Carolinas utilities report radiation from Japan

Posted March 28, 2011 8:05 a.m. EDT
Updated March 28, 2011 7:07 p.m. EDT

— Utilities in North and South Carolina have reported trace amounts of radiation from a nuclear reactor in Japan that was damaged by an earthquake and tsunami.

Progress Energy and Duke Energy in North Carolina and South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. say they've detected trace amounts of radiation that has been carried on the jet stream across the Pacific Ocean and the U.S. following the damage to the reactor almost three weeks ago.

Progress Energy says it picked up low levels of iodine-131, a radioactive byproduct of nuclear fission, at its nuclear plant in South Carolina and a Florida plant. Duke Energy reported low iodine-131 levels at its plants near Lake Norman and in South Carolina.

The utilities regularly check for radiation contamination according to standards set by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"We just happen to be the facilities with the most sensitive monitoring equipment. So, as we get these readings every week, we've been reporting them to appropriate agencies so they can take whatever action is deemed appropriate as far as informing the public," Progress Energy spokesman Mike Hughes said Monday. "None of them has deemed to this point that there is any impact on public health and environment."

Officials with the state Division of Environmental Health said someone would have to breathe air with the elevated levels of radiation reported for 2,000 years to get the same exposure as a single X-ray.

“The public’s health is always our top priority,” State Health Director Dr. Jeff Engel said in a statement. “At this time, the radiation levels detected in North Carolina represent no risk to human health. On any given day, we are exposed to much higher levels of radiation than these from natural sources like the sun.”

Still, the Division of Environmental Health is analyzing air samples from around North Carolina daily for possible radiation, and technicians also are checking water, milk, shellfish and vegetation for signs of contamination.

“It is not unexpected that North Carolina would see very low levels of radiation following the nuclear incident in Japan,” Lee Cox, chief of the state Radiation Protection Section, said in a statement. “Similar levels of radioisotopes were found in North Carolina following the 1986 incident at the Chernobyl plant in Russia.”

Massachusetts, Nevada and other Western states also have reported minuscule amounts of radiation.

Radiation will likely be reported around the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in southwest Wake County as well, Hughes said.