Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Woods Hole Q&A on #Fukushima Radiation and Fish

Ken Buesseler at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has been researching the marine life and how it is affected by the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant accident that has released significant amount of radioactive materials into the Pacific Ocean.

He has a page with questions that he gets from people concerned about the radiation in marine life and his answers.

From Q&A by Ken Buesseler at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (emphasis in the answers is mine):

What is the state of fisheries off Japan and along U.S. West Coast?

The coastal fisheries remain closed in Japan near Fukushima, where there is a concern for some species, especially the bottom dwelling ones, which are being tested and many have been found to be above the Japanese government's strict limits for cesium in seafood. These contaminated fish are not being sold internally in Japan or exported. Because of the dilution that occurs even a short distance from Fukushima, we do not have a concern about the levels of cesium and other radionuclides in fish off the West Coast of the U.S.

More about the state of Japanese fisheries (pdf).

Are fish such as tuna that might have been exposed to radiation from Fukushima safe to eat?

Seawater everywhere contains many naturally occurring radionuclides, the most common being polonium-210. As a result, fish caught in the Pacific and elsewhere already have measurable quantities of these substances. Most fish do not migrate far from home, which is why fisheries off Fukushima remain closed. But some species, such as the Pacific bluefin tuna, can swim long distances and could pick up cesium in their feeding grounds off Japan. However, cesium is a salt taken up by the flesh that will begin to flush out of an exposed fish soon after they enter waters less affected by Fukushima. By the time tuna are caught in the eastern Pacific, cesium levels in their flesh are 10-20 times lower than when they were off Fukushima. Moreover, the dose from Fukushima cesium is considered insignificant relative to the dose from naturally occurring polonium-210, which was 1000 times higher in fish samples studied, and both of these are much lower relative to other, more common sources, such as dental x-rays.

More about the dose and associated risk (pdf) of radiation from Fukushima to marine life and humans.

Is there concern about other radionuclides, such as strontium-90?

The continued release of radionuclides from groundwater and leaking tanks at Fukushima nuclear power plants site needs to be watched closely, as the character or mix of radionuclides is changing. One example is the higher levels of strontium-90 contained in groundwater and storage tanks that are leaking into the ocean. Because strontium-90 mimics calcium, it is taken up by and concentrated in bones, where it remains for long periods of time (it has a half-life of 30 years and calcium/strontium is not replaced as quickly in the body as cesium). If leaks of strontium-90 continue, this radionuclide could become a larger concern in small fish such as sardines, which are often eaten whole. So far, however, evidence suggests that levels in fish of strontium-90 remains much lower than that of cesium-137.

Is radiation exposure still a concern?

I stood on a ship two miles from the Fukushima reactors in June 2011 and as recently as May 2013, and it was safe to be there (I carry radiation detectors with me) and collect samples of all kinds (water, sediment, biota). Although radioactive isotopes in the samples and on the ship were measurable back in our lab, it was low enough to be safe to handle samples without any precautions. In fact, our biggest problem is filtering out natural radionuclides in our samples so we can measure the trace levels of cesium and other radionuclides that we know came from Fukushima.

Where does radiation from Fukushima go once it enters the ocean?

The spread of cesium once it enters the ocean can be understood by the analogy of mixing cream into coffee. At first, they are separate and distinguishable, but just as we start to stir the cream forms long, narrow filaments or streaks in the water. The streaks became longer and narrower as they moved off shore, where diffusive processes began to homogenize and dilute the radionuclides. In the ocean, diffusion is helped along by ocean eddies, squirts, and jets that broaden, mix, and continue to dilute the cesium as it travels across the ocean. With distance and time, radionuclide concentrations become much lower in the ocean, something that our measurements confirm.

More information about our oceanographic studies off Fukushima (pdf).

Are the continued sources of radiation from the nuclear power plants of concern?

The site of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is an ongoing source of radionuclides (pdf) in to the ocean—something I've seen evidence of in my data and published about since 2011. Although the numbers sound large (300,000 gallons of water leaked or 20 trillion bequerels [sic] per liter), we calculated in 2011 when radiation levels were much higher than today that the dose to someone on a ship or in the ocean was not of concern. For the workers at the site, direct exposure from leaking storage tanks is of greater health concern because exposure from these concentrated sources is much higher. For the general public, it is not our direct exposure, but uptake by the food web and, hence, the potential for human consumption of contaminated fish that is the main health concern.

Will radiation be of concern along U.S. and Canadian coasts?

Levels of any Fukushima contaminants in the ocean will be many thousands of times lower after they mix across the Pacific and arrive on the West Coast of North America some time in late 2013 or 2014. 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.

Is debris washing ashore on the US/Canadian West Coast of concern?

Debris washed out to sea by the tsunami does not carry Fukushima radioactive contamination—I’ve measured several samples in my lab. It does, however, carry invasive species, which will be of serious concern to coastal ecosystems on the West Coast.

Have there been increased deaths as a result of radiation from Fukushima?

Reports of increased deaths are simply not true. Read this reasoned response in Scientific American to the most often-cited "scientific" paper about erroneously linking deaths to radiation from Fukushima. That article ends “This is not to say that the radiation from Fukushima is not dangerous (it is), nor that we shouldn’t closely monitor its potential to spread (we should).” I agree with that statement.

Where can people go for reliable information?

Here are some other links I have passed to others.
Fukushima's Radioactive Water Leak: What You Should Know
Latest Radioactive Leak at Fukushima: How Is It Different?
See also following article from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (w/ links to many others)
From the special issue of Oceanus Magazine devoted to the cause and impacts of Fukushima:
Consider supporting our new Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity and check out CMER public education links, such as ABCs of radioactivity

(I wish he didn't mention the dental x-rays...)


Vyse Legendaire said...

Nothing like a good bit of whitewash porn to help us sleep at night.

Anonymous said...

In other news, the death rate from cancers continues to rise.

I guess plutonium 210 is not as rare as it use to be these days...
Polonium is a very rare element in nature because of the short half-life of all its isotopes. It is found in uranium ores at about 0.1 mg per metric ton (1 part in 1010),[43][44] which is approximately 0.2% of the abundance of radium. The amounts in the Earth's crust are not harmful. Polonium has been found in tobacco smoke from tobacco leaves grown with phosphate fertilizers.[45][46][47]

Because of the small abundance, isolation of polonium from natural sources is a very tedious process. The largest batch was extracted in the first half of the 20th century by processing 37 tonnes of residues from radium production. It contained only 40 Ci (9 mg) of polonium-210.[48] Nowadays, polonium is obtained by irradiating bismuth with high-energy neutrons or protons.[16][49]...from WikipediA.

Anonymous said...

Believe what Dr. Buessler is saying, the testing so far of the ocean areas do not show high levels or dangerous levels of radiation --where tested. And that is testing done on 'AS IS' without the additional contamination from the failing tanks or the groundwater. Frankly, we only test what we can get to; he has been in the battle to determine the situation from the beginning and can only go on data. Yes, there is contamination; yes, there will be more contamination, as the situation changes day by day.
What he is saying, or what he can say based on lab testing, is so far the ocean shows no major contamination (yet) where he has tested. One of the 'debris' from tsumani was sent by one of our people; we have dosimeter badges on 15 small Pacific Islands--all are normal level or under 20 mSv. All that we can do, he can do, is keep watch--until some 'genius' in Japan can come up with a comprehensive fix (miracle). Very concerned with the smaller Pacific Islands as well--they use rain water, eat seafood. Chances of greater impact are certainly faced there as well as west coast USA. Do not slam this post, am not a troll, just someone who has been shipping out badges to far off locations in the Pacific, sending in a few samples, and keeping a small network of people informed/watching as time passes. None of us know what is going to occur-its extremely concerning. At the least, we face more than the Atomic Bomb testing fallout situation from a contamination point of view. Again, don't blast those trying to figure out exactly what is going on by collecting data/information and informing of facts on current situations. We are not just typing and blogging for the fun of it..

Anonymous said...

So Ken Buesseler eats fish 2 miles from Fukushima Daiichi then?

Didn't think so.

Anonymous said...

"In fact, our biggest problem is filtering out natural radionuclides in our samples so we can measure the trace levels of cesium and other radionuclides that we know came from Fukushima."

This statement is problematic, in that many of what scientists now consider "natural" radionuclides are actually the product of human releases from nuclear weapons tests and nuclear plant accidents.

Anonymous said...

Let's dump all nuclear wastes into the oceans, it causes no arms at all!
Nuclear industry just found a way to get rid off all wastes.
Thank you Woods Hole,
and enjoy Fukushima fish products and meals for the rest of your less longer life. Please eat plenty of it! And think and remember those who are now suffering from cancers and serious health problems due to Fukushima fallouts (young girls with thyroid cancers, babies with hearth with holes in them, adults with lung problems and infections that just can't be treated, increase in blood cancers, etc).

Anonymous said...

Ken Buesseler at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has been researching the marine life and how it is affected by the fat wads of cash stuffed into his pocket by the nuclear industry.

Anonymous said...

Much higher, much lower, only a small fraction, perfectly safe, wtf?
Mr. Buesseler, can you give us the absolute numbers so we can we will judge by ourselves?


Anonymous said...

I don't remember any data published from the radiation testing of sick, starving, and dying sea lions off the coast of California. I think many wondered if it was just a coincidence that the kelp was found to contain radioactive iodine from Fukushima at the time. I don't recall any followup after they said they were going to test for that.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so according to him, the only concern are for the workers who come into direct contact with the water storage tanks. That is all. Nothing else to see here folks. Move along.

Yeah, right.

Anonymous said...

From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's website:

Featured Partners & Sponsors

Government: United States
NSF National Science Foundation Department of Defense Department of Defense NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin. NASA National Aeronautics and Space Admin. USGS U.S. Geological Survey
Department of Energy
NIH National Institutes of Health

Anonymous said...

When Woods Hole did their research they were not allowed near the immediate Daiichi coastline.

Anonymous said...

Another scientist who claim that ingesting radioactive isotopes is not harmful!
He must be drinking with Dr. Damashita.
Did he test for strontium? he forgot?

Anonymous said...

Beppe, follow the link "dose and associated risk".

Anon at 12:03PM, that's not true. They were the only ones who were allowed by the Japanese government.

Anonymous said...

Have a link for where Woods Hole started their research off the coast of Japan? How far out? A couple miles out was a restricted zone.

Greenpeace asked for permission to investigate directly off the Daiichi's coast, Japan denied access.

The only ships that were anywhere near Daiichi's coastline were the US Navy and that was when the USS Reagan was traveling in and out of the water and air plumes being contaminated with radioactive fallout while doing relief work and at the same time Unit 3 blew up. Japan didn't warn them it was about to explode.

Anonymous said...

Found this note. 18 miles doesn't strike me as being close.

The Methot net is currently in the water under an almost-full moon, and a Japanese coast guard ship is keeping a wary eye on us from just inside the 30-kilometer exclusion zone around the reactor complex. They pulled in close to question us when we came on station earlier, but eventually let us continue without too much fuss.


Ken must have been in the crow's nest looking at the top of Daiichi's exhaust towers to say he was in sight of the plant when on the ship..

Dr. Good Heart said...

Now for the rest of the story....thanks to Kevin Blanch.

Dr. Good Heart said...

It is not just about Fukushima.. There is a global view, and a view that includes seven future generations. Fukushima is BAD, but what is coming, if that can even be imagined, is MUCH WORSE!

Former Nuclear Regulator NRC Chairman Says - 100% Of ALL US Nuclear Reactors Should Be SHUT DOWN PERMANENTLY! via @AGreenRoad

Anonymous said...

Oooo, Polonium-210 rich waters. Where did that come from?

Anonymous said...

I think we have to take the middle road here: on the one hand comprimised USG funding on the other hand those who understandably DO NOT TRUST the frigging' US government. I saw Ken B. speak at Helen Caldicott's conference (online) and he is obviously a very very serious scientist and I doubt he is a liar. On the other hand I think he was very nervous when he spoke are really should have been sounding alarm bells about the potential of Fukushima to pollute the ocean.

Dr. Chris Busby who is an anti nuclear scientist to his core said that even if the entire Fukushima melted material polluted the ocean it would not kill the entire Pacific, is another warning to exaggeration.

I do not entirely trust any scientist I know about, whether Arnie G., Busby or
Caldicott, they either extrapolate toward the worse case scenario or the lessor, but for sure we can say that the continuing pollution of the Pacific from not insignificant amounts of radio nuclides from Fukushima is a bad thing. And that is a very conservative statement.

Anonymous said...

This an answer from South Korea to your post:

Who are you?

Anonymous said...

This banana article seems to try to say that eating food contaminated to the tune of 38 Bq/kg of cesium is all right. Great but I'd rather eat fish from somewhere else.
By the way, according to recent data published by the Japanese goverment fish from Fukushima has been found to be contaminated up to 52 bq/kg.


Anonymous said...

Some people are born dick-heads whilst others are paid to be dick-heads,another group are born that way and are paid too.

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