Woods Hole – benign Fukushima radiation plume reached U.S. West Coast, why isn’t EPA measuring for radiation?

Barely detectable levels of Cesium-134 have been detected in the Pacific Ocean within 100 miles of the U.S. West Coast.  Despite the so-called radioactive plume having nearly reached the coast, we shouldn’t be afraid (yet) that the Pacific Ocean is being absolutely fried with nuclear radiation from Fukushima.  The results were reported today by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) who organized a crowd-sourced campaign of radiation monitoring to make up for the lack of official radiation monitoring.

About 3 1/2 years ago a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan sent a huge Tsunami to ravage Japan’s coast.  The ensuing damage affected production of the Nissan Leaf in Japan as well as other parts, delaying some electric car rollout plans.  The Tsunami also damaged nuclear power plants at the Fukushima-Daiichi facility, causing explosions, nuclear core meltdown’s, and a large release of radioactive material across nearby land, as well as into the ocean.

Over a year ago, TEPCO admitted they’d downplayed (lied about) the facts about release of radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean.  Coupled with the lack of official monitoring of radiation levels in the Ocean, enabled a chorus of hyperventilated “news” that the Pacific Ocean is being fried with radiation, and that we’re all going to die.

The Fukushima story is extremely alarming.  The nuclear power plants melted down, and TEPCO and the Japanese Government are barely able to do anything adequate to prevent releases of radioactive materials.  Cleanup of the Fukushima site is expected to last another 40 years, costing zillions of dollars, and requiring technology that has yet to be invented.  While there is cause for alarm, we have to keep the story in perspective and not let fear carry us away into apocalyptic fantasies.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) project, led by WHOI scientist Ken Buesseler, holds a hope of shining the light of truth on the fearmongering, by the simple act of taking measurements from seawater looking for radioactive material.

That project released today research results showing that radioactive material from Fukushima has reached ocean waters off the U.S. West Coast.  The levels are barely detectable and pose no risk.  The samples taken on-shore detected NO Cesium-134.   Samples taken off-shore, in the open ocean, show Cs-134 levels were barely detectable in the range of 0.2 – 2 Becquerels per cubic meter of seawater.

So, yes, the fearmongerers are right, there is a radioactive plume heading to the U.S. West Coast from Fukushima.  The truth is that the plume is, at this time, benign.

While the reported levels are low and not cause for concern, today, we have to recognize a concern for tomorrow.  Despite the size of the Pacific Ocean, enough radioactive material entered the ocean to be detectable from thousands of miles away.  Release of radioactive material from Fukushima continues to this day raising this question:  Will there be a build-up of radiation?  Will widespread radiation from Fukushima become a real problem?  If so, how quickly?

Because there is no official government monitoring effort, and no grant money was available to WHOI to monitor for radioactivity, Dr. Buesseler turned to the public for funding and participation.  The results are based on a string of monitoring stations along the U.S. West Coast, as well as a research vessel that sailed from Alaska to California collecting sea-water samples along the way.The image above shows the data plotted on a map.  The colors in the map aren’t showing the radioactive plume, but the ocean temperatures.  The map also shows the gyre currents that swirl in a circular rotation around the Pacific Ocean.  The gyre is in part responsible for carrying the radioactive material away from Japan’s coast.

“We detected cesium-134, a contaminant from Fukushima, off the northern California coast. The levels are only detectable by sophisticated equipment able to discern minute quantities of radioactivity,” said Ken Buesseler, a WHOI marine chemist, who is leading the monitoring effort. “Most people don’t realize that there was already cesium in Pacific waters prior to Fukushima, but only the cesium-137 isotope. Cesium-137 undergoes radioactive decay with a 30-year half-life and was introduced to the environment during atmospheric weapons testing in the 1950s and ’60s. Along with cesium-137, we detected cesium-134 – which also does not occur naturally in the environment and has a half-life of just two years. Therefore the only source of this cesium-134 in the Pacific today is from Fukushima.”

The researchers look for Cesium-134 because it’s a short-lived Cesium isotope that is only produced inside nuclear reactors.  Because it’s short-lived, any Cs-134 present in the ocean can only have come from Fukushima.  Cesium-137 is another isotope that’s produced through nuclear reactions.  However, it is a long-lived isotope, and there are detectable quantities of Cs-137 in the Pacific Ocean that are left over from the nuclear bomb testing in the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s.

Radiation levels are being monitored off the Fukushima Coast, with frequent reports being published by organizations in Japan.  There is no official (U.S. Government or otherwise) monitoring of radiation levels elsewhere in the Pacific Ocean or near the U.S. West Coast.  This fact is alarming.  With the ongoing release of radioactive material from Fukushima, is there a serious risk of widespread radioactive contamination in the Pacific Ocean.

It appears the official line is that “The Ocean Is Big” and will dilute the radioactive material into harmless background noise.  Some worry that the U.S. Government and others are perpetuating a cover-up of a serious danger that radioactive material release from Fukushima will build up to where the Pacific Ocean is rendered uninhabitable from radioactive contamination.

Fearism aside the question remains – is the crisis at Fukushima – one of the woefully under-reported big stories of our times – a big risk to the rest of us?  And, doesn’t the crisis at Fukushima demonstrate the fallacy of relying on nuclear energy?

 

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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