When people in Southern California say they're going out to catch some rays, they don't usually mean nuclear fallout. Today, a radioactive plume that has travelled 5000 miles from Japan's damaged nuclear reactors will most likely reach the west coast. Officials from the EPA, AQMD, California Dept. of Public Health and LA County spent yesterday issuing reassuring statements that the remaining level of isotopes will be harmless, and reminding people that earthquake preparedness starts with a home kit that has a good supply of batteries.
To which I say, if we get a 9.0 earthquake here, do you really believe we're going to be thinking about batteries?
I have no idea if the officials are right and we have nothing to fear from the latest chapter in Japan's unfolding tragedy. I know that in the 1920s, officials told everyone to take radium "cures." In the 1950s, officials assured us that Nevada bomb test sites posed no threat to the local residents. So, whether or not the dissipated radiation migrating to SoCal today is truly harmless may not be known until we all grow a second head in a few years. Who knows, maybe my second one will have x-ray vision and a photographic memory. Let's look on the bright side, right?
Officials have told us some other things recently, too. They've told us that California has thousands of concrete buildings -- most are offices and apartments built since the 70s -- that will likely collapse in a quake of Japan's magnitude. They've told us that our own nearby Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor has had a near miss even in the absence of a catastrophic earthquake. So what happens if a big quake does occur near Diablo Canyon? What is the emergency earthquake contingency plan? It doesn't have one. (But I'll bet it has a stockpile of batteries!)
These are weird times, people. While I'm not advocating putting on tinfoil hats and popping potassium iodide pills, I do think we need to ask our officials some serious questions about California earthquake preparedness. Which buildings are unsafe and what can we do to fix them? How can we safeguard Diablo Canyon? The structure was built to withstand an earthquake with a maximum magnitude of of between 7.1 and 7.5, but Californians have known for years that a "Big One" will eventually happen. Banking on it just not happening anytime soon is not a policy I feel comfortable with. I'm fairly certain my future second head will agree.
For daily radiation levels in Southern California, click here for the AQMD report.