We have posted our most commonly asked questions below. Fairewinds is a 501(c)3 non-profit with expertise in nuclear power operations, and because we are not medical doctors or lawyers, we are legally prohibited from giving specific advice about health, safety, product endorsement, etc. When we cannot give you a specific answer, we have done our best to direct you to the appropriate resources.
Can I quote you or use your materials?
Absolutely! Fairewinds Energy Education is an educational resource, and unless otherwise noted you may quote from our site and use our materials. We do ask that you quote us accurately and with proper attribution, and that you not redistribute our material for commercial purposes (click here for specific terms and conditions).
Are my donations to Fairewinds Energy Education tax-deductible?
Yes. Fairewinds is a 501(c)3 non-profit and donations to us are tax-deductible. Visit our donation page, and read more about what our donors make possible.
Can I interview Arnie or Maggie for my article/ TV show/ podcast/ blog/ etc?
We receive a lot of interview requests, and accept as many as time and testimony schedules permit. Interested in an interview? Please email us!
Can I hire Arnie as a speaker/ lecturer?
Once again, feel free to drop us a line by calling us or sending an email.
How can I get involved with Fairewinds? Do you have volunteer or work opportunities?
Volunteering with Fairewinds is a great way to help us out. We are always looking for Japanese, French, and German speakers to help us translate our content. If you have any other skills or talents you would like to lend to Fairewinds, please contact us, we would be happy to talk with you about getting involved.
What is Fairewinds stance on nuclear power?
We are neither “pro” nor “anti” nuclear power. Since 2008, Fairewinds has been a nuclear safety advocate, working for safer nuclear plants, better government regulation, and proper oversight.
Health and Safety
I am worried about radiation contamination in my area. Can you tell me about my risks?
We cannot legally give specific advice on where it is safe to live or travel. Every region has its own unique health and safety problems, nuclear and otherwise, and it is not within our area of expertise to evaluate specific geographic risks.
For more information on this topic, you can watch our 2011 interview with Dr. Steve Wing for a discussion on geographical risks and the problem of relocating. On our Fairewinds book list, we recommend “The Enemy Within: The High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors” by Jay Gould, and “Living Downstream: A Scientist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment” by Sandra Steingraber.
How can I protect myself against radiation exposure?
Our first question for you is why are you worried about radiation exposure? Do you believe you have been exposed to a high dose of radiation, or are you just generally concerned? Both answers are legitimate, though some people have more cause for concern than others. There is no safe level of radiation, as Arnie discusses in a video about Fukushima exposures. In a 2011 interview, Arnie Gundersen and Chris Martenson discuss “protecting yourself as the situation worsens.” Arnie explains types of radiation, means of contamination and exposure, health risks, precautions those living in contaminated areas should take in their homes and with food, the implications of radioactive seawater, and urgent steps to take in a worst-case scenario.
Potassium iodine pills are commonly used after significant radiation exposure, such as a nuclear accident, to be taken for as long as three months following the event. Potassium iodine pills do not protect you from radiation, they protect you from radioactive iodine, which would be absorbed by your thyroid gland after a large radioactive release and would lead to thyroid cancer. You should consult your doctor before considering taking potassium iodine tablets, especially if you are pregnant or have infants, as potassium iodine pills can have negative side effects. Most importantly, do not take the pills every day anticipating that there might be an accident.
Other treatments for radiation exposure include chelating agents like prussian blue and zeolite. Both will remove radioactive cesium from your body, however they will also strip beneficial and necessary chemicals from your system. Chelating agents should be taken under a doctor’s supervision, to make sure that your are supplementing your body with the right vitamins and minerals, and to check for interactions with other medications and current health issues. For more information about potassium iodine pills and other treatments for radiation exposure, you can visit the CDC’s page on radiation health effects.
The EPA has written “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon”, which has information on protecting yourself against radon in the home. Radon has similar effects on the body as radiation, and can cause false high readings on geiger counters.
For more information about the effects of radiation on the body, please refer to the Health section of our Fairewinds book list. Featured authors include Dr. John Apsley, Dr. John Gofman, and Dr. Helen Caldicott. Dr. Caldicott, a physician who has studied nuclear issues for more than 40 years, hosted a symposium in March 2013 entitled “The Medical and Ecological Consequences of Fukushima Daiichi”, which is available online, and is an excellent source of information on current research and scientific discussion surrounding the issue of health and radiation.
I am concerned about radiation contamination in my food, particularly seafood. How do I know if what I am eating is safe?
We cannot legally give you specific advice on what it is safe to eat. In the case of an accident like Fukushima Daiichi, the ocean, soil and air become contaminated, and this contamination works its way through the food chain. Arnie discussed this issue in 2011 on CNN (watch that video clip here).
The two elements that you would be most concerned about ingesting through food are Cesium 137 and 134, and Strontium 90. Japanese regulators always report Cesium 137 levels, but if the US government is testing Cesium 137 levels, they aren’t reporting it publicly. To the best of our knowledge, nobody is testing for Strontium 90, in the US, Japan, or elsewhere. Strontium 90 accumulates in the bone, so fish stew, which is often cooked by boiling an entire fish, bone-in, can be a particularly risky dish to ingest if you have reason to be concerned about radioactively contaminated fish.
Geiger counters cannot test food for radioactivity; that is to say, you're not going to get an accurate reading unless you buy one in the $5,000-$12,000 price range. To put it in simple terms, normal geiger counters cannot detect radiation in food because it is shielded by the meat of the food itself. Geiger counters also cannot identify what element is causing a high reading. Very few detectors can pick up Strontium 90.We believe the US government is being negligent with the FDA’s decision not to test fish on the West Coast for radiation after the Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe (watch us discuss that here). Testing throughout the food chain is a crucial public health issue. Until the government starts testing fish coming out of the Pacific we won’t know exactly how worried to be. Given the lack of evidence, it is very difficult to make definite determinations as to whether something is safe or not. For now, we advocate the use of common sense, open government, and much stricter testing standards. For people in Japan, there are places where you can take your food to be tested.
I am worried that the symptoms I am experiencing are due to radiation exposure from nuclear fallout. Can you tell me if my symptoms indicate radiation poisoning?
We are not doctors, and cannot give you medical advice. Please see a doctor if you are concerned about your health. You can also refer to our nuclear book list to learn more about the health effects of radiation exposure.
Is it safe to buy products made in Japan?
We cannot legally give you specific product recommendations or purchasing advice. As you research this question yourself, if you find any scientifically-based, balanced and useful resources to answer this question, please let us know.
Can you give me advice on purchasing and using a geiger counter to test for radiation at home?
We cannot give specific product recommendations for legal reasons, but we do refer people interested in radiation detectors to the Safecast website. Geiger counters are expensive, costing upwards of $1,000.
It is important to learn how to use your geiger counter properly and that you have good sampling methods to prevent false readings. The basis of good sampling methods entails taking multiple measurements in a consistent fashion, and keeping detailed records of your data and testing methodology.
False high readings can be caused by radon in the home, poor sampling methods, or a radiation detector that is out of calibration. Geiger counters do not have the ability to isolate the source of radiation. The only way to accurately determine the source of a high radiation reading is to send samples to a laboratory for testing.
Scientist and researcher Marco Kaltofen has conducted thorough studies of radiation contamination after the Fukushima disaster, and offers good advice on how citizen scientists can sample radiation. Learn more about his research here.
Our main question for anyone with concerns about radiation testing is: Why did you take a reading in the first place? Did the item you sampled or wish to sample give you particular cause for concern? If you had a good reason to be suspicious, and you’ve ruled out a false high reading, then trust your instincts and call your state health department.
Can you recommend an accurate radiation plume map?
We do not find computer generated maps tracking the spread of radiation, airborne or liquid, to be accurate or reliable because they are based entirely on estimations of the amount of radiation released. Their main utility is to give you an understanding that radiation is traveling the globe and affecting geographic areas differently. These graphics are based entirely on estimation, because no one knows what is being released from a nuclear power plant, and it is impossible to predict. The relative concentration/ ratio from one area to another is likely accurate, but the actual numbers are probably wrong. Radiation plume computer graphics are fascinating and interesting to watch. Overall, they are useful and interesting models that show the relative amount of radiation deposited, but the actual numbers should not be considered accurate.
Can I send you a sample of something I believe to have radiation contamination? Do you do testing, and if not, where can I get testing done?
Fairewinds does not do testing, so please DO NOT SEND US SAMPLES. We are not equipped to handle or test potentially radioactive materials. Unsolicited samples will not be opened and will be discarded.
Researcher Marco Kaltofen may be interested in collecting samples from Japan. Please contact him before sending him any samples, because it is also his policy to discard unsolicited samples. For samples collected outside of Japan, you will need to search for a lab interested and able to do radiation testing. Remember that radiation testing can be very expensive. Please read the Q&A about at-home sampling above for instructions on good sampling methods, and understand the possible causes for false high readings.
What is rainout, and how does it affect radiation testing?
Rainout is a phenomenon in which radiation accumulates on raindrops during a rainstorm, and the radiation is deposited in a concentrated area by the rain. For this reason, sampling for radiation after a rainstorm can lead to higher than normal radiation concentrations. Some of the radiation accumulated in rainout can be naturally occurring, and other radiation can be caused by a nuclear accident itself. The natural radiation is usually radon and decays away within five days. To separate natural radiation from radiation from an accident, it is best to wait five days before testing a sample collected during a rainy period. The same phenomenon also occurs on vacuum bags and home air filters.