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Cesium particles are relatively large and heavy, so they would not likely travel far in a plume. Most would drop near the reactor site, and if winds carry it east into the Pacific Ocean, it would be “no big deal” to human health, he said.

Kelly Classic, a Mayo Clinic physicist, agreed. She is a spokeswoman for the Health Physics Society, an organization of radiation safety specialists.

“Most of the contamination right now would be on the ground at the reactor site because there wasn’t much wind. That was almost the saving grace here,” she said.

Still, any release of cesium is a concern environmentally and for health, said Jacqueline Williams, a radiation biologist and safety expert at the University of Rochester Medical Center in upstate New York.

“Prior to Chernobyl, we believed that the cesium would be diluted out, that once the cloud went through and it rained, the cesium would be washed out. What we found out was there was an accumulation of cesium in certain types of vegetation, and it accumulated rather than diluted,” she said.

Animals fed on the vegetation and became contaminated, and meat and milk were affected.

“You can’t be quite so blase about the fallout,” Williams said.

At Three Mile Island, however, “the public health risk was close to zero because the radiation was contained within the site itself,” Williams said.

Mettler agreed. The research he led in Russia documented 6,000 to 7,000 additional cases of thyroid cancer in people who were children and teens when Chernobyl occurred, “and there are questionable increases of leukemia in the cleanup workers but it’s not certain.”

And were there long-lasting problems from Three Mile Island?

“Not that most of the scientific community believes,” Mettler said.

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Online:

EPA: http://1.usa.gov/gt46aP

NRC: http://www.nrc.gov/about-nrc/radiation/rad-health-effects.html

Story Continues →