TRACE AMOUNTS OF RADIATION FOUND IN GUAM, CNMI

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Increased airborne levels not considered health threat

By Erin Thompson HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 13, 2011) - Since the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami damaged Japan’s Fukushima power plant, small amounts of radioactive material have been detected on Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, according to EPA RadNet air filter and air cartridge results released in the past few weeks.

Although the levels are far below public health concern, according the EPA’s website, Guam Homeland Security Adviser Mike Carey acknowledged that Guam doesn’t have the resources to identify or respond to threats from radiation.

"There’s very little that one could do. It is what it is. It’s being monitored. It’s being interpreted by the feds who have the scientists," Carey said yesterday.

He said Guam simply didn’t have the local expertise to provide analysis on the amounts of radiation that have been arriving on island.

"If the feds in the mainland tell us that we are safe, we don’t have too many more options other than to accept that as an article of faith," said Carey.

He said, should radiation levels rise to a point where there’s a concern, "we have to rely on them to signal it to us."

Results from filters and cartridges collected last month on Guam show trace amounts of iodine-131 and -132, cesium-134 and -137 and tellurium-132, according to the results on the EPA website. Air concentration data from March also show the presence of uranium-234 and uranium-238.

While uranium is a naturally occurring element found at low levels in rock, soil and water, iodine-131 is produced by the fission of uranium atoms in nuclear reactors and by plutonium or uranium in the detonation of nuclear weapons, according to the U.S. EPA website.

Non-radioactive cesium occurs naturally in various minerals, but radioactive cesium-137 is produced when uranium and plutonium absorb neutrons and undergo fission, according to the EPA.

Carey, who just returned from three weeks of meetings with federal representatives in Washington, D.C., said Homeland Security has twice-weekly meetings with federal officials to get updates on the situation in Japan. He said he has been assured repeatedly by experts in Washington that, as in the continental United States, there is little risk of dangerous levels of radiation reaching Guam’s shores.

Since the nuclear crisis in Japan, Guam officials have worked with federal agencies to ramp up their radiation monitoring, including setting up the two radiation monitoring devices in Guam and Saipan.

But the month-old disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant now matches the level of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster -- the worst nuclear accident in history.

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency submitted a provisional Level 7 rating for the accident to International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, according to an April 12 update on the International Atomic Energy Agency’s website.

The new determination takes the event from a Level 5 "accident with off-site risk," to Level 7, "or major accident," the highest on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, according to the IAEA website.

The reclassification was made based on an estimate of the total amount of radioactivity released to the environment from the nuclear plant, the website stated.

Despite the higher rating, the disaster doesn’t present the same level of risk as Chernobyl, said Carey.

"The big difference between Chernobyl and Japan is that even though the radiation level is high, it’s contained," said Carey.

The new determination takes the event from a Level 5 "accident with off-site risk," to Level 7, "or major accident," the highest on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale, according to the IAEA website.

The reclassification was made based on an estimate of the total amount of radioactivity released to the environment from the nuclear plant, the website stated.

Despite the higher rating, the disaster doesn’t present the same level of risk as Chernobyl, said Carey.

"The big difference between Chernobyl and Japan is that even though the radiation level is high, it’s contained," said Carey

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