Scientists expect traces of ocean radiation soon

Mar 15, 2014 by Jeff Barnard
This Aug. 20, 2013 filel photo shows the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant at Okuma in Fukushima prefecture, northern Japan. Scientists have crowd-sourced a volunteer network to monitor radiation moving across the Pacific Ocean since the 2011 earthquak and tsunami dmaged the plant. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

Scientists have crowdsourced a network of volunteers taking water samples at beaches along the U.S. West Coast in hopes of capturing a detailed look at low levels of radiation drifting across the ocean since the 2011 tsunami that devastated a nuclear power plant in Japan.

With the risk to public health extremely low, the effort is more about perfecting computer models that will better predict chemical and radiation spills in the future than bracing for a threat, researchers say.

Federal agencies are not sampling at the beach. The state of Oregon is sampling, but looking for higher radiation levels closer to , said state health physicist Daryl Leon. Washington stopped looking after early testing turned up nothing, said Washington Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer.

The March 2011 tsunami off Japan flooded the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, causing radiation-contaminated water to spill into the Pacific. Airborne radiation was detected in milk and rainwater in the U.S. soon afterward. But things move much more slowly in the ocean.

"We know there's contaminated water coming out of there, even today," Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said in a video appealing for volunteers and contributions.

In fact, it is the biggest pulse of radioactive liquid dropped in the ocean ever, he said.

"What we don't really know is how fast and how much is being transported across the Pacific," he added. "Yes, the models tell us it will be safe. Yes, the levels we expect off the coast of the U.S. and Canada are expected to be low. But we need measurements, especially now as the plume begins to arrive along the West Coast."

In an email from Japan, Buesseler said he hopes the sampling will go on every two or three months for the next two to three years.

Two different models have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals predicting the spread of radioactive isotopes of cesium and iodine from Fukushima. One, known as Rossi et al, shows the leading edge of the plume hitting the West Coast from southeast Alaska to Southern California by April. The other, known as Behrens et all, shows the plume hitting Southeast Alaska, British Columbia and Washington by March 2016.

The isotopes have been detected at very low levels at a Canadian sampling point far out to sea earlier than the models predicted, but not yet reported at the beach, said Kathryn A. Higley, head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University. The Rossi model predicts levels a little higher than the fallout from nuclear weapons testing in the 1960s. The Behrens model predicts lower levels like those seen in the ocean in the 1990s, after the radiation had decayed and dissipated.

The models predict levels of Cesium 137 between 30 and 2 Becquerels per cubic meter of seawater by the time the plume reaches the West Coast, Higley said.

The federal drinking water health standard is 7,400 Becquerels per cubic meter, Leon said.

Becquerels are a measure of radioactivity.

The crowdsourcing raised $29,945 from 225 people, enough to establish about 30 sampling sites in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and California, according to Woods Hole. The website so far has not reported any radiation.

Sara Gamble of Washington state, the mother of a young child, raised $500 because she thinks it is important to know what is really going on. Woods Hole sent her a bucket, a funnel, a clipboard, a UPS shipping label, instructions and a big red plastic container for her sample. She went to Ocean Shores, Washington, a couple of weeks ago, collected her sample and shipped it off. No results have come back yet. To do another sample, she will have to raise another $500.

"I got lots of strange looks at the beach and the UPS Store, because it's labeled 'Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity,' and it's a big red bin," she said. "But it's funny; nobody would ask me anything out on the beach. I was like, 'Aren't you curious? Don't you want to ask?'"

Taking the sample has allayed her initial fears, but she still thinks it is important to know "because it affects our ecosystems, kids love to play in the water at the beach, and I want to know what's there."

Explore further: How radioactive is our ocean?

More information: On the Web: Details on radiation project: www.ourradioactiveocean.org

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution FAQ on Fukushima radiation: bit.ly/KoFvKk

Video of crowdsource appeal: bit.ly/1krSzLH

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User comments : 13

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kris2lee
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 15, 2014
Would someone hold Japan accountable for this mess they created?
Doug_Huffman
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 15, 2014
Would someone hold Japan accountable for this mess they created?
Why? Has a tort been suffered? An 'act of god' defense might be a good place to start.

YOU must understand the implications of the Pareto Distribution of natural phenomena and the difficulty in finding and killing The Black Swan in inductive inference.

http://www.zerohe...contrast
antialias_physorg
3.4 / 5 (7) Mar 15, 2014
Would someone hold Japan accountable for this mess they created?

You mean GE who designed the thing for a US environment and then failed to redesign taking japanese environmental differences/risks into account?

In the end what does it matter if you sue someone? The shit will hit the beaches whether there's a legal paper to wave in the way or not. You can't clean it up, and no matter how much money you throw at it you won't get non-irradiated beaches (and fish on your plate) back.

That's the thing many people fail to understand about some technologies: The profit they make is not worth the damage - as no amount of profit can make the damage undone.
Doug_Huffman
2.5 / 5 (4) Mar 15, 2014
That's the thing many people fail to understand about some technologies: The profit they make is not worth the damage - as no amount of profit can make the damage undone.
All technologies.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (5) Mar 15, 2014
All technologies.

I wouldn't go that far. There are technologies that, if at all, only create local damage in the worst case scenario...and damage at that which can be cleaned up. E.g. it's hard to imagine what kind of long lasting damage a solar collector or a wind power generator could have - even if they 'failed catastrophically'.

Even a nuclear fusion powerplant would be something that would be rather benign under any conceivable circumstance.
_ilbud
4.8 / 5 (5) Mar 15, 2014
It's hard to fathom the amount of ignorant fear swilling around the US. General levels of education are so poor that these dimwits cannot find anyone in their circle who can explain reality to them.
marklade
Mar 15, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Doug_Huffman
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 15, 2014
Photovoltaic semiconductor solar collectors have multiplied the size of the semiconductor production industry producing toxic materials, by-products and wastes.
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Mar 15, 2014
True, but those are chemical wastes. It is in our power to deal with chemical wastes (though we often - foolishly - choose not to).
Collecting, separating and reusing wastes is all possible for any kind of chemical composition. At the very least we can find ways of rendering them inert as to their ecological impact.

However, with radioactive substances that's just not the case.
Mike_Massen
3 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2014
Old hat Doug_Huffman
Photovoltaic semiconductor solar collectors have multiplied the size of the semiconductor production industry producing toxic materials, by-products and wastes.
Not nearly the case now, for at least the sake of energy & material efficiencies, waste recovery is most important in any process. Where is the evidence Doug_Huffman that contemporary plant produces these wastes without amelioration ?
alfie_null
5 / 5 (3) Mar 16, 2014
True, but those are chemical wastes. It is in our power to deal with chemical wastes (though we often - foolishly - choose not to).
Collecting, separating and reusing wastes is all possible for any kind of chemical composition. At the very least we can find ways of rendering them inert as to their ecological impact.

However, with radioactive substances that's just not the case.

It's not so black and white. Can we filter radioactive substances out of the ocean? It could be done but would be impractically expensive. Do we manufacture other types of waste that are impractical to remove from the environment? High altitude atmosphere, ground water, etc. Yes, indeed we do. Are they as dangerous as radioactive contamination? We need to honestly assess risk vs. benefit.

The problem with nuclear is we aren't being honest about the risk or the cost of remediation.
ShotmanMaslo
3 / 5 (2) Mar 16, 2014
That's the thing many people fail to understand about some technologies: The profit they make is not worth the damage - as no amount of profit can make the damage undone.


Despite quite abundant fear-mongering, the real damage from Fukushima is miniscule and will most likely stay that way. Fukushima produced $ half a trillion worth of electricity, which is more than enough to pay for even for the most pessimistic estimates of the "disaster" costs.

The models predict levels of Cesium 137 between 30 and 2 Becquerels per cubic meter of seawater by the time the plume reaches the West Coast, Higley said.

The federal drinking water health standard is 7,400 Becquerels per cubic meter, Leon said.
Mike_Massen
not rated yet Mar 16, 2014
alfie_null offered
It's not so black and white.
It is b/w, the properties of radioactive isotopes are well known.
Can we filter radioactive substances out of the ocean?
Not cost effectively, mass difference between stable/radioactive is tiny & otherwise you can't know they are radioactive until decay!
It could be done but would be impractically expensive.
Yes
Do we manufacture other types of waste that are impractical to remove from the environment?
Yes
High altitude atmosphere, ground water, etc. Yes, indeed we do.Are they as dangerous as radioactive contamination?
Maybe, a complex comparative risk assessment analysis is required
We need to honestly assess risk vs. benefit.
The problem with nuclear is we aren't being honest about the risk or the cost of remediation.
True. The real long term risk far outweighs almost impossible remediation.

@ShotmanMaslo
How do you pay for clearing widely distributed radioactivity ?
How do you get the trillions 'back' ?
Bonia
Mar 16, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Mar 16, 2014
Can we filter radioactive substances out of the ocean?

Not really, since they aren't differentiated by size or chemical composition from their non-radioactive brethren. You can get them by weight, but that requires ultra-centrifuges an the time (and energy) it takes to separate that stuff is immense for even tiny amounts. If we'd need to do that to filter drinking water (or irrigation water) then the cost would be so enormous that the entire GDP of the planet wouldn't suffice.

As for 'filtering the ocean' in general: Good luck with that. The ocean is pretty big.