Many websites are devoting themselves to covering the Japanese nuclear accidents with realtime data. The mainstream media here in the US is downplaying the crisis, with Anderson Cooper at CNN staying on the story the longest.
Unfortunately one characteristic of the Web is to inflate rumors into full-blown crises. The mass media is in part responsible for this. By not providing timely and transparent information, people are left to wonder just how bad the disaster is.
And government's track record of outright lying fawns the rumor mill as well. This is in part a product of what I call the cry wolf effect. We can all remember--and should--all the lies about Iraq's WMD. 4600 lives later, we're left to wonder. So I hope the American people can be less trusting of what their government tells them: one side effect of this distrust is to believe nothing they say, for instance when President Obama tells them this radioactivity poses no danger.
I've heard that Iodine is an important substance to take in because it stops damage to the thyroid gland vulnerable to radiation. Unfortunately, few people have Potassium Iodate pills. Their prices have soared.
Potassium iodate scarcity may not be such a bad thing as the pills should only be taken when fallout is coming down. I'm sure not a few people have begun taking KI--the scientific name for the pills--out of panic despite the near-total absence of radioactivity in the US.
A wiser course of action would be to take foods rich in Iodine and Potassium. While I can't vouch for the efficacy of any supposed remedies discussed at this site, I have heard sea kelp might be viable. From this same source--nutritionist David Wolf--Vitamin C, reishi mushrooms, and possibly selenium were suggested as ways to mitigate the impact of exposure to radioactivity. (See link below)
It's worth remembering that once some radioactive particles enter the human body, they are impossible to remove. They'll continue to irradiate surrounding tissue, typically inside the lungs, which over time metasize into cancerous growths.
Now typically these radioactive particles are heavier and thus will be less prone to travel vast distances. I'd say the Japanese will have the most to fear. This may translate into why so many wear masks. Keep the particles outside the lung, the theory goes, and you'll be less at risk of the effects of radioactivity.
Still, there are plenty of risks associated with radioactive particles in food and water. Already milk and spinach have been impacted in the disaster zone. And if winds carry the radiation away from the coast to Tokyo in the south, the town could become a ghost town. At the very least expect massive agricultural losses from radioactive taint.
Being unseen or unfelt, radiation inspires fear. It's the uncertainty of not knowing if what you're eating or drinking has been contaminated that can drive you mad. Children are also very vulnerable, so radiation is a parent's worst nightmare.
If I were in Tokyo, particularly the eastern or northern side, I'd make sure the children were away. Not sure how much more broadly the radioactivity will spread at this point. Unfortunately there's a possibility that another reactor, at Tokai, is leaking by virtue of a radioactivity survey map. (See link below)
I did see that the problem isn't over. Unfortunately, the plutonium/uranium mix, called MOX--is particularly dangerous, and quite heavy. The worst case scenario is that the uranium could burn all the way through the subsurface rocks and generate a huge explosion, spewing out a mix of magma carried aloft in a massive plume of radioactive steam. The likelihood is miniscule, however.
The nearest event was Chernobyl. In that case, we're seeing contamination to this day. They successfully stopped radioactive emissions there by entombing the reactor, a solution proposed for the Fukushima reactors by famous theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.
I just saw that the heaviest manmade structure ever made was being built to make the Chernobyl entombment more secure. Perhaps the thought of all the uranium from the reactor plunging through the earth's substratum is enough to justify what must be massive costs for that operation.
As I've written about here, nuclear power is dirty from the extraction process all the way through to disposal of its byproducts. As the world is now seeing in Fukushima, the spent rods can overheat, meaning no one is safe from radioactivity even with depleted source of nuclear energy.