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Is radiation from Japan heading to the U.S.?

Japan is facing the very real possibility of a massive release of radiation following three explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, where workers are frantically trying to cool the overheating reactors before they completely melt.

Perhaps more alarming to our readers in the United States is a map circulating on the Internet that purportedly shows the fallout from the ongoing disaster will expose the U.S. West Coast to 750 rads of radiation. The map, allegedly from the Australian Radiation Services, doesn’t say what exactly that means, but it sure sounds bad.

Fortunately, the map is a hoax, according to the real Australian Radiation Services, which has put a disclaimer on its website letting readers know it had nothing to do with the map.

One of the giveaways is that the “rad” is an outdated unit of measurement and is no longer widely used, said Joe Young, managing director for the service.

Young doesn’t know who came up with the map.

"They’re just scaremongering for no real benefit to the community,” he said. “They should be trying to assess the situation, not make matters worse."

Other versions of the map attribute the information to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said NRC spokesman David McIntyre. No matter where it allegedly comes from, there is no truth to it.

“Apparently, the doses listed there are rather sensational and would result in most of the population of the western United States being killed,” McIntyre told The Rumor Doctor.

However, the releases of radiation so far have been localized to Japan because the containment vessels that keep the molten radioactive material from reaching the outside world have remained intact — at least so far, McIntyre said.

“To talk about any radiation reaching the United States at all is highly speculative at this point,” he said.

After McIntyre spoke to The Rumor Doctor, media reports indicated that one of the containment vessels may have been damaged.

Still, the United States is so far from Japan that any radiation would dissipate significantly on its way to the West Coast, McIntyre said.

Frank N. von Hippel, a nuclear energy expert at Princeton University, echoed that sentiment.

"As they say, ‘The solution to pollution is dilution,’ and [there] would be plenty of dilution in the 6,000 miles between Japan and the West Coast,” von Hippel said in an e-mail.

THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: This map is a fake, but the situation at Fukushima is real. Still, U.S. citizens — like those in Japan — should remain calm.

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