Japan’s Nuclear Meltdown: Don’t Panic. Here’s Why.

By Lissa Rankin, MD

While heroic workers battle the threat of nuclear meltdown in Japan, a different kind of fallout seems to threaten the peace of those of us in the US. As fears that radioactive particles will float across the ocean and strike the United States escalate, we seem to be paying less attention to the tragic loss of life and peace in Japan and more on how this might hurt us right here at home.

Some of my friends are fleeing the west coast in search of safe haven further east. Others are dosing up on potassium iodide in an attempt to protect themselves (as evidenced by those who are stockpiling potassium iodide in spite of the advice of health officials who are telling us to chill out). Still more are just plain freaking out. I’ve gotten at least a dozen cautionary emails just today from people who are encouraging me to be afraid.

But I’m an MD, as well as the mother of a small child. I live in coastal California. And my father was a radiologist exposed to more than the usual dose of radiation in his lifetime. And he had two different cancers before dying of a brain tumor at 60 years of age. (Suspicious, yes).

But I choose to stay put, skip the iodine supplements, and overcome any fear that might be niggling at me. I’m not playing ostrich here. My peaceful calm is based on my own research. And my goal with this post is to be a voice of reason, so I can demonstrate to you why fear is the enemy, much more so than radiation.

11 Reasons Not To Panic
1. You get more radiation going through security at the airport than you’re getting right now on the West Coast. Nuclear Safety Consultant Cham Dallas, professor at the University of Georgia, said on CBS News, “The people in California can rest easy. The amount of radiation that you’re getting now, or are liable to get in the near future from Japan, would be less than you would get in a TSA screening. It’s just not a hazard right now. I can’t see how that’s going to change in the immediate future.”

2. This is not Chernobyl or Hiroshima. While nuclear reactors are at risk, nothing nuclear has melted down yet. No nuclear bomb has gone off. Dallas said, “Right now, and in the immediate future, I cannot possibly see any scenario that would result in any hazardous levels of radioactivity getting to California. Unless this thing really deteriorates a lot more than — than is even conceivable right now.” So chill out, people. Nothing’s happening here right now. And it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever be at risk from this particular event.

3. Japan is VERY VERY VERY far away. 5000ish miles, actually. And radiation leaks from a power plant like this don’t usually affect more than a 10-20 mile radius around the power plant. So if you’re hanging out right near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant site, get the hell out. Otherwise, stop panicking, send prayers to Japan, and thank your lucky stars that you’re safe.

4. Radiation doesn’t travel well. Radioactive particles don’t just hang out at super high doses in clouds of cancer-and-radiation-sickness-inducing concentrations. “Things would have to get kind of ‘end of days’ for us to see even a little bit of it here. We’re talking extreme,” Jordan Scott, a spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re just too far for anything to really reach us. A majority of the materials that would come out of there in a meltdown would dissipate within miles of Japan.”

5. Some people love to panic. Choose not to jump on the crazy-making bandwagon. West coasters are stockpiling potassium iodide for no good reason. Why is that? Are our lives so friggin’ boring that we have to create adventure so we can feel like we’re Jack Bauer in TV’s 24? Must we create hysteria just so we know we’re alive? We did this with the anthrax scare, when people were stockpiling Cipro. We did it with swine flu, when they were hoarding Tamiflu. Now this. Stop it people. You’re hurting your wallets more than you’re helping yourselves.

6. Remember, fear sells. Ebay auctioneers are raking it in on iodide sales right now. Alternative health care providers are scaring you into spending money so you can feel safe. When you’re afraid, you’ll spend anything to feel protected, even if it’s merely a placebo.

7. Potassium iodide only protects the thyroid. If you’re going to live in fear, you better be prepared to be much more afraid, because the thyroid is the last of your worries. What about the rest of your body? What about radiation sickness that can leads to fatigue, hair loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin changes such as swelling, redness, itching and radiation burns? What about leukemia? Lymphoma? These simply can’t be prevented, so why freak out?

8. If there’s reason to panic, we’ll have plenty of warning. It’s not like a nuclear bomb might be coming our way any minute now at the speed of light. If some untold nuclear meltdown happens, it will be more like a hurricane than a tornado. We’ll have plenty of time to get the hell out of dodge and take the necessary precautions.

9. We’re all exposed to radiation every day. According to the World Health Organization, between environmental exposure and medical procedures, the average person is exposed to about 3.0 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation per year.

10. Emotional stress is more likely to kill you than some theoretical radiation cloud that might hit the West Coast. When you freak out, cortisol and epinephrine levels rise, leading to higher blood pressure, decreased immunity, high blood sugar, and other changes that can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke or succumbing to infections or cancer. So take a deep breath. Meditate. Listen to guided imagery. And let those stress hormones fall back to normal. It does a body good.

11. You never know when your time is up, so be here now. When an unexpected earthquake hit Japan last week, people died. On the day before they died, some were worrying about how they would pay for their retirement ten years from now in the face of a falling stock price. Some held grudges about long-past wrongs. Some dreamed of doing things they were too afraid to pursue. Others were probably afraid of earthquakes or a tsunami or nuclear disaster. You could be in a car accident. Your number could be up tomorrow. Don’t waste your life worrying about what might happen.

So What Can You Do?

I know you might feel helpless when you can’t control the outcome of a potential disaster. So I understand why you might be nervous. It helps to feel like you’re doing something. So what can you do to protect yourself and your family?

Meditate. It calms the mind.
Dissociate from your fear. Recognize that fear comes from a primal biological part of your brain that has a tendency to revert to fight or flight mode.
Count your blessings. Think about what the people in Japan must be feeling. Be grateful for your life. Focusing on gratitude calms the mind and attracts good things into your life.
Watch the news for further updates. There is no government conspiracy trying to hide disaster from you.
Donate to relief efforts in Japan, and pray for those who are mourning, injured, and suffering.
Eat healthy, iodine-rich foods (assuming you don’t have thyroid issues), such as sea vegetables such as kelp, yogurt, fish, shrimp, eggs, and strawberries.
If things change and health officials announce that we are in danger, follow their recommendations and take potassium iodide pills in recommended doses if necessary. But don’t go selling your soul to stock up on supplements.

How are you feeling? Are you calm? Freaking out? Tell me what’s up for you. We’re here to support you.


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Woman coach, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Dr. Rankin is also a contributor to SingleMindedWomen.com This article was reprinted with her permission.