium iodide and kelp in anticipation of rising levels of radioactivity in the atmosphere. By the weekend, several health stores had sold out of their supplies, but were expecting new shipments.

These sources of iodine are said to assist the thyroid in blocking the absorption of radioactive iodine from food, water and the atmosphere. Once the thyroid has reached its limit of iodine absorption from potassium iodide or kelp (seaweed), radioactive iodine cannot be absorbed, since the gland can only hold so much iodine at a time.