Fears of radioactive cloud that may never arrive

Events at the Fukushima power plant have left people beyond Japan's border wondering whether they are in harm's way. In Russia's Far East, just across the water from Japan, they are worried about the threat of exposure.

­Yet sometimes, fear is more dangerous than reality.

It is hard not to be gripped by panic, when the world’s high and mighty are sounding the alarm. The closer you are to Fukushima, the bigger your chances of picking up the panic virus which is spreading – all the more so if you are not a physicist or a doctor.

People in Russia’s Far East, divided from Japan by a strip of water 400 miles across, were the quickest to react.

“My friend called me and said she was leaving the city. I haven’t been gripped by such panic, but I am already taking Iodomarine,” a customer at a local pharmacy in Vladivostok told RT.

But radiation levels remain completely normal, and doctors are forced into sounding a different kind of alarm.

“If anything really serious happens there, consume large amounts of iodine, or red wine – that's what people often say. But such things won't help,” explained a local physician, Seymon Matseplishvili. “Quite the reverse: they may seriously damage health, because iodine blocks thyroid function, and it may well happen, and probably will, that while everything in Japan goes back to normal, many of our people will have problems with their thyroid glands.”

Everyone wants to be on top of official reports. Preparing for the unknown, many go even further, buying personal radiation meters – Geiger counters. Price is no object.

“In the last three days we sold out our monthly stock of Geiger counters. We now have to turn to our suppliers for an additional shipment,” said Skogorev Ivan, director general of the Vladivostok-based PrimTechnoligoes.

Taking reasonable precautions is reasonable, unless panic threatens to become worse than the catastrophe itself. That was the case with the outbreak of the H1N1 swine flu virus, which helped drugs companies earn billions. Today, in Russia's Far East, the transportation industry and pharmacies are cashing in on the panic. But at stake is the region's largest business: fishing. It accounts for 80 percent of the economy in Vladivostok, Russia's largest city on the Pacific Ocean.

Local restaurants, offering fresh seafood from the waters off Japan, are already losing clients. Customers are afraid of radioactive fish. If the hysteria continues, wholesale fish markets could be next to suffer, meaning no silver lining to a radioactive cloud that may never arrive.