Health Risks to U.S. From Japanese Nuclear Crisis Seen as Low

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But medical staff at hospitals near the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre plants in California told MedPage Today that they believe they are prepared for the most likely radiation-related scenarios in their communities.

Medical centers in the vicinity of nuclear plants typically have a close working relationship with the emergency preparedness teams at those facilities, hospital managers said.

Staff from California's San Onofre nuclear facility do annual physician training and supply assessment at nearby Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in San Clemente, according to James Lenthall, director of safety services at the hospital.

Given the hospital's location within a 10-mile radius of the San Onofre plant, the NRC also requires that it conduct larger drills every three years in which the hospital practices receiving multiple victims of radiation exposure, Lenthall said.

In general, however, most training focuses on exposed plant workers, rather than a large-scale public health disaster, according to Julia Fogelson, MD, director of the emergency department of French Hospital Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, near the Diablo Canyon power plant.

Those workers would typically be decontaminated at the plant, although Fogelson said the hospital is prepared to prevent a radiated worker from posing a danger to other patients.

Like Lenthall, Fogelson emphasized that familiarity with the emergency managers at the nuclear facility is vital.

"We are all familiar with each other, and there's a comfort level and trust," she said. "There's a pretty well-oiled unit in place if anything were to happen."

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