Extremely low levels of radioactive cesium-134 have been detected about 100 miles off the coast of Eureka in northern California, scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) revealed.
The unexpected traces have reached the California coast as a result of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdown that occurred following the earthquake that hit Japan in March of 2011.Workers were unable to cool the reactors which eventually exploded, leaking radioactive chemicals into the water.
The radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power, made its way over to North America with other radioactive elements. The cesium-134 was found with another form of the isotope, cesium-137, which had already impacted the water during weapons testing in the 1950’s and 1960’s. These radioactive elements have been slowly making their way across the Pacific Ocean, becoming diluted as they go.
Ken Buesseler, the senior scientist and marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, emphasized that the traces discovered so far are “only detectable by sophisticated equipment” and are relatively innocuous. USA Today reported that Buesseler took ocean samples along the coast of California, Alaska and Canada and showed the results at the annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Vancouver.
“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.”
According to scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of cesium-134 was 2 becquerels per cubic meter of water, which means it’s more than 1,000 times lower than the acceptable limits in drinking water.
While it’s still unclear if what the reports claimed is true or not, the scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) noted that this amount of cesium-134 won’t cause any measurable risk to human health or marine life.
The newly-discovered levels of the radiation following Fukushima’s meltdown are still too low to warrant a substantial level of human concern. Although fish caught for human consumption in the Pacific have shown increased levels of radiation. According to Buesseler, swimming in the water six hours a day, every day for a year would expose a person to a thousand times less radiation than a single dental X-ray.
Ken Buesseler also added during an interview with Northwest Public Radio (NWPR) that he isn’t concerned about swimming or eating fish from local waters. He said:
“We don’t know exactly when the Fukushima isotopes will be detectable closer to shore because the mixing of offshore surface waters and coastal waters is hard to predict. Mixing is hindered by coastal currents and near-shore upwelling of colder deep water. We stand to learn more from samples taken this winter when there is generally less upwelling, and exchange between coastal and offshore waters maybe enhanced.”
The radioactive cesium-134 does not occur in a natural way. It can only be formed in nuclear reactors and it has a short two-year half-life. That’s why it didn’t exist in the Pacific before the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the “largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl,” researchers said.
Previously scientists with the Canadian oceanographers had reported the presence of cesium-134 off the shores of Vancouver Island since 2013, making it very important to keep a close eye on the radiation levels in our oceans.
What are your thoughts on the radiation levels found in our oceans? Do you still feel safe swimming and eating fish from these bodies of water?
(2) IFL Science
(3) IB Times
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