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Page added on December 31, 2014

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Fukushima radiation: US West Coast will likely see peak by end of 2015

Fukushima radiation: US West Coast will likely see peak by end of 2015 thumbnail

At its peak, levels of radioactivity from cesium-137 will still fall far below levels that the US and Canadian governments deem unsafe for drinking water, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists keeping tabs on the eastward voyage of radioactive byproducts from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power-station disaster in Japan suggest that radioactivity from the byproducts should peak off the US and Canadian coasts by the end of next year. After that, they are expected to begin a gradual decline to background levels.

The chief concern: Radioactivity from cesium-137, the longest-lived of two forms of cesium released in the disaster, which ocean surface currents have carried east. At its peak, levels of radioactivity from cesium-137 will still fall far below levels that the US and Canadian governments deem unsafe for drinking water, according to data in a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The nuclear power station lost emergency power when it was hit by a tsunami triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake offshore on March 11, 2011. As a result, the plant couldn’t keep reactors cool or spent-fuel pools filled. Three of four reactors partially melted, while hydrogen explosions wracked buildings containing the reactors. The event released significant amounts of radiation, including leaks of radioactive water to the ocean.

Combined with background levels of cesium-137 radiation that remain from above-ground nuclear-weapons tests conducted in the 1950s and ’60s, the additional cesium-137 from Fukushima is projected to push the isotope’s watery radiation levels back up to where they were in the 1980s, the study indicates. At that time, radiation from cesium-137 in fish tissue was so low that people were far more concerned about mercury in tuna than cesium.

The PNAS study builds on research described at an ocean-sciences meeting in Hawaii last February. The work relied on data gathered between 2011 and 2013 from a string of 26 sampling sites that began at the Juan de Fuca Strait and stretched westward for more than 1,000 miles.

The team looked for cesium-134 to herald the arrival of Fukushima’s cesium-137. Nuclear reactors produce both, but cesium-134 loses half its radioactivity every two years. Cesium-137, with its 30-year half life, is the more worrisome of the two forms isotopes. If researchers detected only cesium-137, they knew they were looking at the post-nuclear-testing background. If they saw both forms of cesium at the same time, they knew Fukushima’s cesium-137 had arrived and could estimate its contribution beyond background cesium radiation levels.

Cesium-137 from Fukushima reached the western end of the sampling string in 2012, and by June 2013 had reached sampling sites on the continental shelf, noted John Smith, a chemical oceanographer at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, at the time.

The new study includes additional data taken in February 2014, data that the team finished processing during the summer, writes Dr. Smith in an e-mail.

“The conclusions haven’t changed,” he writes, referring to projections that even at its peak, radiation from cesium-137 should remain far below levels that are deemed a threat to human health or to the environment.

The background level runs about 1 Becquerel – the decay of one cesium-137 nucleus each second – per cubic meter of water. At its peak, the radiation level is expected to reach about 3 to 5 Becquerels per cubic meter of water. By contrast, Canada’s drinking-water standard for cesium-137 is 10,000 Becquerels per cubic meter.

If the added data haven’t altered the team’s basic conclusion, they have helped sift among competing projections offered by other research teams. In one projection, cesium-137 levels were slated to begin rising in late 2014 with a peak around 2017. The other had an earlier onset to the increase, with the peak coming in late 2015.

Data available last February were too sparse to provide a reality check on the models. With the additional data, however, the second projection seems the most likely, providing “greater certainty in future projections of the Fukushima radioactivity signal in the eastern North Pacific Ocean,” Smith writes.

Meanwhile, Fukushima’s cesium-137 also has appeared off the northern California coast, Ken Buesseler, an oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, reported in early November.

Dr. Buesseler and colleagues have enlisted citizen scientists to gather water samples for analysis in a monitoring project that uses crowd-sourced funding to underwrite the effort.

The sample was collected in August about 100 miles west of Eureka. It contained cesium-134, whose radiation was recorded at 2 Becquerels per cubic meter of water, more than 1,000 times less than the US Environmental Protections Agency’s maximum level for drinking water.

CS monitor

 



15 Comments on "Fukushima radiation: US West Coast will likely see peak by end of 2015"

  1. bobinget on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 6:51 am 

    Baring another serious earthquake in the next
    30 years, everything should be honky lorry.

  2. paulo1 on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 7:49 am 

    Wake up call number 100.

    As a west coaster I’m still glad to have a drilled well below a glacial clay layer. Still plan on eating fish.

  3. penury on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 11:17 am 

    If these “experts” actually knew anything they would be prohibited from releasing it to the general public. If this makes you feel better, congratulations. If however, you think that the authorities lie to keep the sheeple quiet well maybe the ‘NEWS” is really not all that good.

  4. Kenz00 on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 12:32 pm 

    Any exposure is too much……. especially when there are safer, cleaner and cheaper ways to produce electricity.

    Nuclear energy was snake oil sold to the public by Nuclear hucksters.

    TEPCO has a 40 year plan to clean up the mess and admits in the plan that the technology to do the job does not exist today.

  5. penury on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 1:47 pm 

    TEPCO may claim a 40 yr clean up but that is 39 years beyond the average memory of the average person, so no one cares, besides how can you accuse them of lying? By the By Yankee power in Vermont closed today. Authorities report it will take 40 years to cool the fuel and to de-commission the plant. So ask yourself once more “Would the authorities (TEPCO)lie to us?

  6. GregT on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 2:49 pm 

    40 years from now we will no longer have the means to de-commission all of these nuclear reactors. At the height of modern industrial civilization, we can’t even figure out what to do with nuclear waste now. We are leaving one hell of a legacy for future generations. If we manage to last that long as a species.

  7. Northwest Resident on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 3:04 pm 

    Look at the bright side. In 40 years from now, chances are very good that industrial civilization will have long since collapsed taking most of the electric grid and intricately networked fresh water systems with it. In that case, there will be approximately ZERO people living in Palm Springs, CA or in Las Vegas, NV — both of which, in that case, would make reasonable locations for dumping toxic/nuclear waste. The big problem with disposing of nuclear waste these days is that anywhere you choose to put it, there are people living in near proximity. That will probably not be such a big concern (or much of a concern at all) going forward, especially 40 years from now. Just minor sarcasm here.

  8. Apneaman on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 6:58 pm 

    Billions of dollars and many lives were spent on damage control for the 2 big meltdowns we have seen. An unattended melt down is a whole different story. It could kill a whole continent and maybe more. So they started the decommissioning process in Vermont today. That leaves some 440 power plants and a bunch of spent fuel pools and waste dumps to go. None of them can be managed without a functioning industrial society. What are the chances they will all be decommissioned without a hitch? Since sea level rise has made storms more damaging, Turkey Point, just south of Miami looks like the next likely target.Hurricane Andrew in 91 or 92 was a close call. Next one like that will be a disaster due to greater storm surge from SLR (it’s a when not an if).

  9. Makati1 on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 7:31 pm 

    There are about 60,000 TONS of spent nuclear fuel laying in pools all over the US. It is NOT going to be shipped anywhere. You are talking about 15,000 flatbed trucks, minimum, traversing the country to some location. ~15,000 terrorist targets.

    The world has over 300,000 TONS of the stuff in similar pools. That does not include the hundreds of thousands of tons of other radioactive waste we have generated since 1945 in industry, medicine, etc.

    No, we have made our nuclear bed and now we will likely die in it.

  10. Bloomer on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 7:45 pm 

    Not sure how they figured it peaked: when last I heard Tepco was still spilling nuclear waste into the Pacific.

  11. SilentRunning on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 10:01 pm 

    Fuel Pool #4 at Tepco has been emptied – I remember the hysterical statements when they started emptying the pool – rods were going to touch and ignite a nuclear Armageddon. Well folks, it didn’t happen.

    The truest statement about the Fukushima fiasco is that we need to figure out how to safely decommission elderly nuke plants for a world with diminishing resources. As Fukushima shows, it can be frighteningly expensive and damaging to the local ecology.

  12. Randy on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 10:02 pm 

    While there is a difference between oral ingestion (drinking) of radioactive materials and exposure due to being in the vicinity of radioactive materials, it should be noted cat liter has about 200 Becquerels of radioactive substances per pound.

    For those of us in North America the solution to radioactive pollution from Japan is dilution.

  13. SilentRunning on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 10:05 pm 

    Radiation levels in the Pacific ocean will now start to fall, as Fukushima – while still leaking some radio-nucleotides – is leaking less and less, and the radiation that is in the Pacific is either precipitating to the ocean floor – or is decaying.

  14. Nony on Wed, 31st Dec 2014 11:02 pm 

    Peak contamination! Nowhere to go but down. Can we make a Hubbert curve of it.

    🙂

  15. Makati1 on Thu, 1st Jan 2015 3:12 am 

    Time to shut down ALL nukes and take care of the remains…

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