March 23, 2011

There is little or no chance of radioactive material released into the atmosphere from damaged Japanese nuclear power stations reaching New Zealand. The National Radiation Laboratory (NRL) and MetService advise that global atmospheric circulation patterns will effectively confine the spread of any radioactive material from Japan to the Northern Hemisphere.

There are now reports of nuclear material originating in Japan being detected in Alaska and North America, though at such low levels that they pose no hazard to human health.

Both NRL and MetService have received enquiries from the public about the impact of the Japanese nuclear emergency on New Zealand.

NRL is watching the situation closely. NRL and international agencies are using existing monitoring sites to track the spread of any radioactivity, including air monitoring stations in New Zealand and other countries,” commented Tony Cotterill, the NRL’s Team Leader, Emergency Response.

NRL has access to data from the air monitoring stations of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation. In New Zealand, there are stations at Kaitaia and the Chatham Islands. Additionally, around the Pacific, there are stations in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Japan, Christmas Island, Wake Island, Midway Island, Hawaii, California, and Alaska. Data are also availble from an NRL/MetService station at Hokitika.

MetService Chief Forecaster Peter Kreft said “It was important to understand that forecasting the airborne spread of radioactive material is a highly specialised field. Unless information about this comes from NRL, directly or through reputable media or channels, think twice about relying on that information.”

At the request of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has activated its environmental emergency response mechanism. WMO’s Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres in Asia (Beijing, Tokyo and Obninsk, Russian Federation) and Australia are closely monitoring the situation.

For further information please contact:
Peter Abernethy    Ministry of Health Media Relations Manager  021 366 111
Peter Kreft        MetService Chief Forecaster                 (04)4700 806

(C) Copyright Meteorological Service of New Zealand Ltd 2011

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