Radiation from Japanese nuclear plant into the USA?

Michigan’s state climatologist explains why radiation is unlikely to reach our shores.

Among the many impacts of the recent catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan were a series of explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. We have had several calls and inquiries at the State Climate Office regarding the potential for the spread of radioactive material from this plant eastward into the United States and Michigan. While it is true that winds between Japan and the USA are predominantly west to east and such transport is theoretically possible, it is highly unlikely at this point that anyone in the United States will be impacted by fallout.

There are two primary reasons. First, the radioactive material from the explosion was not forced high enough into the atmosphere during the explosion to catch the stronger jet stream winds for long distance transport. In contrast, the plume from the Chernobyl nuclear plant explosion in April 1986 was 8 to 12 miles high. Secondly, at lower levels in the troposphere much of the explosion plume material will be scavenged out of the atmosphere relatively quickly through precipitation and by gravity. This would occur in several days maximum. In addition, a significant portion will also decay into less dangerous forms by the time any of it reaches our shores.

That said, it is important to note that there is still real and significant risk to those in Japan and in neighboring countries. The risk to the United States could also potentially change if there were more violent explosions /or new, larger releases of radioactive material in the future. Stay tuned.

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