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New Fukushima Radiation Study Will Focus on West Coast Kelp Forests

, KQED Science | January 15, 2014 | 28 Comments
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A kelp forest near Catalina Island. (Thomas Farrugia)

A kelp forest near Catalina Island. (Thomas Farrugia)

Researchers are launching a new project to monitor California’s kelp forests for radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. For Kelp Watch 2014, as it’s called, scientists will fan out this year along the California coast, to collect kelp and find out if it has absorbed any radiation from the 2011 meltdown.

“I’ve gotten calls from people who are coming here to surf, people who live along the coastline, asking me, ‘Is it safe to go in the water?’” said Steven Manley, a biology professor at California State University, Long Beach who created Kelp Watch 2014. His plan is to measure radiation levels in kelp three times in multiple locations between the Oregon border and Baja California from mid February through next winter and make the results public.

‘It’s sort of like having a large Geiger counter stretching the entire coastline.’

“Part of the reason for doing this is because the public is very freaked out by all this talk of radioactivity,” he said. “If they can actually see the numbers and a commentary as to what they mean, hopefully that’ll put them at ease.”

Kelp forests, he said, are a good indicator. For one, they’re all over the place. “You can find them along the entire California coastline from San Diego all the way up to Del Norte County,” Manley said. Plus, kelp acts sort of like a sponge, taking in whatever is in the seawater on the surface of the ocean. “It’s sort of like having a large Geiger counter stretching the entire coastline,” he said.

Manley did an earlier study of Fukushima radiation and kelp. A month after the accident, he found radioactive iodine in kelp on the West Coast. The iodine had traveled from the nuclear power plant through the atmosphere, and has a very short half-life. So it got here quickly and disappeared quickly. Within a few months, he said, it was gone. The radioactiviy posed no health risk to humans, he said at the time, and had no effects on the giant kelp, or on fish or other marine life.

Now attention is directed to the radiation traveling in ocean currents, which are much slower than the jet stream. Scientists think that could begin hitting California shores in the next couple years. By measuring radiation in kelp forests up and down the coast, Manley said he hopes to find out if and when it enters the kelp forest ecosystem.

“If it gets into the kelp, certain fish feed directly on the kelp. Other fish feed indirectly by eating other organisms. The fish are going to have some in them,” he said. “Now, is it enough to worry about? Probably not. But people have the right to know what’s there.”

Manley and volunteers from 19 institutions (this is, at this point, a project composed completely of researchers working pro bono) will send their kelp samples to Kai Vetter, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and head of the Applied Nuclear Physics program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Vetter has been measuring signals from Fukushima here in California since the accident.

‘The concentration of radioactive materials which will be washed ashore here has no impact whatsoever on our daily life.’

While sampling rainwater in 2011 and 2012, Vetter and his colleagues found extremely low levels of radioactivity from Fukushima. A week after the accident, for example, they reported that a person would have to drink 632 liters of Berkeley rainwater – 166 gallons – to be exposed to the same level of radiation as a passenger experiences during a round-trip flight between San Francisco and Washington D.C.

Once radiation from Fukushima does arrive on the West Coast from the ocean, Vetter said, he expects it will be in miniscule amounts.

“The concentration of radioactive materials which will be washed ashore here has no impact whatsoever on our daily life,” he said. “The levels we are measuring, they will not be harmful. They will not have any measurable health impact on humans or any detrimental effects in marine biology.”

Despite several recent online videos and blog posts claiming that Fukushima radiation is causing widespread contamination of the West Coast and harming fish, scientists say their research so far shows that is not the case.

Researchers from Stony Brook University in New York and Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station tested Pacific Bluefin tuna after the 2011 Fukushima incident. They have published research showing radiation levels were low – less than what people are exposed to by eating a banana or other potassium-rich foods that contain naturally occurring radioactive isotopes — and have been falling ever since.

The California Department of Public Health earlier this week, released a statement responding to radiation concerns, saying “Information from Federal agencies, State programs, as well as the Department’s own sampling results, conclude there are no health and safety concerns to California residents.”

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About the Author ()

Molly Samuel joined KQED as an intern in 2007, and since then has worked here as a reporter, producer, director and blogger. Before becoming KQED Science’s Multimedia Producer, she was a producer for Climate Watch. Molly has also reported for NPR, KALW and High Country News, and has produced audio stories for The Encyclopedia of Life and the Oakland Museum of California. She was a fellow with the Middlebury Fellowships in Environmental Journalism and a journalist-in-residence at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center. Molly has a degree in Ancient Greek from Oberlin College and is a co-founder of the record label True Panther Sounds.
  • margaret critchlow-eilerman

    I am very interested in following the results of this particular type of research. So little is known of the indirect damage at this juncture in time.

    • http://darkmattersalot.com/ ChemE Stewart

      All, I am an industrial chemical engineer and I will add my two 1/2 cents. Sea Star wasting is happening on both coasts,as are lots of algae blooms and fish and mammal strandings/deaths. I have been doing two years of research on the “weather” and I am finding a statistically significant relationship between locations of Doppler Microwave Radar Towers (250,000 watt up to 3,000,000 watts pulsed, polarized) and an increase in fish kills due to algae blooms, red tide and hypoxia(low oxygen).

      That implies to me that our atmosphere, which is already a “weakly ionized plasma”, charged up from the Sun might be getting “more energized” over time by all of these high powered, pulsed microwave radars. The government will tell you Dopplers are non-ionizing, Remote Sitka, Alaska had sea star wasting very close to the only Doppler Microwave radar for hundreds of miles. Pillar Point has approx. 7 microwave military radars and had high levels of Radon/background radiation on the surrounding beach (Surfer’s Beach) as well as elevated levels of ionizing radiation in the air.

      California has the highest concentration of these radar towers for military, FAA and weather purposes. Lots of concern by scientists in the 1990′s when these radars were first installed and no long term studies that I can find. I have lots of data on my blog @ darkmattersalot

      • margaret critchlow-eilerman

        I believe there are too many environmental issues going on to continue to ignore issues on the Pacific Rim. I myself am following this closely on the health end of things. I am a Hanford Washington Downwinder Baby living on the eastern side of the state. I have experienced some issues since Fukoshima that may or may not be linked. They started within days of the incident however and are auto immune related, but not AIDS. My curiosity draws me for my eight grand children’s sake. I have given my DNA sample to the appropriate research study for my particular nasty disease.

        I am no scientist. I am a a retired preschool teacher. My only hope to save the world now is that I have created enough spark and curiosity in the little ones I taught that one of them may find the answers some day. I advocate every day for health care research and funding to reach impossible goals and have donated my organs to science so that my affliction can help find the cure/cause. In the mean time, I do everything I can to help the earth around me in my small town stay healthy by doing my share. We must all think global and do local, otherwise we will be overwhelmed.

  • Jimmy Gray

    yea but the half life of strontium and cesium are not short. there is only one answer they can get. 300 tons of nuclear waster dumped every day since mid 2013. but please crunch the numbers and tell me how many msv or rads im getting. if its over 3 Msv a year its too much. Period. Fyi those reading 1 rad roughly is 20 to 200 Msv. ONe chest x ray is .08 Msv. Cat Scan of body up to 10 Msv. WE dont think over 30 Msv a year is healthy. Hope that helps someone figure this mess out. YOu get two to three Msv a year from background radiation and 4000 Msv in one pop and ur most likely dead. Join the revolution. Use Cryptocurrency.

    • np3235

      Thank you, now I have a reference so the numbers I read about are meaningful. What about Bequerels, though? They talk about the contamination in the seawater in millions or billions Bq, without reference to acceptable levels.

      • Jimmy Gray

        Ill try and post on that as soon as i can find a meaningful reference. A Berkeley independent scientist said she saw it got from .03 to around .17 bequerels or a 4 fold increase since before the accident.. Im trying to find a way to make that meaningful in terms of Rads and Msv. I think the media mixes the numbers around too much.

        • Jimmy Gray

          based on radon gas i figured this out. my background is in medicine and chemistry in case anyone is wondering. disclaimer.. these numbers are for my interest only and not a claim that i am an expert in this field. just wanna get hard data cuz im tired of the runaround. so…………..

          ill assume 200 B/M^3 is over the yearly background radiation level of 2 to 3 Msv just to get a baseline. this number can be corrected as i gain more data.

          http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/phys_agents/radon.html

          if this helps pass it on.. thanks..

      • Jimmy Gray

        In Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) sets radiation exposure limits. It gives two types of exposure limits–one for occupationally exposed persons and another for the general public. The annual occupational exposure limit is an effective dose of 4 mSv (milli-Sievert). The annual exposure limit for the general public is an effective dose of 1 mSv. These values are found in the Radiation Protection Regulations (SOR/2000-203).

        Acceptable levels of radon in “dwellings” which includes homes or public buildings (schools, hospitals, long term care facilities and correctional facilities) is 200 Becquerels per cubic metre (200 B/m3) based on the Government of Canada Radon Guideline.

        The threshold limit value (TLV®), or occupational exposure limit, established by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH®) is 4 working level months (WLM/year) (2012).

  • ER

    Like people are going to believe it when the feds say “nothing to worry about here, move it along”, uh huh. Not when “mainstream media” or even non-mainstream media like “Young Turks” was supposedly told to keep quiet about it. So the conspiracy theorists say. Remember this, though, the Russian government is very concerned. Of course, they are closer to Japan, still…if they are worried, shouldn’t we be worried?

  • Barry

    If the Pacific Ocean is safe why are there growing incidents of DNA changes causing mutations in fish and other sea life? There are also documented deformities in butterflies due to radiation increases in the air. People eating Pacific Ocean fish and sea life should think about detoxing to remove any accumulated radiation from their bodies with the natural mineral Zeolite that has been proven to remove radiation from the body! The Russians know all about zeolite and they used it with great success in Chernobyl. Do a search for Zeolite and a lot of information will pop up about how this mineral can safely remove radiation and heavy metals from the body!

    • Henry

      Tell us how it removes “hot particles” please.

  • auto13142828

    Dr. Vetter has already declared the results before even testing the kelp.

  • Dallas

    To late. Most folks wont believe you now anyway. The media , government, NRC and the scientific community are all in cahoots. They have been from the very beginning of this accident. It is to late to gain American peoples confidence or trust. You already blew it.

  • Dallas

    The distrust brought on by TEPCO, the scientific community, the news media and our Governments will continue to grow for as long as this disaster lasts. The people have no faith in you whatsoever. Its all about the money for you guys. Decieving the people is your fortay.

  • Francis Flandro

    Underwritten by General Electric – Designers & Builders of environmentally friendly Mark I BWR reactors. Bringing Good Things To Light Up.

  • L Jones

    They should also be testing the fish which would accumulate the toxins and also cover a greater range within the ocean. The kelp would be the last to be affected.

  • RarefiedSnotress

    This will make me think about where I get my kelp dietary supplements from.

  • http://hosting4skagit.com/ Elaine Ossipov

    I have been trying to educate myself as to the concerns I should and should not have as a member of an island community in Washington State. I am deeply concerned and for many reasons, not the least of which is emergency responders, distributors, and other folks who are in the ‘emergency’ business are quietly concerned. I.E. They aren’t saying I should or shouldn’t be, but when posed with the question of taking substantial steps to guard against this onslaught of radiation almost 100% state unequivocally YES without hesitation.

    Just to get a meter which is sensitive enough to detect some of the radiation coming our way is over $3,000. That meter will still not determine if our drinking water is safe or if our food is safe. There have already been Blue Fin Tuna off California’s coast, (and caught by Californians) which registered high levels of radiation, having migrated from the affected area of the pacific coast off the Japanese coast.

    The Japanese were sending 400 TONS of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean for almost a year and a half, and the current situation of containment is leaking and not expected to withstand any type of earthquake or any length of time.

    The highly poisonous (die in a moment poisonous) reactor spent fuel tubes in Reactor 4 are currently the immediate concern. The reports I’ve read state if the fuel rods or rather the area where the ‘broken fuel rods are being kept’ is damaged in anyway it would lead to an extinction level event. That we could prolong our lives by moving to the Southern Hemisphere, but only by a month so it hardly seems worth it.

    They do not have a handle on the current situation.
    They do not have a solution for the current situation.
    There is no documentation on what to do in this type of situation because it has never happened and from what I understand it was more *unthinkable* that any situation of this magnitude could ever happen.

    The USS Reagan on route to assist in the humanitarian efforts were never told of the poisonous plumb and ended up sailing directly through it. It was *not* fog.
    Many of these sailors, ( over 70 ) are now seriously ill with all the signs of radiation sickness. Rather than acknowledge this and track it, the US GOV took down the tracking website.

    NO ONE IS NOW NOR HAVE THEY BEEN DISCUSSING THIS AND THE RAMIFICATIONS OR POSSIBLE RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS DISASTER EXCEPT FOR, “we don’t expect it to hit our shores”

    I am so tired of the “we don’t expect” I honestly don’t give a damn what you do or don’t expect. I WANT FACTS. I WANT STATISTICAL MODELS. I WANT ALL THE POSSIBILITIES LAID BEFORE ME SO THAT I CAN MAKE THE BEST DECISION FOR MY FAMILY!!

  • Timothy Campbell

    We know they are lying about the rainwater because everyone who had a fish pond had all their fish die a week after Fukushima explosion. And I had a garden and noticed that the tomatoes had a funny taste to them. I could see Brown specs all over my plants where radioactive particles had killed that part of the leaves. The leaves on just about every plant and tree had Brown specs on them showing were that part of the leaf died. There are more than 1000 different elements released in the Fukushima explosion. They are only testing for one element. You have to test for cesium, uranium, plutonium, tritium, strontium, and more than 1000 other elements along with some elements that were never discovered as of yet, to know the true contamination of Fukushima. Anyone who says they tested it and it’s safe is a fool and a bigger fool is the person who believes them. Watch my videos on the GoTimothy channel on YouTube.

  • http://thehealingfrequency.com/zeolite/ Zeolite

    It’s great that they’re going to test the kelp forests, as kelp can help you detox from radiation because of it’s natural high iodine content. Hope it can detox some of the radiation coming in from fukushima and not get contaminated itself. I’d for sure have some potassium iodine from a safe source and some powdered zeolite powder as well. Testing radiation levels yourself is a great idea (I got a keychain detector) and I know if something is not safe to consume! http://thehealingfrequency.com/how-to-measure-radiation-geiger-detector-counter/

  • Alex

    This is all just a lie to trick people into thinking we’re safe. Radiation does not dilute in fish, it accumulates and magnifies. We’re all screwed.

  • FM

    Vetter is the kind of person that embodies the Atomic Energy Commission. Not enough sense to understand what he is doing and selfish enough to not care as long as he is “important”

  • mick

    The nuclear releases from Fukushima are ongoing and unknown. Any ‘conclusions’ re possible health impacts should consider this limited and changing data. In short-recompute.

  • Lars_ Olofson@yahoo.com

    Of course its not a problem, just like the NSA stealing your emails,phone calls, texts,and passwords, Dont worry, be happy! Just like the home you paid for, think you own it, stop paying property tax , you’ll find out who owns it. !!

  • John Boyersmith

    I think more people eat Ocean fish at the market then kelp?
    Its
    very strange they are going out of their way to study Kelp and not the
    main food source ocean fish. And whose best interest is protected the
    kelp farm or the fishing industry its my personal opinion they are
    looking in the wrong subject totally.

    New Fukushima Radiation Study Will Focus on West Coast Kelp Forests
    blogs.kqed.org

    Researchers are launching a new project to monitor California’s kelp
    forests for radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in…

  • John Boyersmith

    Recreational fishing expenditures in $US 42 billion

  • yellowroz

    Tepco: No. 1 plant readings probably too low
    KYODO
    FEB 8, 2014

    The bulk of the radiation measurements taken at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant since March 2011 will be reviewed because they were taken improperly and are probably too low, Tokyo Electric Power Co. revealed….Ono described the data up for review as “massive” and said the utility plans to start the review from the beginning of the nuclear crisis in March 2011 up to October last year, when it started preparing manuals on proper measurement procedure.”

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/02/08/national/tepco-no-1-plant-readings-probably-too-low/#.UvkB6_ldWSo

    (There is some really interesting detail on “counting misses” and dilutions for monitoring wonks.)

    The problem with such hinky data is it limits and skews further monitoring and study design.

  • Jack Young

    “The concentration of radioactive materials which will be washed ashore here has no impact whatsoever on our daily life.” How can a story about this ‘scientific’ effort to study radiation in California kelp promote this sort of conclusion before the study even reports its findings? There is something fishy about this mainstream media source.