Scientists Detect Radiation From Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: Should People Be Concerned?

First Posted: Dec 12, 2016 04:41 AM EST

For the first time, scientists have detected seaborne radiation from Japan's Fukushima nuclear disaster on the West Coast of the United States. Should the Americans be concerned?

The scientists reported that radioactive matter, called cesium-134, was collected in seawater samples from Tillamook Bay and Gold Beach in Oregon. However, the levels are extremely low and do not pose any threat to humans and the environment.

"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," Ken Buesseler, a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, told USA Today.

The samples were collected in January and February. The amounts measured were 0.3 becquerels per cubic meter of Cesium-134, which is lower than the 30 million becquerels measured in Japan right after the disaster.

"These new data are important for two reasons," Buesseler said in a press release by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "First, despite the fact that the levels of contamination off our shores remain well below government-established safety limits for human health or to marine life, the changing values underscore the need to more closely monitor contamination levels across the Pacific. Second, these long-lived radioisotopes will serve as markers for years to come for scientists studying ocean currents and mixing in coastal and offshore waters," he explained.

The Fukushima Nuclear Accident

In 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan triggered a tsunami that caused gigantic damage to the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant. As a result, numerous radioactive isotopes, including the dangerous products of Cesium-137 and Iodine-131, contaminated both the air and water.

In Japan, however, the peak of the Cesium-134 levels was 10 million times higher than what was collected on the West Coast.

What Is Cesium-134?

According to The New York Post, Cesium-134 is considered the "fingerprint" of Fukushima due to its short half-life of two years. This means that the level is reduced in half every two years and disappears much more quickly.

On the other hand, Cesium-137 has a 30-year half-life. Those from the Chernobyl, discharge from other nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons tests are still detectable today in the same small and harmless amounts.

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