On Friday March 18, 2011, European officials released information that the nuclear plume from Japan was detected in Sacramento California. This fact has been confirmed by the Department of Energy. The nuclear plume was detected by equipment at a California Air Force base. The equipment station is part of the detection system set up by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). The CTBTO is an arm of the Unite Nations created to help monitor the global ban on the testing of nuclear arms. However, since the recent Japanese nuclear plant catastrophes, the 60 CTBTO monitoring stations situated around the world have become invaluable in tracking the nuclear plume.
The plume is currently being carried across the Pacific Ocean by prevailing winds and is expected to reach the New York area by next week. Luckily the amount of Iodine -131 and Cesium-137, the contaminants in the plume, are in rather minuscule amounts and experts state that the amounts currently reaching the United States are too low to effect human health. The amount needed to cause cancer in humans is millions of times more than what is currently reaching our shores. Health experts also explained in a recent New York Times article that the nuclear material migrated to the United States from Japan after the Chernobyl disaster and even then only miniscule concentrations of contamination were detected in the U.S.
Throughout the past week, the U.S. has accused Japan of withholding information and now domestic environmental and watchdog groups fear that the U.S. government is doing the same. The unique international aspect of this nuclear disaster has brought to light the need for a global system of monitoring nuclear emergencies that would also make the results public. The CTBTO has come to the rescue but was not created to service this need. In fact, they have been monitoring the releases and tracking the plume since its initial stages, but have only recently released this information.
How could an organization or system be set up to monitor these types of emergencies? Does it seem appropriate to fall under the purview of the UN? Should the role of this international organization be simply to monitor, or to regulate or secure, as well? Do you think that this disaster will change domestic or international energy policy or emergency planning?