Today I got calls and emails from all sorts of folks, worrying about the Japanese radiation reaching the Northwest in dangerous quantities. Potassium iodide pills, used for thyroid protection from radioactive iodine have been stripped from the shelves in Seattle.
I think the reality is clear...there is no serious radiation threat to us here in the Northwest.
First, I should note that the weather pattern is shifting and the latest trajectories show that the low-level trajectories don't reach us.(see below) The low-level trajectories circle around in the Pacific and the upper one heads south of us. (Yes, there is uncertainty with this and it is only as good as the National Weather Service GFS model)
But even it they were heading straight for us..there is little to fear.
From virtually a point source, the radiation would mix through huge volumes of the atmosphere due to horizontal and vertical mixing. Since it would take days to reach us, there would be time for larger particles to settle out and precipitation would wash some out as well. Even for Chernobyl, where the core exploded while the reactor was powered up and where there was no containment, serious radiation only extended roughly 1000-1500 km away.
The Northwest is more than 7000 km away!
Clearly, the situation in Japan is serious and tragic, but the U.S. is not threatened.
Thinking about the tsunami I wondered whether locations threatened by tsunamis like coastal Japan (and coastal Oregon and Washington) should build escape towers. Steel and concrete buildings were not toppled by the Japanese tsunami....what if structures that could hold 200-1000 people were positioned regularly along the coast, giving people another option for safety. This would be much cheaper than sea walls and the like, which didn't seem to work anyway. Here in Washington I think of the Long Beach peninsula...a tsunami deathtrap if one ever existed. A few such towers could save many, many lives in case of a major event. And they could be relatively cheap...perhaps as simple as a wide suspension bridge between two towers.
Is this a viable idea? If it is, why aren't we doing it? Now.