4.3.11 update: With yesterday’s report that highly radioactive water is leaking into the Pacific from the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the nuclear disaster just got bigger — and resolution further away. How far does the danger extend? Not yet to America. Though daily air monitoring around the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency shows elevated levels of radiation, these levels are still many, many times below the level of concern. To check levels in your state, see EPA’s air monitoring data map. The EPA is now testing drinking water and milk for radioactive contamination as well.
Note that it is not helpful — and can be harmful — to take potassium iodide (KI) pills as a preventive measure to protect against radiation when you are not actually in imminent danger of radiation exposure (within the next 24 hours). To understand why, see the Centers for Disease Control fact sheet on Radiation and Potassium Iodide (KI). Also these pills only help protect against radioactive iodine, not other types of radioactive materials, such as the cesium and plutonium also leaking from Japan’s damaged nuclear power plants.
3.29.11 update: You can get very brief daily summaries on the status of each of the nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant at The New York Times.
3.28.11 update: Are you wondering where the seawater pumped into the reactors ends up… whether more people in Japan should be evacuated… which radioactive isotopes are of concern… if U.S. nuclear plants can withstand earthquakes and tsunamis? The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Reactor Crisis in Japan FAQs offers answers to these and other questions.
3.23.11 update: For a map of Japan’s nuclear crisis, check out the interesting interactive map created by Channel 4 (a UK media company). Map pop-ups include Channel 4 news videos.
3.18.11: The Union of Concerned Scientists’ nuclear power program, which works to promote nuclear power safety in the U.S. has been giving daily press briefings on the nuclear crisis in Japan and maintaining a daily blog called All Things Nuclear. Some (but not all) of the material published gets into technical detail, but if you want to understand the issues, you can’t find a more objective or reliable source. (Full disclosure: UCS is one of my web design firm’s clients and I’ve worked with the nuclear program on an interactive nuclear power map.)