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Susan Williams
University Communications
sulwilli@indiana.edu
812-855-8773

Last modified: Thursday, March 17, 2011

IU monitors developing situation in Japan to provide reliable information to students, faculty and staff

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 17, 2011

BLOOMINGTON and INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- With continued problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant and other affected areas in Japan, officials from the Indiana University Emergency Management and Continuity Department, the Office of Overseas Study, the IU Office of Travel Management Services and the IUPUI Radiation Safety Office are monitoring the situation through reliable sources to provide information to IU students, faculty and staff, the general public and media.

They have issued the following update regarding the current situation, and the risk to IU students and faculty studying and working in Japan and the surrounding region. Also included is basic radiation safety information for the general public and media.

IU students and faculty affected -- Seventeen students and faculty currently are participating in IU programs in and around Japan. All have been accounted for.

Ten students from IU Bloomington and one from IUPUI are at various universities in Japan. Staff from the IU Office of Overseas Study have been in continuous contact with them since the initial earthquake. The students all are situated in cities south and southwest of the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

In recent hours Overseas Study staff have communicated with those students in Japan that if they and their families wish them to return home, IU officials will work with them to resolve issues related to registration course work and housing.

Situation update -- On March 16, 2011, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a news release, stating that it was appropriate for U.S. residents within 50 miles of the Fukushima reactors to evacuate. This evacuation is based on projected radiation doses from current/potential conditions. IU students and faculty are located well outside this vicinity. Given the entire situation in Japan, however, the U.S. State Department advises all U.S. citizens in Japan to consider departure.

IU personnel continue to monitor the developing situations in Japan and will make recommendations to affected students, faculty and staff as the need arises.

Here is basic information to keep in mind regarding the situation with the nuclear reactors:

1. It is imperative to use trustworthy sources, such as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (www.nrc.gov) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (www.iaea.org), to gather accurate and up-to-date information. Both of these agencies have experts in Japan, closely monitoring conditions.

2. The U.S. NRC has taken a more conservative approach with respect to acceptable radiation doses than the Japanese government. Because of these different viewpoints, conflicting information on the appropriate size of the evacuation zone around the plants may circulate. This in and of itself does not necessarily make one group right and the other wrong. Although the effects of radiation at high doses are known, it is difficult to determine what, if any, effect may be seen at low levels of radiation exposure.

3. Potassium iodide (KI) is a salt used to saturate the thyroid to prevent uptake of radioactive iodine. A few crucial points to keep in mind:

  • While KI may be beneficial at some point in time to those in the vicinity of the reactors, it is of no use to those in the U.S. due to not only distance but also the relatively quick "decay" of the specific isotope that may be released.
  • Like any drug, KI carries some risk of an allergic reaction. In addition, individuals with certain thyroid conditions can be adversely affected by unnecessary consumption. In situations where the benefit outweighs the risk, these may not be critical; however, for the general population, this is not the case.
  • For those in areas where KI may be recommended, it is important to follow the proper dosing provided by authorities at that time.

4. The various units used to express the amount of radiation around the plant or the radiation dose someone may receive in a certain area can be quite confusing. While the U.S. may use one set of units, the Japanese may use another. Unfamiliarity with the value of the units, may cause a grossly incorrect perception of the situation. Please link to the attached for a guide to interpreting these units http://www.indiana.edu/~iunews/radiation.pdf.

5. Everyone is exposed to radiation in their daily lives. Some sources of this radiation include cosmic rays, naturally-occurring radioactive material in soil and rocks, even our own bodies are sources of radiation. In addition to this "background" radiation, many people are exposed to the beneficial uses of radiation in medicine. A summary of the typical doses from these and other sources of radiation is attached at http://www.indiana.edu/~iunews/radiation.pdf. This chart can be used as a point of reference when interpreting the significance of numbers.

6. Keep in mind that there are two ways in which an individual may be exposed to radiation:

  • Direct exposure -- This can be viewed as similar to the exposure received from the sun or a chest x-ray. A dose is received ONLY while in the rays given off by the source; exposure to radiation ceases once you move away from those rays.
  • Contamination -- This occurs when radioactive material (small particles emitting radiation) deposits in or on an individual or their surroundings. Exposure to this source of radiation can be decreased or eliminated by removal of the radioactive material ("decontamination").

7. Radioactive material is constantly undergoing "radioactive decay." This means that as the energy is released, the radioactivity decreases. The amount of time it takes for the radioactive material to decay varies greatly, depending on the type of radioactive material.

For additional information, monitor the Office of Overseas Study website at http://www.indiana.edu/~overseas/, and follow IU Emergency Management and Continuity at http://www.facebook.com/IUEMC or on Twitter @IUEMC.