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Radiation exposure: Why US is confident West Coast isn't in danger

Radiation exposure fears appear to have led to a run on iodine tablets in the US. But federal officals say that is an overreaction. They say weather patterns would disperse radiation from Japan to the point that it would present no health risk by the time it hits American shores.

By Staff writer / March 15, 2011

The damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex in Japan is shown in a satellite image from Monday. Explosions and leaks at the plant's nuclear reactors after an earthquake and tsunami have given rise to concerns about radiation exposure beyond Japan.

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Washington

Japan’s nuclear crisis has made many people in the US concerned that radioactive contamination might reach American shores. Potassium iodide – a compound that if ingested guards against some of the most dire side effects of radiation exposure – is in short supply in some areas, particularly the West Coast.

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Anbex Inc., a Virginia firm that is a leading supplier of potassium iodide, sold out its stockpile of tablets over the weekend. The company’s website notes that new product is not expected until April 18.

But US officials on Tuesday said that they believe the worry driving this demand is an overreaction.

“I think there’s essentially no concern in terms of the health effects on American shores,” Secretary of Energy Steven Chu told reporters after testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on his department’s budget.

At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney made the same point, repeating a statement made earlier by a top Nuclear Regulatory Commission official.

“You aren’t going to have any radiological material that, by the time that it traveled those large distances, could present any risk to the American public,” said Mr. Carney.

Still, radiation emitted by the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has been detected by US Navy ships 100 miles northeast of ground zero. Tokyo, to the south, has seen an increase in radiation levels. How can US officials be so certain that San Francisco won’t feel the after effects if things get worse?

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