Radiation from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster is approaching the West Coast, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is reporting.
A sample taken Aug. 2 about 1,200 kilometers west of Vancouver, B.C. tested positive for Cesium 134, the Fukushima “fingerprint” of Fukushima.
It also showed higher-than-background levels of Cesium 137, another Fukushima isotope that already is present in the world’s oceans from nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s.
The sample is the first of about 40 offshore test results that will be made public next month, said Ken Buesseler, a chemical oceanographer at Woods Hole.
Further results, which Buesseler will release at a conference Nov. 13, will show offshore Fukushima radiation down the coast into California, he said, including some samples that are closer to shore.
Buesseler emphasized that the radiation is at very low levels that aren’t expected to harm human health or the environment.
“I’m not concerned,” he said.
And no samples from West Coast shorelines have found Fukushima radiation.
“There is definitely offshore Fukushima cesium now,” Buesseler said. “It’s not on the beaches, but it’s offshore.”
Massive amounts of contaminated water were released from Fukushima following a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Radioactive water has continued to leak and be released from the complex.
No state or federal agency is testing Pacific waters for radiation from the crippled Japanese nuclear plant.
So earlier this year Buesseler launched a crowdfunded effort to collect surf samples to be tested at his lab in Massachusetts.
Processing was completed on about 30 of those samples, from the Bering Strait to San Diego, including one from Oregon. More samples are awaiting testing
Then, last summer, the captain of a research vessel out of Moss Landing Marine Lab in California offered to collect offshore samples down the entire coast in conjunction with other research work he was doing.
Buesseler said he hesitated at first, because analyzing those samples would cost about $30,000 his lab didn’t have.
“We decided to send him the containers anyway,” Buesseler said.
Buesseler was able to use a $12,000 donation from U.K.-based Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics to begin processing the samples.
He’s still looking for funding to make up the difference.
The Aug. 2 sample is the project’s first to identify Fukushima radiation.
The sample was collected at a depth of 25 meters.
It showed levels of cesium 134, the Fukushima fingerprint, at 2.2 becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3).
Levels of cesium 137 were 3.9 Bq/m3. Background levels range between 1 and 2 Bq/m3.
Scientist expect the radiation to reach West Coast beaches this year or next year.