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Coastal Currents: The Marine Chemist Who Found Fukushima Radiation 100 Miles West Of Eureka

Mike Dronkers / Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014 @ noon / Coastal Currents


Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) specializing in the study of natural and man-made radionuclides, recently landed on the front page of Reddit as well as on Lost Coast Outpost due to his recent findings of radioactivity off the coast of Eureka. KHUM spoke with him about these results, what they mean and how concerned local residents should be. 

According to a WHOI press release:

Monitoring efforts along the Pacific Coast of the U.S. and Canada have detected the presence of small amounts of radioactivity from the 2011 Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant accident 100 miles (150 km) due west of Eureka, California. Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) found the trace amounts of telltale radioactive compounds as part of their ongoing monitoring of natural and human sources of radioactivity in the ocean.

The offshore radioactivity reported this week came from water samples collected and sent to Buesseler’s lab for analysis in August by a group of volunteers on the research vessel Point Sur sailing between Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and Eureka, California.

So should you stop swimming at Moonstone? Buesseler told KHUM he was cautious but not concerned.

"The real finding this week was, yes, it's there. Yes, it's gonna perhaps double the amount that people will be experiencing, but that number is still thousands of times lower than what's considered safe for drinking.... If you were to swim every day of the year in those waters, these are hundreds of times lower doses than a single dental X-ray."

The numbers are expected to increase over the next one to two years, but the predictions might be going from two to 10. Again, small. Not zero risk, but nothing where we would be thinking about closing fisheries or keeping people out of the ocean... We should be concerned. We should be diligent and monitoring but I think the types of numbers we're seeing on this side of the ocean shouldn't cause people to stop swimming, boating or surfing."

In fact, radiation levels in Humboldt's waters were much higher during the height of the offshore nuclear testing boom, he said.

Buesseler is also associated with OurRadioactiveOcean.org, a crowdfunded research site that monitors oceanic radioactivity. You can see each sample site and its results on this Google Map

We haven't found a way to get the federal government to help pay for these types of analyses, so decided we would just respond directly to the people, and have them both fundraise for a given sample and then collect it as citizen scientists.

He told KHUM they've processed about 50 samples for 30 locations. From the shipping of the sampling kit through testing for radioactivity in a shielded basement, each sample costs about $550. If you want to help fund a sample location, check here for unmonitored northern Californian locations

Listen to the full KHUM interview below. 

KBAudio