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March 16, 2011

Radioactive SMS alerts spread panic all over!!

Experts say leakage from nuclear reactors in Japan will dissipate in the atmosphere before covering over 6,000 km. After details of the blast in a nuclear plant in Japan were revealed on Monday, lakhs of people’s mobile phones started buzzing early on Tuesday morning with messages about the repercussions of a radioactive leak.

The SMS' & emails were dutifully forwarded to loved ones & friends. The result: panic!! The SMSes & mails were not confined to Bangalore, but covered a lot of South East Asian countries. They said ‘BBC flash news: Japan government confirms radiation leak at Fukushima nuclear plants. Asian countries should take necessary precautions. When it rains, remain indoors for the first 24 hours, close doors & windows, swab neck skin with betadine near thyroid area as radiation hits thyroid first. Take extra precaution, radiation may hit Philippines starting 4 pm (Pinas time) today! Please pass this message’.

People outside Japan began wondering if they too would be affected. The disaster management agency of Philippines has reassured citizens by declaring the warning a hoax. Citizens are expecting a similar assurance from the Indian government, but none has come so far. As of now, there is no official sign of panic. Dr V Prakash, director of the Karnataka State Disaster Management Authority, said: “An alert has been issued in countries near Japan. But we don’t think it will affect countries beyond Indonesia. Precautions of the kind mentioned in the SMS' & emails are not needed in India.”

Kaiga Nuclear Power Plant site director J P Gupta said, “This message could be true for Japan. The distance between Japan & India is over 6,000 kilometres. It will certainly not affect people of India. As for Kaiga, there is no need for people to panic as it is designed to withstand earthquakes & other natural disasters.” Kaiga is over 450 km from Bangalore in Uttar Kannada district & about 160 km south of Panaji, Goa.

Prof Radhakrishna M C from the physics department in Bangalore University said, “The radiation particles from Japan will rise up & dissipate in the atmosphere. They are unlikely to travel all the way to India.” Prof Anil Kumar of the department of physics in IISc said, “There are different types of radioactive elements. Whether it will affect other countries depends on the radioactive elements emitted & the quantity. India is far away from Japan. I don’t think it will affect us.” His colleague Professor Arnab Rai Choudhuri said, “The best persons to answer such questions are people from the Trombay-based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre or the Department of Atomic Energy.”

A senior official from the Coastal Security Police in Udupi district said, “We are aware of the emails & SMS'. I too received a couple of them. So far, no panic has been reported.” Dr A S Rao, superintendent of police of neighbouring Dakshina Kannada district, said, “So far, there 've been no complaints regarding such messages.”

Bangalore Mirror spoke to some doctors about the effect on people’s health in case they are exposed to radioactive material. While they were forthcoming with details on the effect & possible precautionary measures, they were also certain that radiation from Japan would not reach India. Dr Saroja, nuclear medicine specialist & head of radio diagnosis in Raja Rajeshwari Medical College, said, “If the radiation is emitted, being inside the house will not protect a person. The best protection is a five mm thick lead barricade around you. As for the health, only the thyroid will be affected. In all possibility, the radiation from Japan will not affect India.” 

Dr B S Ajai Kumar, radiation oncologist & chairman of HCG group of Hospitals, said: “Japan is too far away for radiation to affect us. However, people in the middle of such a disaster will face problems with their hair, skin & other body parts. The effect reduces as we move away from the source of the leak.”

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