Is Korea Safe from Japan Radiation?

      March 16, 2011 13:32

      Concerns are rising in Korea about a major radiation leak from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Japan. The fallout from the devastating Chernobyl disaster in 1986 spread northwest to Stockholm, Sweden and west to Berlin, Germany, each some 1,100 km away, which is roughly the distance between Seoul and Fukushima.

      The Korea Meteorological Administration recently conducted a simulation that looked into what would happen if a major radiation leakage occurred at the Japanese power station. The KMA said there is only a slim chance that radioactive materials like strontium, cesium and iodine would be carried by winds all the way over to Korea.

      ◆ Wind

      A northwesterly wind blowing through Seoul on Tuesday is expected to persist until at least Sunday. Thus there is little chance that radioactive particles would be carried to Korea. Even if the direction of the wind changes after Sunday, gusts created by atmospheric pressure hundreds of meters above the earth make it impossible for radioactive materials to travel more than 1,000 km, according to the KMA. Experts say the radioactive material would also be blocked by mountainous terrain in Japan and fail to travel further west.

      ◆ High Altitudes

      If radioactive materials are to travel more than 1,000 km, they must be carried by strong gusts many kilometers above the surface. But the belt of the westerlies of the northern hemisphere passes high above Korea and Japan. Just 2 km above land, the wind travels west to east all year round, making it impossible for radioactive materials from Japan to reach Korea. If radioactive materials from the Fukushima plant spewed into the air like volcanic ashes and reached the jet stream 10 km above the surface of the Earth, they could reach Korea only after circling the planet once from west to east.

      The huge amount of radiation from the Chernobyl plant did reach the jet stream and spread. But the radiation from Fukushima is gaseous, so there is little chance that it would rise so high, said Kim Seung-bum of the National Institute of Meteorological Research. Even if the radiation gas reaches the jet stream, it would dissipate during its two-week path around the planet.

      ◆ Other Routes

      Lee Jae-ki, a nuclear scientist at Hanyang University, said if a major radiation leak happens at the Fukushima nuclear plant, there are concerns of radioactive contamination in inland Japan and coastal seas, so Japanese agricultural, fishery and dairy products could pose risks. As a result, Korean authorities have stepped up checks on Japanese agricultural and fishery imports for possible radioactive contamination.

      Could people traveling to and from Japan for business spread radiation? Lee said even at Chernobyl only a 30 km zone around the site remains sealed off. "At the present level, there will be no problems visiting Japan excluding the area immediately next to the Fukushima nuclear plant."

      To be on the safe side, the government plans to set up a radiation detector at Incheon International Airport this week to check inbound travelers from Japan for radioactive contamination.

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