Maryann Tobin

There has been debate among experts as to whether the nuclear disaster unfolding in Japan will affect the United States. One thing most agree on is that wind direction and weather patterns will play a role in the extent of the spread of the disaster.

The 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan last Friday forced Japanese officials to release radioactive steam into the atmosphere. The measure remains an effort to prevent a total meltdown of four damaged reactors and the subsequent release of massive amounts of radiation into the environment.

Elevated radiation levels have been reported as far away as Tokyo, 170 miles to the south of the troubled Fukushima Daiiachi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan.

"No citizen of any country can be assured that he or she can be protected from radioactive contamination. One nuclear reactor can pollute half the globe... Chernobyl fallout covers the entire Northern Hemisphere," according to data from the Russian Institutes of Radiation Safety.

While the toxicity of a radioactive cloud may be diluted on its journey across the Pacific Ocean, there is no guarantee that if and when it reaches the west coast of the United States that there will be no consequences.

Radiation from nuclear waste can remain in the environment for more than a 1,000 years.

See: Radiation soars: Workers at Fukushima Japan nuke plant evacuated "Category B and C waste, which contains significant quantities of radioelements of a half-life greater than 30 years, must be isolated from man and the environment for more than 300 years. The time needed for its activity level to decrease by at least a factor of 1,000 may indeed be several tens of thousands of years."