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Gov. Sandoval told emergency officials monitoring Japan tragedy closely, briefed on Nevada’s earthquake readiness


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Gov. Brian Sandoval was briefed on the Japan earthquake and Nevada’s readiness to deal with any local effects from the disaster during a visit today with the state’s emergency responders at the state Emergency Operations Center.

During the visit, Sandoval was assured that state officials are monitoring the potential for any radioactive exposure in Nevada should a Japanese nuclear power plant suffer a meltdown. But even if such a scenario occurs, federal agencies say the U.S. will not be at risk.

Nevada has radiation monitors in Las Vegas and Reno and around the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), formerly the Nevada Test Site, and so emergency officials will know immediately if there is any reason for concern about radioactivity reaching the state from Japan.

Sandoval said Nevadans should first give their thoughts and prayers to the people of Japan.

“But after that, I know that people here in Nevada have been watching that very closely,” he said. “They want to be confident that we are in good hands and I think we are.”

Sandoval said the multi-disciplinary team that operates in an emergency, including local governments and other agencies and entities around the state, is “phenomenal.”

“With regard to earthquakes we have one of the best lab facilities in the world right on the campus of the University of Nevada,” he said. “We’re getting that information real time. I think the public should be more than reassured and very confident that we have the ability to respond to any type of emergency.”

Nevada is the third most seismologically active state in the country. The state has developed a plan to help Nevadans prepare for an earthquake or other disaster.

Eric Matus, a radiation physicist with the Nevada Health Division, told Sandoval he is on conference calls daily with federal officials, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and others, about the status of the three damaged reactors at the Fukushima complex.

The recent radiation releases at the plant pose no risk at all to the United States, he said. If there is a meltdown of a reactor core, which has not happened yet, then more dangerous radioactive releases would occur, Matus said.

But even if such releases do occur – because of the distances involved and the mixing effect – both the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission say there will be no radiation hazard in the U.S., he said. It would take three to 14 days for any radioactivity to reach the U.S. depending on weather conditions, Matus said.

“Overall there would be an increase in background radiation, but it wouldn’t be like living downwind of a nuclear power plant,” he said.

Nevada is not relying on information from the Japanese government, either, Matus said. A 33-member team from the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, based at Nellis Air Force Base, has been deployed to collect field data on radiation levels, he said.

“I know these guys and they are very good at what they do,” Matus said.

Kelli Baratti, who oversees the operations section at the center, said she had initial concerns when the 8.9 magnitude temblor hit Japan that it could have an effect on the fault lines along the west coast of the U.S.

Those fears were quickly allied, however, by the UNR seismology staff, she said.

Audio clips:

Gov. Brian Sandoval says Nevada residents are in good hands:

031611Sandoval1 :17 think we are.”

Sandoval says Nevada emergency officials are closely monitoring what is happening in Japan:

031611Sandoval2 :14 that could occur.”

Sandoval says the public should be confident Nevada is ready to respond to any emergency:

031611Sandoval3 :19 type of emergency.”

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