Fukushima Radiation Hits U.S. West Coast: Should Americans Be Concerned?

With news of a Fukushima radiation leak reaching America’s West Coast having emerged earlier this week, many have expressed concern that the seaborne leak of cesium-134 may make it dangerous for people to eat seafood caught from, or swim in those areas. But a new report has sought to reassure West Coast residents that the radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster may not be that harmful after all.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster took place in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake, a magnitude 9.0 tremor that shook Japan on March 11, 2011, and triggered massive tsunami waves in its wake. Due to the strength of the quake and the ensuing tsunami, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant’s cooling systems were destroyed, leading to three nuclear meltdowns and constant radiation emissions since the day after the quake. Some researchers had posited that the Fukushima disaster was worse than 1986’s Chernobyl meltdown, though other sources, such as The Conversation, wrote that Chernobyl still emitted far more radiation and created greater cancer risks for workers on site.

The Inquisitr reported earlier this week on the discovery of Fukushima radiation from Tillamook Bay and Gold Beach in Oregon. Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution were quoted as saying that they had found cesium-134, the key elemental ingredient in the Fukushima nuclear disaster, in the two Oregon beaches. This was the first time the isotope had been found on U.S. shores and came after it was found from a Vancouver Island seawater sample.

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Although it is a bit worrisome that Fukushima radiation has hit America, experts believe that the levels are so low that people living on the West Coast can still eat fish as usual, or take a swim in the ocean. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution senior scientist Ken Buesseler told USA TODAY just how insignificant the amounts of cesium-134 are at this point.

“To put it in context, if you were to swim every day for six hours a day in those waters for a year, that additional radiation from the addressed cesium from Japan… is 1000 times smaller than one dental x-ray.”

Buesseler added that the seawater samples, which were taken in Oregon in January and February 2016, only measured 0.3 becquerels per cubic meter of cesium-134. He also stressed that the levels of the radioactive material were much greater in Japan in the immediate aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“In Japan, at its peak, it was 10 million times higher than what we are seeing today on the West Coast.”

Another reason why people shouldn’t be too worried about the radiation is the fact that cesium-134 has a half-life of just about two years. According to the New York Post, that means radiation levels are sliced in half every two years. In contrast, the isotope cesium-137, which was a key feature in the Chernobyl disaster, has a half-life of 30 years. Dr. Kathryn Higley, head of Oregon State University’s School of Nuclear Science and Engineering, said that cesium-134 levels in Japan have also gone down significantly enough that some Japanese fisheries are considering reopening, a good five years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

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While the Fukushima radiation might not pose a threat at the moment to West Coast residents, Buesseler lamented the lack of government funding for radioactive studies that would allow researchers to better track and measure radiation levels. As such, Buesseler said, scientists have relied heavily on crowdfunding initiatives, such as his own project Our Radioactive Ocean. USA TODAY describes the project as a “crowdfunded, citizen science seawater sampling” initiative.

Meanwhile, Buesseler does not foresee any health issues occurring among people who swim in, or eat fish caught from affected waters, but said that Woods Hole would continue monitoring levels until the Fukushima-based radiation levels go down.

[Featured Image by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]