Patrick Kulp

Staff Writer

UCSB assistant physics professor Ben Monreal is refuting claims of severe radiation from the meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Because everyone obtains some level of radiation from food and the atmosphere, Monreal said radiation dangers are dependent on the intensity rather than the level of exposure. He concluded that there is a “flat-zero” chance of nuclear fallout affecting the United States’ West Coast, as Americans generally do not make contact with large concentrations of radioactive material.

Furthermore, Monreal says the Japanese will also survive unscathed by the radiation. Five sieverts — units used to measure radiation — per hour of radiation is lethal. However, Monreal said the majority of people in Japan are unlikely to be exposed to more than one-thousandth of a sievert.

“The risk of exposure to people outside of Japan is zero,” Monreal said. “Radiation is something that people don’t have a lot of experience with and, because of this, they are not very good at risk assessment.”

Monreal has lectured numerous times in the last month on the basics of radioactivity and the ramifications of the failed reactors in Fukushima. His discussions have included assessments of the damage in Japan in relation to Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, claiming that the circumstance in Japan are not as severe as the incident in Chernobyl due to the manner by which the reactors were damaged, the lack of communication and protection of the surrounding citizens and the consumption of contaminated food.

However, there are still environmental issues surrounding the Japanese nuclear plant meltdown. Chemical engineering professor Theo Theofanous said one dilemma is disposing the contaminated water used to cool the reactors without releasing it back into the ocean. The purging of this water into the sea would cause severe and complex environmental problems.

“There are many lessons to be learned from this accident,” Theofanous said. “Everybody should be aware of these extreme events. There is no free lunch in terms of nuclear power.”

Furthermore, because the news of the meltdown was initially translated from Japanese, Theofanous said information was jumbled and difficult for foreign scientists to translate.

“The power company and the regulatory agency were very unprepared for the situation,” Theofanous said. “The power outage made it so that they were not able to provide a good and reliable plan for the situation.”

Monreal said he hopes the incident does not discourage people from supporting further nuclear technology development. Although certain risks are associated with nuclear power, he said preventative measures are available to avoid these dangers.