PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Japanese are now scrambling to prevent earthquake-rattled nuclear power plants from full meltdowns.

“I have family members that live in Sendai and in the Miyage Prefecture which, as you know from the news, is the hardest hit area,” Dr. Joe Suyama said.

He was planning to visit his family in Japan soon. Those plans are now on hold.

“I have gotten news that they are actually in a safe place right now although their homes are destroyed,” he said.

Dr. Suyama, medical director of UPMC Urgent Care in Shadyside, is also an expert in radiation health risks and has been watching the Japanese response at three nuclear reactors.

“Radiation taken under this context can be rather scary because there’s a lot of uncertainty – exactly what is happening,” he said.

Dr. Suyama believes that Japanese responders are going by the book with the massive evacuations and screenings for radiation exposure.

“They are responding exactly as they’re supposed to – just like any nuclear power plant in the United States, even Beaver Valley-1 right up the river from here,” he said. “There are certain radiuses in which you have to designate the population to be moved beyond in order to be safe.”

Over the next few weeks, fallout from radioactive materials will be monitored and measured as the environmental cleanup goes on. Assessing long-term health risks like potential cancers and birth defects may take years, but Dr. Suyama is optimistic.

“As it stands now, there is very little health risk because the people are beyond irradiation zone,” he said.

But a change in the wind or weather could blow fallout far beyond what is now a safe zone.

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