Department of Science and Technology Secretary Mario Montejo assured the public that, based on DOST’s Philippine Nuclear Research Institute’s routine daily radiation monitoring in the environment, the level of radiation in the environment in the country has remained stable since the Fukushima incident in Japan.

“DOST-PNRI is closely monitoring developments through its 24-hour link up with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” Sec. Montejo said.

No increase in radiation level means that, as of the moment, there are no immediate effects of the March 11 Fukushima nuclear power plant explosion to the Philippines.

DOST-PNRI Director Alumanda dela Rosa also cited a plume trajectory study provided by DOST-PAGASA showing that the plume from the site of the incident at Fukushima will not pass the Philippine territory as of March 14, 2011.

“The direction of the smoke appears to go away from the direction of the country,” Dr. dela Rosa explained. “The smoke is carried away by the northeast monsoon (amihan).”

According to DOST-PAGASA, the direction of the wind will continue to be stable until about May 15 and there is no imminent sign of weather disturbance that may affect the current wind direction.

Nuclear explosion contained
On March 11 this year, the Japanese government reported to the IAEA the explosion of two nuclear power plants in Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that rocked Japan, affecting three nuclear reactors (Units 1, 2, and 4).

IAEA reports revealed that Unit 1 reactor incident occurred outside the primary containment vessel, and that the integrity of the vessel remains intact, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company confirmed.

To limit damage to the reactor core, Japan's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) allowed the injection of sea water mixed with boric acid into the primary containment vessel. Boric acid absorbs neutrons to prevent reactor criticality.

NISA likewise confirmed the presence of radioactive elements cesium-137 and iodine-131 in the vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi Unit 1. An initial increase in levels of radioactivity around the plant was noted by NISA earlier this Sunday, but these levels have been observed to lessen in recent hours.

The IAEA assures that containment remains intact at Fukushima Daiichi Units 1, 2 and 3, unlike the Chernobyl incident in 1986.

“The design of the Fukushima reactor is different from that of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant,” explains Sec. Montejo. “In the event of a meltdown at Fukushima, the melted fuel is expected to stay within the stainless steel containment, preventing its release to the environment.”

The Chernobyl power plant did not have a reactor building concrete shield and steel containment, he added.

No cause for alarm
In an emergency press conference this Sunday, the inter-agency National Risk Reduction and Management Council assured the public that, basing on current conditions, there is no cause for alarm on possible effects to the country of the nuclear explosion in Japan.

In the event that radiation levels increase, the Department of Health is prepared to counter its possible immediate effects. According to Dr. Agnette Peralta, medical physicist of the DOH, the only real danger in the event of increased radiation is ingesting radioactive materials which will affect the thyroid glands. Said glands can absorb radioactive iodine which increases a person’s risk to thyroid cancer.

“DOH is ready with prophylactic potassium iodide to counter the ingestion of radioactive iodine,” Peralta informed, even as she warned that said preventive treatment can only be administered when a person has reached a specified radiation level. “This preventive treatment cannot just be taken by anyone,” she added.

When people catch radiation, they can easily wash it off by taking a bath, DOH’s Dr. Carmencita Banatin said.

To prevent any chances of radiation contamination in the country, import of processed foods is currently prohibited, according to DOH.

Government on top of the situation
“The chances of being affected by Japan’s nuclear incident are very remote,” Montejo said. “As the days pass by, the chances decrease because the affected reactors are cooling down.”

Dela Rosa assured that DOST-PNRI’s National Radiological Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan has put in place an organized emergency response facility for a timely, coordinated action of the Philippine authorities in the event of a radiological emergency.

The DOST-PNRI is closely monitoring developments at Fukushima every six hours and maintains a 24-hour link-up with the IAEA. For more detailed information on the Fukushima event, pls. call DOST-PNRI Director Alumanda dela Rosaat (632) 929- 4719 or 920-8738. (Framelia V. Anonas, S&T Media Service)

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