'Open for business' Hawaii dismisses nuclear fears

Hawaii insists it is open for business, rejecting worries about harmful nuclear radiation reaching the tourist-friendly US island state from earthquake-hit Japan.

The popular getaway has seen some Japanese tourists cancel trips in the wake of last week's massive earthquake and tsunami 4,000 miles (6,400 km) across the Pacific, which damaged a nuclear power plant, releasing harmful radiation.

But officials voice confidence that there will not be mass cancellations, especially from the US mainland, which provides 73 percent of visitors.

"We are open for business. Hawaii continues to be the world's paradise," said Governor Neil Abercrombie. "Japan's nuclear emergency presents no danger to Hawaii.

"Our ... monitoring systems have not detected any increase in radiation levels, and based on all available information, state and federal experts do not anticipate any risk of harmful radiation exposure to our islands."

His comments echo those of President Barack Obama, who spent much of his childhood in Hawaii and has insisted that any radiation that reaches the islands or the US mainland will have no impact on human health.

Hawaii Tourism Authority spokeswoman Momi Akimseu said that, apart from the Japanese cancellations, it was still too early to predict the impact of the crisis on tourism from the US mainland.

There were no significant declines in travelers coming to Hawaii by the middle of the week, she said, adding she was trying to confirm reports that some flights from China were canceled because they required a layover in Japan.

"Because it's so recent, we have yet to really get our arms around that," she said. "We're hoping for the best. We understand their concerns."

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii, owner of several hotels, including Moana Surfrider and the Sheraton Waikiki, has seen a drop in business among Japanese groups, said spokeswoman Marsha Weinert.

The cause of the drop is likely a combination of factors from the earthquake and tsunami, she said.

The Hawaii Department of Health said the island state has two permanent radiation monitors in Honolulu and Hilo, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sending two more due to the Japanese crisis.

"We don't expect to pick up anything," health department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said. "It's an abundance of caution."

Governor Abercrombie said residents do not need to take protective measures.

"Our state Department of Health is working .. to monitor the situation on a minute-to-minute basis," he said.

"In the meantime, we continue to send our aloha to the people of Japan," he said, using the Hawaiian word for love, or peace.

"As one island people to another, we stand with them in solidarity and in sympathy for the challenges they are facing."

str-mt/jk

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