From a long-time reader:
OK, a lot of questions being asked. Will try to answer all of them in one email (and avoid duplication and hours of typing).
Everybody's probably seen the video of the explosion of Fukushima Daiichi reactor No. 1 (the BBC link from last night). Since then the No 3 reactor has apparently come close to the same thing - they're pumping seawater onto the core as a last ditch effort to keep it cooled. One story says the tops of the fuel rods were exposed - which means it's probably in meltdown. The Japanese government is playing all this down to avoid panic, but has ordered a larger evacuation around the plant from 20km to 30 km (radius?) and is distributing iodine tablets to the local population. The government "assumes" and NHK has confirmed that both reactors are "probably" in meltdown. Here are the links:
While writing this (at 11:40 PM MST) Coast to Coast AM reports that the Japanese government has now also confirmed that a meltdown has occurred. If/when the reactor core melts through the rock and hits the groundwater, it will cause a huge steam explosion, spreading a mushroom cloud of radioactive material and steam into the air. Depending on how bad the explosion is, it will spread the material fairly high into the atmosphere. How high it goes will determine whether the stuff gets into the upper atmosphere, and how far downrange it will go. Number one just had uranium in it, which is bad enough, but number 3 had a mix of uranium AND plutonium. That's the most poisonous, and cancer-causing material known. Just one microgram inhaled is felt to (statistically speaking) be a 100% guarantee of lung cancer.
The main things we are concerned about are the two isotopes Iodine 131 and Cesium 137 that are the primary things released in the usual "ventings" of radioactive material. The Uranium and Plutonium are something to consider, especially if they are aerosolized, but they are heavier and may come down sooner, mostly over the Pacific.
So, HOPEFULLY most of this material will fall into the Pacific, but enough may be blown across to North America to be concerned about. Reference the fallout map I linked last night. I still have no confirmation that it's from Australian Radiation Services, but it fits with prevailing wind maps in textbooks I have on the effects of nuclear war.
What will help is this link to the stormsurfing map of the wind currents (shows that the wind above Japan will hit No. America about 8-10 days from now):
AND a monitoring network that is updated every 3 minutes:
Pay attention to the little circles with numbers in them on the West coast. Look at the map legend and instructions on how to read it. When the numbers get near the alert level, start taking your iodine pills (or SSKI - saturated solution potassium iodide) in doses per the wiki links on potassium iodide from last night's email to protect your thyroid, or per the instructions on the ThyroSafe pills if you get them from ki4u.com. If you have any chaparral, make a "sun tea" and sip a little bit of it each day (boosts immune system, even though it tastes terrible). Make sure you understand the dosage on the potassium iodide, (don't overdose) otherwise you could throw your thyroid into a shutdown. Ask a doctor or a pharmacist how to take it.
Anybody with thyroid problems should talk with a doctor about this FIRST. The potassium iodide is basically to give your thyroid as much as it needs, so your body is less likely to take up any radioactive iodine, which damages your thyroid. It has a half-life of about 8 days, so by the time it gets here, half of it will have decayed into other isotopes. However . . . Cesium 137 has a half-life of 30 years and will have to be monitored by agricultural and livestock inspectors for contamination. We may be eating from our current stores in our pantry for a month or more - and have to do without milk and cheese and beef for a while if the livestock here gets contaminated. Don't know if taking a short 2-3 week vacation back East will get people out from under all of the fallout, but generally the stuff will dissipate and decay a few day's worth, so it might be a good time to do so. Again, check the radiationnetwork website. And pray for a lot of rain over the Pacific over the next week or two.
Besides the Radstickers (postage stamp-sized dosimeters) that are free with any order, ki4u.com also has (relatively) inexpensive civil defense radiation monitors they bought surplus and have been refurbishing and calibrating. These are about half the price of the cheapest new monitors, and certainly better than anything you might pick up on ebay, because they've been tested calibrated and certified by the only lab that's certified to do this.
They also have a lot of good info that everybody should read regarding the use of these monitors, and basic info on radiation in general. The least expensive (and probably easiset to use) device is their Nukalert keyfob:
If you can count "chirps" and read the back of the device, you can figure out if you're OK or need to take shelter (or get out of Dodge). Most of the radioactive material SHOULD be dissipated by the time it gets here, but even when Chernobyl happened, there was a measurable rise in the background radiation for a few weeks.
Well, I think that covers most everything that's been asked.
Pray for the people in Japan, too. They need it now, and they're gonna REALLY need it if things get any worse.