Search online for information on Pacific Ocean radiation from Fukushima, and the search results fill up with fear filled claims the Ocean is burning up from the radiation, and we're all about to die. On Tuesday, initial results were announced by an effort organized by the Woods Hole Institute showing trace amounts of Cesium-137 and other radioactive elements in the Pacific, at levels scientists say are what's left over from atomic bomb testing in the 1950's.
In March 2011, a Tsunami off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture crippled a nuclear power plant, leading to multiple nuclear reactor meltdowns and explosions, and large releases of radiation into the surrounding area. TEPCO has been unable to regain control over the nuclear reactors and, despite best efforts, radiation is continually leaking into the Pacific Ocean. The big question is whether this will cause serious harm to the Pacific Ocean, rendering it and the seafood we all depend on unsafe for human consumption. And, there are websites aplenty telling us the whole Pacific Ocean is already dying from Fukushima radiation, such as the sea floor is supposedly littered with dead animals, or 4,300 workers dying while cleaning up the Fukushima reactors but nobody knows because of collusion between TEPCO and the Japanese Government. Both of these are untrue, but that doesn't stop the spread of misinformation.
Seeing this, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute is hoping to organize dozens of seawater sampling sites along the western coast of North America. They've launched a website, Our Radioactive Ocean, which is crowdfunding an an organization which will do the necessary radiation monitoring necessary to bring the light of truth to this problem.
The current funding has supported seawater sampling at 8 sites from the Seattle area down to San Diego.
In all cases the level of Cesium-134 is below detection, and while Cesium-137 is detectable its concentration is about 1.3 Bq per cubic meters. That Cesium-137 concentration is exactly the level that's left over from atomic bomb testing in the 1950's. Meaning the scientists have yet to detect any radioactive material from Fukushima on the US West Coast.
It's known a "plume" of radioactive material is in the Pacific Ocean, and is heading to the US West Coast. The best estimates of the Woods Hole Institute scientists are that the plume will reach Alaska and coastal Canada first, in April 2014. It is being carried by the Kuroshio Current across the Pacific. Afterward it is expected to circulate southward along the coast, and then to Hawaii. It's expected radiation levels in the plume will be minor, due to dilution (the Pacific Ocean is pretty big).
Cesium-137 (CS-137) is one of the uranium fission byproducts, it has a half-life of 30 years, and is known to cause cancers. It does not occur naturally on its own, therefore all CS-137 is a byproduct of uranium nuclear reactions. Cesium-134 (CS-134) is another uranium fission byproduct, with a half-life of two years, which scientists say would indicate contamination from Fukushima.
Detecting no CS-134 and trace levels of CS-137 is what the scientists expect, at this moment, because the plume has not yet arrived. As they continue to take samples they'll be able to see the arrival of the plume. The radiation levels in the samples will validate, or not, as the case may be, the scientific model by which they've claimed the plume will not bring significant quantities of radiation to the west coast.
“The reason why we see such low levels of radiation in these samples is because the plume is not here yet. But it’s coming. And we’ll actually be able to see its arrival,” Ken Buesseler, marine chemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), says. “That baseline data is critical. “We expect over the rest of 2014, levels will become detectable starting first along the northern coastline. But the complex behavior of coastal currents will likely result in varying intensities and changes that cannot be predicted from models alone. Optimally, we’d like to be able to sample and analyze about 20 sites from Alaska to San Diego at regular intervals every few months. We even have had interest from the public as far away as Japan, New Zealand, Guam, and one sailing vessel traveling from Hawaii to Japan this summer, but the West Coast time series is our highest priority.”
According to the WHOI, no U.S. government or international agency is monitoring the spread of low levels of radiation from Fukushima along the West Coast of North America and around the Hawaiian Islands. That leaves no real information to counter disinformation, and as a result fear is running rampant among many.