Experts say virtually no threat to Hawaii from Japan nuclear radiation

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: Mar 18, 2011

According to experts from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Department of Meteorology, the risks to Hawai‘i from the situation at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant are extremely negligible.
Dr. Thomas Schroeder, director of the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, and professor Steven Businger of the Department of Meteorology, lead scientist for the modeling of vog dispersion from Kilauea Volcano, explained that there are several factors keeping Hawai‘i safe from this potential threat.
First, they explained, based on reliable sources (including a number readily available by internet searches), the highest altitude of the plume of radiation is no higher than 5,000 feet. The low-level winds from Japan (latitude 38 degrees north) show no particle tracks aimed near Hawai‘i.  Also, they noted, there has been confusion surrounding comments about jet stream transport of the nuclear particles, however, this event is occurring at low elevations. The jet stream is not a factor in the current situation.
In addition, the wide geographic distance between Hawai‘i and Japan is a very important factor. Dr. Schroeder noted, “According to dispersion models, any radiation from the plume will be dispersed into a very wide area, and as it diffuses and spreads the concentrations become lower and lower. As it is diffusing and spreading over the Pacific Ocean, the rain is also another benefit, which helps to cleanse the radiation out of the atmosphere.”
They pointed to the fact that the U.S. government has determined for purposes of the U.S. citizens in Japan that the risk zone was bounded by a 50-mile radius of the Fukushima facility. The air mileage from Tokyo to Honolulu is slightly more than 3,800 miles and the plume would be spread over a much greater volume.
While it is natural to be concerned about this issue after tragedies such as the Chernobyl nuclear accident and the bombing of Hiroshima, the situation is actually more similar to a smoke stack at a power plant. Outreach faculty at the UH Sea Grant College Program caution the public to look at this from a scientific perspective. For most of the population this is a great unknown, but there are a number of sources of information available, beginning with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.