Is There Fukushima Radiation on North America’s West Coast? (updated 4/7/16)

Is There Fukushima Radiation on North America’s West Coast?

(The following is an on-going chronicle of the Fukushima contamination issue and the North American Pacific Coast. Updates are at end of the OP/ed commentary. Latest update December 27, 2016)

During the last week of 2013, the internet was virtually awash with reports concerning Fukushima contamination along the Pacific coastline. The posts were rife with misconception, exaggeration and (sometimes) outright fabrication. There is one solid reason why none of them were worth the fonts in their postings. To put it simply, the so-called “evidence” was grossly deceiving.
People posting videos of hand-held radiation monitors showing a hundred or more counts per minute along the Pacific coastline made it seem as if the readings were due to Fukushima. While there are Fukushima isotopes to be found in the Pacific, any chance of some having reached the North American coast at that point in time were minuscule. Even if any Fukushima activity had migrated there, the concentration would have been way too low to register beyond natural background levels on publically-available radiation detectors.
One popular YouTube video showed a detector’s counts-per-minute (CPM) going up as the person holding it got near a Pacific coast beach. Beach sands contain a plethora of elements, and many of them have naturally radioactive isotopes, such as Potassium-40, Carbon-14, Rubidium-87, and Uranium-238/235. Beaches with low concentrations of these elements might not show an increase in its counts on a hand-held detector when approached, while others will demonstrate just the opposite. Did the person making the YouTube video ever monitor that beach before? Was it any different from six years ago? There was no way of knowing from the footage.
While one might argue it was not impossible that the increase shown in the reading could have been due to Fukushima, the chance of that being the case was vanishingly slim. The sum-total of all Fukushima contamination estimated to have ended up in the ocean was many orders of magnitude less than what Mother Nature already put there. There are roughly 30 thousand-trillion Becquerels (PetaBecquerels) of Fukushima radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean….a number so colossal it is hard to get one’s mind around it. Let’s compare that to the isotopic levels we would find in the Pacific Ocean if Fukushima never happened. Here are the top five… (1)
1 - Potassium-40 = 7.4 billion-trillion Bq
2 – Uranium, isotopes 238 and 235 = 22 million-trillion Bq
3 – Rubidium-87 = 700 million-trillion Bq
4 – Carbon-14 = 3 million-trillion Bq
5 – Tritium (Hydrogen-3) = 370 thousand-trillion Bq.
Although 30 thousand-trillion (Fukushima’s number) is an astonishing number in-itself, when we compare it to the roughly billions-of-trillions of Becquerels that exist naturally, it literally takes the scare-factor out of the equation. Nuclear energy opponents often use big, scary Fukushima numbers in isolation from what we find in nature because it shocks people and fulfills the antinuclear agenda. When placed in a real-world context, the impact diminishes mightily.
Here’s one of the most informative graphics I’ve seen depicting these facts.


As the graphic shows us, there are fifteen billion-trillion Bq (15,350,000 PBq) of activity in the world’s oceans. The Pacific Ocean holds 51% of the world’s sea water. So let’s cut the world’s natural oceanic activity in half and say there’s roughly 7.5 billion-trillion Bq in the Pacific from Mother Nature. Further, let’s assume that Fukushima’s contamination is mixing with only the Pacific volume north of the Equator, so we now have 3.75 billion-trillion Bq to use for our statistical comparison. If we divide 3,750,000 PBq (natural Pacific activity) by 30 PBq (Fukushima), the total of all Fukushima radioactive isotopes in the north Pacific is 125,000 times less than what naturally exists. This means that maybe…just maybe…one out of every 125,000 counts registered on the YouTube video’s hand-held meter might have come from Fukushima. In other words, we would have to watch the detector display 160 CPM (the highest I saw in the video) for about thirteen hours before we could say that one of the counts might possibly have come from Fukushima.
This brings us to one of the problems faced by people using their own radiation detectors for the first time. By and large, they are either not aware of or refuse to consider natural background levels with the locations they are monitoring. Further, they either don’t know or refuse to consider that it takes a constant, year-long exposure of many, many CPMs to produce a dose of one millisievert (Japan’s national standard for exposure). I know that converting from Bq to mSv varies with each isotope, depending on their different emission types and energies. What I’m doing is generalizing a conversion with respect to what we find with the buffet of natural isotopes found in sea water and their sand beaches. Regardless, with only one out of every 125,000 counts on a hand-held detector being possibly due to Cesium-137 and/or Strontium-90 released from Fukushima, the resulting increase above natural background would be so incredibly small that it is not worth considering.
The second week of January, 2014, three reports were posted verifying the above. It turns out the infamous YouTube video of Pacific beach activity widely circulated on the interneton was entirely due to naturally-occurring isotopes of Thorium and Radium. The three reports came from the Geiger Counter Bulletin, San Francisco Chronicle, and the Novato California Patch. (2) Spurred by the furor caused by the video, scientists from UC Santa Cruz and Stony Brook University in New York made public statements denouncing the claim of Fukushima contamination. Plus, spokesperson Wendy Hopkins of the California Department of Public health reported, "There is no public health risk at California beaches due to radioactivity related to events at Fukushima. Recent tests by the San Mateo County Public Health Department show that elevated levels of radiation at Half Moon Bay are due to naturally occurring materials and not radioactivity associated with the Fukushima incident. There is no public health risk at California beaches due to radioactivity related to events at Fukushima.” Further, Dan Sythe of International Medcom, the Geiger counter manufacturer that made the device used in the YouTube video, said, “The levels detected are about five to 10 times what you would normally expect to find on a beach. But if the sand were contaminated by radiation from Fukushima it would show Cesium-137, a product of nuclear fission which is reported to be the major health concern in Fukushima. There’s an incredible amount of disinformation going on these days about Fukushima.” Sythe added, “Without downplaying the danger and difficulties, it is important to note that some people are exaggerating the situation at Fukushima, for unknown reasons, in very dramatic ways."
On January 28, Woods Hole Institute said there was no detectable Fukushima Cesium in the Pacific Ocean along the American west coast. They had been testing the waters at 8 locations from northern Washington to southern California for a long time. The only detectable isotope they found was Cs-137, which means it could not have come from Fukushima. Why? Because Fukushima’s release included both Cs-137 and Cs-134 isotopes. If the activity was from Fukushima it would have included both. Woods Hole found the coastal Cs-137 activity was 1.5 Becquerels per ton of water, which is the Pacific Ocean’s average concentration due to residuals from nuclear weapon’s testing more than 5 decades ago. Because of Cs-134’s 2 year half-life, it has been gone for three decades. Woods Hole said this means two things. First, there should be no health concerns about Pacific recreational activities, including swimming, due to Fukushima. Second, on-going testing results will provide a good baseline when any Fukushima-based Cesium begins to show up. Woods Hole also pointed out that bomb-based Cesium levels are hundreds of times less than naturally-occurring Potassium-40 already in the Pacific. Further, the Institute felt it would be several months before any Fukushima activity might be detected.
While it is true that appearances can be deceiving, appearances with respect to radioactivity can be monumentally deceiving!
1 – Radioactivity in Nature; Idaho State University.
2 - -- --
3 – Center for Marine and Environmental Radiation; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; 1/28/2014.

Update - February 21, 2013

Fear of radiation the only thing stopping discharge of Fukushima wastewaters

This week, the head of the IAEA Fukushima inspection team urged Tepco to release fully treated Fukushima wastewaters to the sea. At a news conference in Tokyo, Juan Carlos Lentijo said, “Controlled discharges are a normal practice in the industry. Most of the [world’s] nuclear power plants are discharging treated water. This is accomplished with negligible impact on the environment and the safety of the people.” The head of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, Shunichi Tanaka, said essentially the same thing last month. In response to a worker falling to his death while fabricating yet another giant storage tank, Tanaka asserted, “Tokyo Electric Power must consider whether it (storing the water) is really necessary. It is surely harmful if it leads to the death of workers. It is important to listen to public opinion, but human life must not be lost for the sake of echoing public views. You [Tepco] are not yet demonstrating appropriate determination.”

(UPDATE : May 8, 2014)
There’s no Fukushima radiation on America’s west coast. This finding is of researchers  from CSU Long Beach and other schools sampling kelp along the California coastline. The on-going study is entitled Kelp Watch 2014, and covers ocean sampling from Kodiak Island, Alaska, down to Baja California. The researchers are looking for the Cesium 134/137 isotopic “footprint” of Fukushima contamination, but none has been detected. Chief researcher Dr. Steven Manley says, “So far, it appears that, based on our analysis of kelp, that none of the Fukushima radiation has arrived via the ocean current to our shoreline.” In addition, nothing has been detected at Guam and Hawaii, both of which are thousands of kilometers nearer the accident site in Japan. The team is using kelp sampling from Chile as a base-line reference. The new study contradicts a prior Long Beach State report claiming Fukushima isotopes in California kelp.
Update : July 30, 2014
York Johnson, water quality coordinator with Oregon conservation group Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, said their testing shows that no Fukushima radioactive material has reached the North American coastline. He added that the coast should be safe for recreation if radiation levels climb over the next several years as expected. Johnson predicts that water off the Oregon shore will peak at around 10 to 20 becquerel per cubic meter [ton] of water in the years ahead. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution senior scientist Ken Buesseler said, "We've seen [Fukushima] radiation halfway across the Pacific, north of Hawaii, but in U.S. waters there has been none, yet."

Update - January 28, 2015

Japan’s NRA chief is right: Tepco should release water ASAP

On January 21, Chairman Shunichi Tanaka of the Nuclear Regulation Authority spoke about the worker safety issue at Fukushima Daiichi following the death of a contractor employee. The employee slipped and fell from the top of a ten-meter high tank while helping secure the top cover of the container. Tanaka said one of the causes was Tepco continually building more and more tanks to store contaminated and decontaminated waters. He reiterated his opinion, made a few days earlier, that fully treated water should be released to the sea, as long as all radio-isotopic levels are below permissible limits.

Update - March 28, 2015
Two experts find that radiation exposures from Fukushima isotopes in the Pacific will not cause health damage. Researchers Pavel Povinec and Katsumi Hirose found that exposures from the ingestion of Pacific Ocean seafood, shellfish, and seaweed are “below levels when any health damage of the Japanese and world population could be expected.” They explained that exposure from ingestion of radio-cesium and radio-strontium with fish caught in the Pacific Ocean in 2012–2013 is considerably more that pre-Fukushima levels for cesium and strontium, but it is actually equivalent to the consumption of natural Polonium-210 in fish, and 10-times lower than with the consumption of natural Po-210 in shellfish.
(Update 4/7/15)
On Tuesday, April 7, 2015, Fukushima Cesium was detected along the British Colombia coastline on Vancouver Island. The amounts detected are 1.4 Becquerels per ton of water (~0.0014 Bq/liter) for Cesium 134, and 5.8 Bq/ton (~0.0058 Bq/l) for Cs-137. America's Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst. and Canada’s Fukushima InFORM made the announcement. Woods Hole Program Chief Ken Buesseler said, "The bottom line is that the drinking water standard in the U.S. is 7,400 Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3), and that would be consuming the water every day." By comparison, the combined Cesium levels in the sea are about 6.5 Bq/m3 and Cesium flushes through sea life rapidly and has little accumulation, thus Buesseler concluded, "I don't see how that could be of any concern."

(Update April 11, 2015)

Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst. And Canada’s Fukushima InFORM announced the first traces of Fukushima Cesium detected at the North American Pacific shoreline. There was considerable Press coverage in Japan. The amounts detected are 1.4 Becquerels per ton of water (~0.0014 Bq/liter) for Cesium 134, and 5.8 Bq/ton (~0.0058 Bq/l) for Cs-137. For comparison, Canada’s limit for drinking water is 10,000 Bq/ton. Below are summations the respective Woods Hole and InFORM announcements.

  • Woods Hole Program Chief Ken Buessler said this is not unexpected, "Today's report is not alarming at all. It's kind of to be expected. We knew four years later it would be reaching our shoreline, and we had seen it offshore, and these numbers are quite small. As an example, even if they were twice as high and I was to swim there every day for an entire year, the dose I would be exposed to is a thousand times less than a single dental X-ray.” The discovery was made from a sample taken at Ucluecet, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, on February 19th.

  • InFORM says the sample from Ucluecet and its analysis were part of its monitoring program. They agree with Woods Hole that the discovery was not unexpected, and, “These levels of 137Cs and 134Cs are well below internationally established levels that might represent a danger to human or environmental health.” They also point out that the detected level of Cesium is within the expected range.

(Update May 30, 2015)

The British Columbia CDC has created an informative website on radioactivity. Here’s the link to the BC Center for Disease Control page “frequently asked questions” concerning Fukushima…

(Update 6/23/15)

No Fukushima radioactive isotopes found in Steelhead trout or Sockeye salmon caught off the British Columbia coastline. InFORM (Integrated Fukushima Ocean Radionuclide Monitoring) reports,” None of the fish from 2014 were found to contain detectable levels of Cesium-134. What this means is that radioactivity from Fukushima cannot be detected in fish caught in BC waters as of August 2014… Samples (99 total) of sockeye salmon and steelhead returning BC streams and rivers were collected and analyzed and none were found to contain detectable levels of Fukushima derived radionuclides.” Cs-134 is the marker isotope that provides unmistakable evidence as to whether or not Fukushima radioactivity is present.We also measured naturally occurring radioisotopes Potassium-40 (40K) and Polonium-210 (210Po) that always contribute doses of radiation to human consumers of marine fish… Neither the exposure to artificial (weapon’s test residuals) or natural radionuclides represent a dangerous health risk to consumers in Canada.”

(Update - 6/29/15)

There’s no Fukushima Cesium in North Pacific whales and dolphins. Fukushima InFORM of Canada reports that whale and Dolphin sampling in Northern Japan soon after the nuke accident showed low, but elevated Cesium concentrations. However, these levels dropped off within a year, were still detectible, but 10 times lower than naturally-occurring isotopes found in the animals. InFORM concludes, “…it is quite unlikely that radioisotopes from Fukushima will reach levels in our cetaceans here off North America that would cause toxicity or measurable detrimental impacts to their health.” Even so, InFORM says the data may be useful to better understand the migration routes of the animals.

(Update 9/14/15)

A joint presentation by Pacific Ocean experts was made in Vancouver, B.C. Ken Buesseler of Woods Hole Oceanographic gave an explanation of the migration of detectible Fukushima isotopes across the Pacific. Jay Cullen of Canada’s Fukushima InFORM project spoke about the accumulation of radioactive Cesium in two key fish species. Buesseler showed that the concentrations approaching the North American coast are detectible, but not dangerous. He stresses that research detection equipment is extremely sensitive and can find isotopic concentrations hundreds of times below levels that are of use to “health groups”. Cullen revealed that the detectible levels of radioactive Cesium found in ocean salmon and steelhead trout comes from nuclear weapon’s testing many decades ago, but none from Fukushima. The video lasts for 75 minutes, but is well worth watching.

(Update 4/7/16)

British Columbia ocean water samples taken between November, 2015, and January, 2016, show no detectible Cesium-134 concentration.  Cs-134 is the unmistakable indicator of Fukushima radioactivity. Thus, while researchers continue to project that detectible Fukushima Cesium contamination will eventually reach the shores of North America, it has not happened yet. Fukushima InFORM stresses that the worst-case anticipated  levels of cesium will be more than 2,500 times less than Canada's drinking water standard for the radioactive isotopes. [Aside - As I've asked many times...who drinks seawater? End aside.] Fukushima cesium has been detected in minute concentrations many kilometers out to sea for about a year, but none has yet reached the North American coastline itself. Fukushima InFORM goes into considerable deatail to explain why the cesium encraochment has been taking so long. 

(Update 4/7/15)
On Tuesday, April 7, 2015, Fukushima Cesium was detected along the British Colombia coastline on Vancouver Island. The amounts detected are 1.4 Becquerels per ton of water (~0.0014 Bq/liter) for Cesium 134, and 5.8 Bq/ton (~0.0058 Bq/l) for Cs-137. America's Woods Hole Oceanographic Inst. and Canada’s Fukushima InFORM made the announcement. Woods Hole Program Chief Ken Buesseler said, "The bottom line is that the drinking water standard in the U.S. is 7,400 Becquerels per cubic meter (Bq/m3), and that would be consuming the water every day." By comparison, the combined Cesium levels in the sea are about 6.5 Bq/m3 and Cesium flushes through sea life rapidly and has little accumulation, thus Buesseler concluded, "I don't see how that could be of any concern."
(Update 10/31/16)

A new study says Pacific contamination from F. Daiichi is too low for adverse effects to be observed. Jordi Vives i Batlle of the Belgian Nuclear Research Centre explains the consequences in the marine environment of the nuclear accident in the October issue of Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management. He writes, “Overall, the radioactivity levels in the marine biota near Fukushima were lower than predicted by some early studies immediately following the accident, and exposures were too low for acute effects at the population level to be observed in marine organisms ranging from microalgae to mollusks to fish… more recent studies have shown variable levels in individual fish, though they too confirm that population-level effects have not been observed.”

(Update 12/12/16)

Barely detectible Fukushima contamination reaches American shores. The concentration of radioactive Cesium-134 for January-February samples taken in Oregon was 0.3 Becquerels per ton of seawater. (Woods Hole Oceanographic) One sockeye salmon taken in Canada in 2015 had 0.07 Bq/kg of Cs-134. (Fukushima InFORM) Detecting levels this miniscule takes a long, long time because radioactive decays don’t happen very often. The salmon decay rate is one radioactive emission every 15 seconds, and the ton of seawater has one emission every three seconds. Though the risk of the detected activities is reported as “miniscule”, USA Today, the Associated Press, CBS, NBC, UPI, and Oregon Public Broadcasting lit up the discovery in bold headlines. The pictures that ran with some articles were inappropriate. The OPB showed a February 2016 shot of a news media tour of F. Daiichi with the reporters all wearing full protective gear and face masks! The UPI article showed the Japan Self Defense Force stripping topsoil in Tomioka in 2011, again all wearing full anti-contamination gear! To make matters worse, the script below the UPI image says F. Daiichi is in “Okuma Prefecture”, which doesn’t exist! -- -- -- -- -- 

(December 27, 2016)
  • The NRA’s data on Pacific Ocean radioactivity shows that Tepco’s efforts to stop contaminated groundwater outflow has been a complete success. The NRA has posted their “Current Information on Radioactivity in Seawater” since early November. (Listed as “F1 Issues” on the NRA home page) Since November 6th, the agency has been posting seawater data from three points, along the shore line; two on the south side of Fukushima Daiichi station, and one to the north side. All of these analyses show no detectible radioactive Cesium coming from the power plant! In addition, numerous analyses taken off-shore, within two kilometers of F. Daiichi, have been devoid of detectible radioactive Cesium from the nuke station since October 24th. Why the NRA, Tepco, and Japan’s popular Press have been neglecting to report on this is a mystery! --