Tag Archives: radiation-risk

Fukushima: WHOI senior scientist studies North Pacific Ocean effects

WHOI senior scientist Ken Buesseler

WHOI senior scientist Ken Buesseler began his career in oceanography by studying the spread of radionuclides from Chernobyl in the Black Sea. Not surprisingly, today one of his research interests is the impact of Fukushima contaminants in the North Pacific Ocean. Ken and the WHOI staff have been investing a lot of personal time in science communication — to help the general public better understand whether they need to be worried about Fukushima effects.

Our Radioactive Ocean: Recently they launched the remarkable new website ourradioactiveocean.org. This is almost a “one stop shop” for accurate and accessible information on radioactivity and our oceans. The site is also the home of CMER’s crowd-sourced project to sample and analyze North Pacific Ocean waters. The crowd-sourcing innovation seems to be getting off to an encouraging start — you can see the current results here

CMER Pacific Ocean monitoring

Anyone (you?) can propose a sampling location, take samples of 20 liters of sea water, ship it to CMER at WHOI for analysis – and help raise the funds for the procedure (beginning with the expensive shipping). The fund raising is especially important as Ken’s lab already has more samples than they have budget to analyze. Excerpt from their crowd-sourcing page:

There currently is no U.S. or international agency monitoring the arrival of radioactive water from Fukushima along the West Coast. Although we don’t expect levels to be dangerously high in the ocean or in our seafood as the plume spreads across the Pacific, this is an evolving situation that demands careful, consistent monitoring to make sure predictions are true.

We at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution already have dozens of seawater samples from the coast of Japan out to the middle of the Pacific, but now we need new samples—from up and down the West Coast of North America and anywhere else we can get them. The trouble is, these samples are expensive to collect and analyze. That is why we are turning to you, your community, and your social network for help.

If you want to propose a sampling location near you, all you have to do is raise the cost of testing and shipping ($550 to $600 depending on location) and we will send you a sampling kit with everything you need. We’ll also help by setting up a fundraising webpage that you can email to your friends or post on your favorite social media site that will allow you to spread the word and track your progress.

Once you have your kit, sampling is easy (see video). When we get your sample, we will add it to the queue of samples to be analyzed. This isn’t a quick process (it takes 24-48 hours just to measure the radiation in a sample after processing), but we will fast-track samples from people like you. Depending upon how many are ahead of yours, however, it may take 5 to 10 weeks before we send you an email with the results and post your data on our interactive map.

In November 2013 Cape Code Online published a short interview with Dr. Buesseler, where he discussed the new Pacific monitoring initiative:

(…snip…) He predicts the radiation will be so diluted after the long journey across the Pacific that it will pose no threat to American fisheries or recreational activities.

“It’s very much a coastal Japan contaminant problem,” Buesseler said.

But he knows that’s not enough to reassure the public.

Given what’s happened at Fukushima, Buesseler asked, “Wouldn’t you want to have some measurement?”

This effort is science-motivated. But I think there is a science-education benefit that could be important. I predict that the  monitoring results will prove conclusively that the hysteria about the “Fukushima killing the Pacific Ocean” was hype, not science. And these are not results published by “them”, the results will clearly be produced by caring individuals in a completely transparent process. It make another generation to turn around the public radiophobia, but this looks like a solid contribution.

On Twitter you can see the latest updates on the Pacific monitoring project by following @whoi_cmer. Read Ken’s new paper Oceanography paper Fukushima and Ocean Radioactivity {if that link expires, search on the citation: Buesseler, K.O. 2014. Fukushima and Ocean Radioactivity. Oceanography 27(1), http://dx.doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.02}.

Here are some related Seekerblog posts on the public health risks associated with Fukushima contamination. In particular I suggest starting with these:

Do we need to worry about Fukushima contamination in the ocean? (part 1)

Fukushima, radiation and risk: what is scary and what is not

Fukushima contamination “poses no risk” to U.S. West Coast

Tony Barboza writing for the LA Times has a straightforward and accurate account of U.S. West Coast real risks associated with Fukushima contamination. Not every media source is spreading fear, Mr. Barboza is doing an excellent job of sourcing information from real experts such as Nicholas Fisher of Stony Brook University, Kim Martini of University of Washington, and Ken Buesseler, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Excerpts:

Radiation detected off the U.S. West Coast from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan has declined since the 2011 tsunami disaster and never approached levels that could pose a risk to human health, seafood or wildlife, scientists say.

Experts have been trying to dispel worries stemming from a burst of online videos and blog posts in recent months that contend radiation from Fukushima is contaminating beaches and seafood and harming sea creatures across the Pacific.

Those assertions are false and the concerns largely unfounded, scientists and government officials said last week, because Fukushima radionuclides in ocean water and marine life are at trace levels and declining — so low that they are trivial compared with what already exists in nature.

“There is no public health risk at California beaches due to radioactivity related to events at Fukushima,” the California Department of Public Health said in a statement.

Even at its worst in the months after the disaster, the dose of radioactivity that Fisher's lab found in tuna caught off California was far lower than what people are exposed to from medical X-rays or eating bananas or other potassium-rich foods, which contain naturally occurring radioactive isotopes.

The latest concerns are mostly driven by online videos, blogs and social media — including a post titled “28 Signs That the West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima.”

Kim Martini, an oceanographer at the University of Washington, noticed a surge in outrageous worries about radiation in Seattle last fall, including people who were afraid to go to the beach and stopped eating seafood.

“Every single environmental issue was being blamed on Fukushima,” she said. “And I thought there's no way that can be true.”

Since then she and other scientists have been posting information on the blog Deep Sea News, with posts including “Is the sea floor littered with dead animals due to radiation? No.”

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake off Japan on March 11, 2011, triggered a series of tsunamis that crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, releasing radiation into the ocean and atmosphere. Studies show that leaks from the facility continue to send radionuclides into the sea. But they dilute quickly in ocean water, scientists say.

Once those contaminants disperse across the Pacific Ocean and reach the West Coast, their concentration will be many thousands of times lower and not of concern, according to an online FAQ by Ken Buesseler, a marine scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“This is not to say that we should not be concerned about additional sources of radioactivity in the ocean above the natural sources, but at the levels expected even short distances from Japan, the Pacific will be safe for boating, swimming, etc.,” Buesseler wrote.

Good job Tony!

 

The Making of a Radiation Panic

Breakthrough Institute founders Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus examine some of the range of journalism on Fukushima. Of particular interest is background on Japanese politics – why has the government reaction been so weak?

(…) Despite the over-reaction in Japan and Europe, Fukushima has not slowed the pace of new nuclear plant construction globally (something we predicted last year). Against claims made in this week’s Economist, the number of reactors planned and under construction is virtually unchanged. In the US, the main obstacle to the expansion of nuclear has not been fear of radiation but rather the abundance of cheap natural gas from shale — a reality which similarly challenges the expansion of renewables.

There was nothing inevitable or natural about Japan’s panicked reaction to Fukushima. Growing mistrust of the government long pre-dates the tsunami. “The hysteria about radiation reflects a breakdown in trust, as witnessed by endless media accounts quoting people who doubt the government’s monitoring of food and soil,” wrote former Tokyo correspondent for the Washington Post, Paul Blustein. “Tokyo’s political class, which was eager to appear unified after the disaster, is consumed anew with score-settling and power maneuvers of the sort that have given the country six prime ministers in the past five years.”

Perhaps the most important lesson to be drawn from Japan’s radiation scare is the need for new, credible sources — independent of both electric utilities and governments — able to soberly put the risks and benefits of energy technologies in context. Alas, if the Natural Resource Defense Council’s slickly demagogic “nuclear fallout crisis” map is any indication, such credible sources won’t likely come from the traditional environmental movement.

See NPR’s coverage, which cites Breakthrough analysis by Jesse Jenkins, here: Nuclear Woes Push Japan Into A New Energy Future.

You can find our full collection of nuclear analyses and coverage here.

[From The Making of a Radiation Panic]

How Mark Lynas riled the green movement

“They believe in what they’re doing, but these people are nuts,” says Lynas. “And they’re doing real harm by spreading fear.”

What we know from Chernobyl is that the psychological impacts of fear of radiation are worse — in terms of health outcomes — than the actual damage of the radiation itself. We need to learn the lessons of this and that nothing is without consequences, nuclear scare-mongering included

Mark Lynas, author of  The God Species, was recently interviewed by Yale Environment 360 contributor Keith Kloor. Don’t miss this interview:

(…) Lynas talked about his change of heart, his embrace of genetically modified crops as a key solution to possible food shortages, and his disgust at seeing some environmentalists largely ignore the devastation from the recent Japanese tsunami while over-hyping the dangers of radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant.

(…) Yale Environment 360: The main thesis of your new book is that humans have to take an active role in managing the planet if we want to keep it from being “irreparably damaged.” But much of what you prescribe, such as wider deployment of nuclear power and genetically engineered agriculture, is anathema to many greens. This also flies in the face of your own history as an environmental activist, in which you were anti-nuclear and anti-GMO until just a few years ago. What’s caused you to do an about-face?

Mark Lynas: Well, life is nothing if not a learning process. As you get older you tend to realize just how complicated the world is and how simplistic solutions don’t really work … There was no “Road to Damascus” conversion, where there’s a sudden blinding flash and you go, “Oh, my God, I’ve got this wrong.” There are processes of gradually opening one’s mind and beginning to take seriously alternative viewpoints, and then looking more closely at the weight of the evidence. It was a few years ago now that I first started reassessing the nuclear thing. But I didn’t want to go public then. I knew that would be the end of my reputation as an environmentalist, and to some extent, it has been.

e360: Really?

Lynas: I mean, I’ve lost friends over this. And I’ve made some new ones. It’s an issue that divides almost like no other.