It’s been three years since a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck the northeastern shoreline of Japan’s Honshu Island, sweeping away entire towns and claiming more than 15,000 lives.
In its destruction, the tsunami also damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, sparking the meltdown of three of the facility’s six nuclear reactors. Soon afterwards the plant began releasing radioactive material into the surrounding ocean, resulting in the largest dump of nuclear waste since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
Now scientists say that radioactive seawater is about to make it to Southern California.
Researchers at CSU Long Beach, lead by Professor Steven Manley, have embarked on an ambitious project — dubbed Kelp Watch 2014 — to find out just how much radioactive material we have in our local seawater. By examining levels of radioactive isotopes in local kelp populations, Manley and his team hope to dispel notions that the radiation poses a significant health risk to humans.
“The anticipated amounts [of radioactive material], because of the dilution that has occurred, are not considered to be human health risks,” Manley said, while harvesting kelp just outside the Long Beach Harbor last Thursday. “But I think it’s important to know actually what is in our environment.”
While it’s important to not conflate the tragic events of Fukushima with possible seawater contamination off the coast of California, Manley notes that the migration of radioactive material from the coast of Japan to Southern California is significant. He added that he doesn’t anticipate finding any radioactive material from Fukushima in this initial round of testing, but that future tests in July and later this winter should show signs of Fukushima contamination.
To hear more about Kelp Watch 2014, listen below: