* Wind now blowing towards Tokyo, to shift to Pacific
* Nuclear radiation from Chernobyl blew around world
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO, March 15 Winds are set to blow low-level
radiation from Japan's quake-crippled nuclear power plant out
over the Pacific Ocean in coming hours, easing health worries
after drifting towards Tokyo early on Tuesday, experts said.
After the more serious 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet
Union, radiation blew around the northern hemisphere in about
three weeks. One U.N. study said Chernobyl may eventually cause
up to 9,000 deaths, mainly from extra cancers near the plant.
"The cloud is going in the direction of Tokyo for the next
15 to 20 hours or so," said Gerhard Wotawa, of the Austrian
weather service ZAMG who is advising the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA).
"Then it will go out towards the Pacific," he told Reuters.
"At some point this will also spread around the world." With
prevailing winds, Canada and the United States might be first to
detect a much diluted cloud.
Main story on Japan's earthquake: [ID:nLDE72D2FT]
New explosions on Tuesday at the Fukushima plant, 240 km
(180 miles) north of the capital, released low levels of
radiation, worsening the crisis caused by Japan's worst quake on
record on Friday which triggered a devastating tsunami. More
than 10,000 are feared dead.
Japan told the U.N. nuclear watchdog a spent fuel storage
"pond" was on fire and radioactivity was being released directly
into the atmosphere. Prime Minister Naoto Kan urged people
within 30 kms of the plant to stay indoors.
In Geneva, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) set
up extra monitoring of satellite and other data.
"At this point, all the meteorological conditions are
offshore so there are no implications, for Japan or other
countries near Japan," Maryam Golnaraghi, chief of WMO's
disaster risk reduction division, told a briefing.
The 1986 Chernobyl explosion blew large amounts of
radioactive material high into the atmosphere, where it was more
easily carried in the jet stream, experts say. Japan's radiation
releases have been smaller and lower in the atmosphere.
Experts disagree sharply about the risks facing people near
the plant or downwind of it.
"This is only the beginning, the worst is yet to come," said
Sebastian Pflugbeil, head of the private German-based Society
for Radiation Protection. "It is hard to say if this will be
worse than Chernobyl -- much depends on unknowns and what
happens in the coming days."
Professor Malcolm Sperrin, Director Of Medical Physics And
Clinical Engineering, Royal Berkshire Hospital, told reporters
in London: "This is not a Chernobyl, this is absolutely not a
In the worst case, in which an explosion breaches the
container housing a reactor, radioactive material could be blown
up to about 20 kms, the limit of the exclusion zone, he said.
"It will fall down to earth inside that exclusion zone. So
anyone walking and working inside that exclusion zone will have
to be very carefully monitored, it will be a significant issue,
and outside that zone even if it's extended that contour of risk
will be very well controlled," he said.
Assuming that leaks began on Saturday when the first
explosion occurred, Wotawa said the low level radiation would
have been carried over Japan and towards the Pacific, rather
than towards countries such as China and Russia.
The World Health Organization estimated in 2006 that up to
9,000 people could eventually die, in Ukraine, Belarus and
Russia, from the Chernobyl disaster. The environmental group
Greenpeace disputes that figure, projecting 93,000 cancer
That huge discrepancy shows the difficulty of estimating the
health risks. Kyodo news agency reported that radiation levels
in Maebashi, 100 km north of Tokyo, were 10 times normal.
"That's a high level but it's not that dangerous," said
Ingar Amundsen, of the Norwegian Radiation Protection Agency.
He said that rules for nuclear transport, for instance,
allowed radiation of 50 to 100 times background levels around
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Janet
Lawrence, Gerard Wynn, Ben Hirschler in London, Elaine Lies in
Tokyo; editing by Tim Pearce)
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