How bad will Los Angeles be hit by a nuclear accident in Japan?
March 11, 2011 2:57 PM   Subscribe

What happens if that nuclear power plant in Japan turns into the next Chernobyl?

I live in Los Angeles, considering our proximity to Japan (we're still on a tsunami advisory) is there a chance that radioactivity could spread to the city? Would the safest thing be to leave to the city?

I don't mean to cause alarm but I am a bit freaked out by this possibility.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth to Science & Nature (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ukraine is 6000 miles from Los Angeles.

Tokyo is 5500 miles from Los Angeles.

You'll be OK.
posted by The World Famous at 2:59 PM on March 11, 2011 [17 favorites]

Did all of Europe evacuate when Chernobyl happened? They were closer to that disaster than you are to Japan.
posted by hermitosis at 3:00 PM on March 11, 2011

Response by poster: Fair enough!
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 3:01 PM on March 11, 2011

Chernobyl was poorly designed; Japanese nuclear power plants are not.

Also, the Japanese power plant has been damaged because of an earthquake not because of a runaway chain reaction.

So you can't conclude on the basis of what happened at Chernobyl that the damaged nuclear power plant in Japan will leak radiation across the Pacific.
posted by dfriedman at 3:12 PM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Please consider "Japan's Chernobyl" to be a Fox News-style headline. Chernobyl was a huge explosion and a raging fire in an aging plant with no failsafes, resulting in nuclear fallout; what they are talking about in Japan is a controlled venting out to sea of very low level radiation steam as part of a series of planned 3rd line emergency measures.

It is not ideal but it is not a catastrophe. I do understand it's scary but for what it's worth, Ireland and the UK are about 3,000 miles from Chernobyl. The impact was a lot of testing and the end of high altitude sheep farming due to contaminated peat soil. It was economically devastating (and much worse in other places), but it was not The Day After.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:27 PM on March 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't worry too much, OP.

Did all of Europe evacuate when Chernobyl happened? They were closer to that disaster than you are to Japan.

Well they didn't evacuate the continent, but pretty much all of Europe was exposed to radiation from Chernobyl. The workers and soldiers fighting to stabilize the situation were fighting to prevent a second much larger explosion, which could have killed millions in Eastern Europe. LA might be a 'safe distance' from Japan's nuclear plants, but the world can't take another Chernobyl. It was much worse than most people realize.
posted by MrFTBN at 3:30 PM on March 11, 2011

To expand on dfriedman's comment above, Chernobyl did not have a containment vessel surrounding the reactor. The Fukushima plant does, it is a Boiling Water Reactor. Here is a page that explains the similarities and differences between the two designs.
posted by Rob Rockets at 3:32 PM on March 11, 2011

Please read this comment by Malor in the thread on the Blue.

He explains clearly why a Chernobyl-style disaster cannot happen in modern reactors. The absolute worst case scenario is Three Mile Island, in which case the reactor is unusable for decades, but there is no fallout in the surrounding area. By all accounts it looks like even this won't happen, and as long as they keep the aux generators going they should be able to save the reactor.

Lots of smart people are terribly misinformed about how nuclear reactors work, and all the safety features implemented. Chernobyl happened due to a combination of incompetent engineering, incompetent safety precautions and incompetent reactions to the initial accident. None of those things are even remotely likely to happen in Japan, or any other industrialized country.

Again, the worst case scenario involves no environmental radiation significantly above background. The average dose to people nearby the TMI accident was equivalent to about a chest X-ray.
posted by auto-correct at 3:55 PM on March 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

...considering our proximity to Japan...

Dude. No. That's a very very big ocean.
posted by rokusan at 3:56 PM on March 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Ha! Thanks, this is all very informative stuff. Thanks guys!
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 4:06 PM on March 11, 2011

Well, according to this article, perhaps my comment above is incorrect.
posted by dfriedman at 5:21 PM on March 11, 2011

Maybe I know nothing about wind currents, but the tsunami traveled at the speed of a jet and still needed 9-12 hours to reach California (depending on whether you meant upper or lower.) I'm thinking the wind is a lot slower, so even if something did happen and it was possible for all that radiation to head your way, you'd have plenty of warning.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:58 PM on March 11, 2011

Here's another comment from Malor about the safety and superiority of Western nuclear plants. I suppose if you're really worried about this, then you can drop him a line.
posted by sambosambo at 11:38 PM on March 11, 2011

How bad will Los Angeles be hit by a nuclear accident in Japan?

Not at all.

Full Stop.
posted by Sphinx at 12:50 AM on March 12, 2011

Related question.
posted by box at 9:58 AM on March 12, 2011

I didn't click on all the links, so forgive me if this is a repeat. But, FWIW, I saw an interview last night that said that what could happen in Japan is less Chernobyl and closer to what went down at 3 Mile Island. I'm in LA, too, so I've been thinking about this very question.
posted by buzzkillington at 1:01 PM on March 12, 2011

I don't have any information about the validity of the data on this site, but it claims to be "the first web site where the average citizen can see what radiation levels are anywhere in the USA at any time." They have a monitor in the Bay Area, which is close enough to LA to be relevant to your concerns about fallout.

Radiation Network

And just get yourself some potassium iodide tablets and go about life as normal – which is a good idea anyway regardless of whatever the situation in Japan happens to be at the moment.
posted by quadog at 11:13 AM on March 14, 2011

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