No Need to Worry about Trace Amount of Radioactivity: Expert
    2011-03-27 13:31:23     Xinhua      Web Editor: Liu
 
by Xinhua writer Ren Haijun

Miniscule numbers of radioactive particles believed to have come from Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant have been detected in as far away as China, the U.S. west coast and even Iceland, yet there are no need to worry, a U.S. nuclear expert said.

"Whether you are in the United States or for that matter in China, I don't think there will be serious consequence from the radiation from Fukushima," Jeffrey Merrifield, former commissioner of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.

During his tenure as commissioner, Merrifield visited more than half of the world's 440 operating nuclear units, including those in Fukushima. He thought obviously there will be small amount of radioactivity spreading beyond Japan, but these are "in very low levels" and "will not impact public health."

"Most of the radiation will be localized in the areas around the site (in Fukushima) and in Japan. Some of that radioactive material that did blow to the east over the Pacific Ocean will be diluted as a result of the wind and exposure to the ocean water," he said.

Merrifield said there is one of the things about activity -- It is very easy to measure and identify radioactivity is present.

"What we found with the Chernobyl accident in 1986 was that you were able to identify the spread of some of the contamination around the world. But it wasn't at a level that was of concern for health," Merrifield said.

According to Merrifield, who also served as acting NRC chairman in August 2003, increased radiation was measured in the United States in the year after the Chernobyl accident. However, that increase was one-three hundredth of what Americans will normally receive from natural radiation environments.

Merrifield now holds the position of senior vice president at Energy Group of the Shaw Group, a Fortune 500 company. He thought those plants that are being designed or underway, both in the United States and elsewhere, are safer than the plant in Fukushima.

According to him, the Shaw Group is involved with assisting China in deployment of the Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear units. The units adopted advanced passive cooling technology, which means those technologies automatically go into effect when there is incidence at the plant and the plant will automatically provide the cooling for itself.

He said the Shaw Group is a 20 percent owner of Westinghouse Corporation and the two companies are contracting with China's State Nuclear Power Technology Corporation to deploy nuclear units in Sanmen, Zhejiang province and Haiyang, Shandong province.

"The first one of those will be going into operation in 2013. And we believe this technology which China has chosen will certainly put it in terms of the world leader, in terms of the safest technology up there," Merrifield said.

While talking about how Japan's nuclear crisis will influence the world nuclear industry in the short and long term, Merrifield said it will depend on country by country. He said in the United States President Obama and Secretary of Energy Chu have both stated they believed nuclear power should continue to go forward.

"We continue to believe the safe form of producing energy for a country and many other countries will come to that conclusion as well," Merrifield said, adding that clearly there will need to be consideration of additional measures to enhance the protection of current nuclear fleet.

Merrifield also deems nuclear energy an important source of carbon-free generation. In the United States, 70 percent of the power that is carbon-free is provided by the nuclear power plants. Furthermore, Merrifield said, U.S. nuclear plants have operated safely for 30 years with very high degree of liability, which are "important reasons why our country chose to go down on nuclear road."

"I think China has it as well. It's important for us to keep moving down on the road," he said.

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