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Why You Shouldn’t Panic About Radiation From Japan

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Why You Shouldn’t Panic About Radiation From Japan

While heroic workers battle the threat of nuclear meltdown in Japan, a different kind of fallout seems to threaten the peace of those of us in the US. As fears that radioactive particles will float across the ocean and strike the United States escalate, we seem to be paying less attention to the tragic loss of life and peace in Japan and more on how this might hurt us right here at home.

Some of my friends are fleeing the west coast in search of safe haven further east. Others are dosing up on potassium iodide in an attempt to protect themselves (as evidenced by those who are stockpiling potassium iodide in spite of the advice of health officials who are telling us to chill out). Still more are just plain panicking. I’ve gotten at least a dozen cautionary emails just today from people who are encouraging me to be afraid.

But I’m an MD, as well as the mother of a small child. I live in coastal California. And my father was a radiologist exposed to more than the usual dose of radiation in his lifetime. And he had two different cancers before dying of a brain tumor at 60 years of age. (Suspicious, yes).

But I choose to stay put, skip the iodine supplements, and overcome any fear that might be niggling at me. I’m not playing ostrich here. My peaceful calm is based on my own research. And my goal with this post is to be a voice of reason, so I can demonstrate to you why fear is the enemy, much more so than radiation.

11 Reasons Not To Panic

1. You get more radiation going through security at the airport than you’re getting right now on the West Coast. Nuclear Safety Consultant Cham Dallas, professor at the University of Georgia, said on CBS News, “The people in California can rest easy. The amount of radiation that you’re getting now, or are liable to get in the near future from Japan, would be less than you would get in a TSA screening. It’s just not a hazard right now. I can’t see how that’s going to change in the immediate future.”

2. This is not Chernobyl or Hiroshima. While nuclear reactors are at risk, nothing nuclear has melted down yet. No nuclear bomb has gone off. Dallas said, “Right now, and in the immediate future, I cannot possibly see any scenario that would result in any hazardous levels of radioactivity getting to California. Unless this thing really deteriorates a lot more than — than is even conceivable right now.” So chill out, people. Nothing’s happening here, right now. And it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever be at risk from this particular event.

3. Japan is VERY VERY VERY far away. 5000ish miles, actually. And radiation leaks from a power plant like this don’t usually affect more than a 10-20 mile radius around the power plant. So if you’re hanging out right near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant site, get the hell out. Otherwise, stop panicking, send prayers to Japan, and thank your lucky stars that you’re safe.

4. Radiation doesn’t travel well. Radioactive particles don’t just hang out at super high doses in clouds of cancer-and-radiation-sickness-inducing concentrations. “Things would have to get kind of ‘end of days’ for us to see even a little bit of it here. We’re talking extreme,” Jordan Scott, a spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re just too far for anything to really reach us. A majority of the materials that would come out of there in a meltdown would dissipate within miles of Japan.”

5. Some people love to panic. Choose not to jump on the crazy-making bandwagon. West coasters are stockpiling potassium iodide for no good reason. Why is that? Are our lives so friggin’ boring that we have to create adventure so we can feel like we’re Jack Bauer in TV’s 24? Must we create hysteria just so we know we’re alive? We did this with the anthrax scare, when people were stockpiling Cipro. We did it with swine flu, when they were hoarding Tamiflu. Now this. Stop it people. You’re hurting your wallets more than you’re helping yourselves.

10 Ways to Help Japan

Next: 6 more reasons not to panic and what you can do instead

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at and also created two online communities - and She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


+ add your own
5:36AM PDT on Jul 23, 2012

thank you

9:36PM PDT on Jul 22, 2012

And now?

7:27AM PDT on Jun 6, 2011

thanks I needed that

1:57PM PDT on Apr 1, 2011

Thank you.

5:03AM PDT on Mar 22, 2011

Thats a well thought out article. It really is a pity that one stops thinking about others (the japanese) and about oneself the moment it seems that there is any danger, real or imagined, to us.
I like what you wrote.

7:47PM PDT on Mar 21, 2011

And don't forget about Y2K. That was a major example of jumping on the hysteria bandwagon. I'm very intuitive and didn't sense any reason to be that concerned. But I'm glad you backed that up for me.

9:20AM PDT on Mar 21, 2011

I know there is no reason to panic, because they will try to put every radiation element at the ground and that will kill every animal and plant...

8:13AM PDT on Mar 21, 2011

A lot of people would panic less IF the Media did not over do it like they love to do!!!
Dont alaways trust what you see or hear...get the info from professionel...not from journalists,,,because if it will sell they will do it! are more likly to be killed by a drunken driver or from a gun than from get real!

2:12PM PDT on Mar 20, 2011

Thanks, couldn't agree more.

8:06AM PDT on Mar 20, 2011

This nuclear disaster IS a world disaster - any nuclear disaster would be. Instead of thinking "us and them" we should be thinking we are all in this together and this affects all of us. We are all on the planet - every ecological poisoning will affect everyone - on some level. It would behoove the powers that be to ALL come together to support Japan in correcting and/or minimizing this disaster. This is a call to come together - to work together - to protect the planet. Not only in this disaster but in what to do next. Is this enough of an example of what nuclear power gone out of control can do? Will we now turn all our attention to alternative fuels ie solar, wind etc - have we learned? We are being called to it. This will not be the last earthquake, the last tsunami, the last hurricane etc. Grandmother earth is working to get out attention here. Will we finally listen?

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