Q. What’s the risk for New Jersey from the current nuclear power emergency in Japan?
A. At present, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) says Japan’s nuclear emergency presents no danger to the United States. The NRC is involved in the Japan emergency both at home and in Japan.
Q. What are you doing to assess the risk?
A. The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services is monitoring the situation closely in conjunction with many state and federal partners. The Department will continue to follow the effects of the damaged nuclear power plants as long as there are potential concerns.
Q. Does New Jersey have a plan in place to respond to a radiological emergency?
A. The Department of Health and Services works closely with the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Environmental Protection and other state agencies in all emergencies including radiological. There is a statewide radiological emergency plan that is exercised annually.
Q. Should I be taking potassium iodide (KI) to protect myself?
A. No. Potassium iodide (KI) tablets are not recommended at this time, and can present a potential risk (danger) to people with allergies to iodine, shellfish or who have thyroid problems. Dosages can vary and should only be taken as advised by a medical professional.
It’s important to note that KI pills provide protection against thyroid cancer in the event of a radiological release. The tablets must be taken early during the time of exposure. KI pills will not offer protection from other health effects of radiation exposure.
Q. Does New Jersey have a supply of KI?
A. Yes, New Jersey has supplies of KI that are enough to protect those individuals who live, work or visit within 10 miles of New Jersey’s two nuclear stations in Ocean and Salem counties. However, the current conditions in Japan do not require people in the United States to take KI.
Q. What are the health effects of radiation exposure?
· The risks from radiation always depends on the amount of radiation in the atmosphere, the distance from the radiation source, whether there is any shielding between the source and a person and the time a person may be exposed.
· Radiation can be dangerous if the dose of radiation exceeds a certain level. If a nuclear power plant is damaged, health effects are most often seen among the first responders and nuclear power plant workers. This is because they are working in the accident area and they are more likely be exposed to the high levels of radiation that must be present to cause immediate effects. Some of the immediate effects show up as nausea, neurological impairment, skin redness, hair loss, and burns.
· In a nuclear power plant accident, the general population is not likely to be exposed to enough radiation to cause these effects. New Jersey’s distance from Japan reduces our risk of exposure to the radiation that has been released as a result of this accident.
Q. Is it true that we are all exposed to radiation daily?
· Yes. It is important to understand that people are exposed to natural radiation on a daily basis. The radiation comes from the sun, from natural materials found in the ground, water and air, from our televisions, cell phones and computers, and from every structure around us. Levels of exposure to natural radiation also depend on the local geology and elevation.
· People can also be exposed to radiation from chemotherapy or medical equipment such as X-ray machines.
Q. How does radiation become a health hazard during a nuclear power plant accident?
· If radiation is released from a nuclear power plant during an accident, the radioactive particles might become airborne.
· Those particles that drift in the atmosphere could settle on water and land. If the particles come in contact with people, there is a possibility of radiation contamination both internal (breathing and eating) and external.
· It is important to monitor the instructions from the authorities to determine if there is a risk. You may be advised to stay indoors for a period of time.
· If there has been external contamination, such as radioactive particles falling on the skin, you may be advised to take a shower.
Q. Who is at highest risk of exposure in the Japanese nuclear power plant accident?
A. Nuclear power plant workers may be exposed to higher radiation doses due to their professional activities and direct exposure to radioactive materials inside the power plant.
Q. What will public health be doing in an emergency involving radiation?
· In the case of a nuclear power accident, protective actions may be implemented within an area around the site. Those could include staying indoors, and in more extreme cases, evacuation.
· The public health impacts depend on the amount of radioactivity released in the atmosphere and the prevailing weather conditions such as wind and rain. It may be helpful to evacuate people within a certain distance of the nuclear power plant; to provide shelter in order to reduce exposure; and to provide potassium iodide pills (KI) for people to take to reduce the risk of certain cancers. These steps are determined by medical authorities after consultation with radiation experts.
· If warranted, steps such as restricting food use of vegetables and dairy products produced in the area of the power plant can help reduce exposure.