Doctors Say Japan Radiation Danger Outside Plant Not Large, for Now

VIDEO: The Effects of Radiation Sickness
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The world watches as Japanese officials struggle to gain control of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, and the short- and long-term health of people living in the area has become an overriding priority and topic of conversation around the world.

ABC News contacted a dozen experts on radiation and, while most said that it is unlikely that the radioactive material will have severe health repercussions on those in Fukushima for now, doctors also agreed that it is too early to tell what will happen as the situation continues.

The Japanese government has evacuated nearly 200,000 residents living in the 20-kilometer exclusion zone and urged others within 30 kilometers of the plant to stay indoors and keep their homes airtight.

Jacky Williams, director and core leader of the Center for Biophysical Assessment and Risk Management Following Irradiation at the University of Rochester Medical Center, called the 20-kilometer evacuation radius an "extremely conservative safety zone to protect against fallout."

On Monday, the World Health Organization's spokesman, Gregory Hartl, tried to ease concerns: "From what we know at the moment on the radiation levels, the public health risk is minimal for Japan."

"That means that if someone is affected, there is no great risk," Hartl said.

But many people remained concerned after Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the damaged nuclear reactors may spew further radiation.

"The leaked radiation level is now rather high and there is high chance for further leakage of radiation from now on," Kan told residents on Tuesday.

"These are figures that potentially affect health," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told residents. "There is no mistake about that."

Experts agree that simple measures like creating a sealed containment in one's home and washing one's body and clothing has a direct impact on long-term and short-term effects of potential radiation exposure. Experts also agree that it is too early to tell the short-term and long-term damage.

"Until the type and quantity of the radioactive materials released into the atmosphere can be determined, it is impossible to estimate," said Jeff Clanton, director of radiopharmacy services at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The Japanese government has dispensed more than 200,000 units of potassium iodide, a drug commonly used to treat low-level radiation exposure, which would block radioactive iodine to prevent thyroid cancers.

Experts Can't Be Sure of Risks

"Biologically, our cells have mechanisms to repair the kind of small amounts of damage that occur daily due to background radiation and other causes, so it is quite possible, even likely, that doses below a certain point do not have the effect of causing increased cancer risk," said David Rocke, distinguished professor of biostatistics at the University of California, Davis.

"As far as risk to the Japanese population…it is all a matter of dose, and if there is any question, people can wear dosimeters," he said.

While there is no minimizing the potential threat of residents living near Fukushima, Clanton said that he'd feel safe staying in Tokyo and other parts of Japan at this time.

"If I had a trip planned for tomorrow, I would get on the plane with no reservation," said Clanton.

But John Williams, director of the Nuclear Reactor Laboratory and professor of nuclear energy engineering at University of Arizona, was more cautious.

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