Radiation from the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan has arrived in the Pacific Ocean waters along the Canadian coast, and scientists are expecting trace amounts to arrive on American beaches soon. It’s taken the contamination almost two years to get here, and experts expect it to find its way to the U.S. coastal states in the coming months.
John Smith, a research scientist with Canada’s Bedford Institute of Oceanography, reported that his group has identified cesium-134 and cesium-137 isotopes off of the west coast of Vancouver, British Columbia. While cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years and could originate in other nuclear tests and power plants, the presence of celsium-134 with a half-life of two years, he says, is an “unequivocal” marker that it came from Fukushima. His findings were reported during a meeting of the Ocean Science’s section of the American Geophysical Union in Honolulu on Monday.
Ken Buessler, with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts says monitoring sites in Washington and California have not detected any trace of radiation from the destruction of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant. Then he added, “Not yet.” Ocean migration simulations had predicted the arrival of the radiation during this time, and projections are for concentrations to peak in 2016. Since there are no international or federal agencies inspecting waters along the North American Coast, Buessler has taken it upon himself to organize volunteers stationed at 16 sites in California and Washington, with two more in Hawaii. They will collect seawater in special containers and send it to his laboratory at Woods Hole.
The good news to come out of the meetings is that the concentration of the isotopes is well below the levels for safe drinking water. Smith said the levels remain well under concentrations permissible in Canadian drinking water and are clearly not a threat to human health or the environment at this time. North American waters might have been helped by two ocean currents east of Japan. Scientific models of the radiation’s path suggest The Kuroshio Current and the Kuroshio Extension would have diluted the contamination to acceptable levels in a matter of months after the nuclear disaster.
The acceptable concentration of the cesium-137 isotopes in the water is 10,000 Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3). Simulation models show maximum levels will be no greater than 17 Bq/m3 for cesium-137 and no more than 2 Bq/m3 for cesium-134. A Becquerel is a unit of radioactivity agreed upon by the international scientific community. Those maximum levels would be well below safe levels for human consumption set by the EPA, World Health Organization and the Department of the Environment in Canada.
There is another side of the issue that concerns North American scientists just as much as the arrival of the Fukushima radiation. They are closely monitoring instances of disinformation and fear-mongering on the Internet. Web stories reporting dangerously high levels of radiation on California beaches showed up as early as January, while the scientific community does not expect to see detectable traces on the west coast until April. Furthermore, trackers expect California to benefit from Pacific currents which will take the plume deeper into the ocean and lessen concentrations of the isotopes.
By Chuck Podhaisky