Fukushima Radiation: None Detected Yet on California Coast

Steven Manley a marine biology professor at California State University, Long Beach, is one of the founders of Kelp Watch 2014.
Steven Manley, a marine biology professor at California State University, Long Beach, is one of the founders of Kelp Watch 2014. (CSU Long Beach)

Radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan has not reached the California coastline, according to new results from tests on kelp. Scientists monitoring kelp forests on the West Coast announced the results on Wednesday.

Kelp forests in the ocean are like sponges. They suck up what's in the water around them. So scientists with a project called Kelp Watch 2014 are testing kelp from Baja California up to Alaska for cesium-134, one of the radioactive isotopes from Fukushima.

And so far, says Kai Vetter, a nuclear scientist at the University of California, Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, there's no cesium-134. He just got the results back from kelp collected in February and March.

"But the expectation is even if we find cesium or other isotopes that we can associate to Fukushima, the concentration we expect, again, will be extremely small," he said.

In his tests, Vetter did find cesium-137, another radioactive isotope. That, he says, was left behind after atmospheric weapons tests. Scientists expect to eventually see cesium-137 from Fukushima, too, but that Cs-137 wouldn't be here without the Cs-134, Vetter explained.

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The Kelp Watch 2014 team will continue gathering kelp to test for radiation. In addition to being a public service, Vetter said, the study presents the possibility of learning more about ocean currents.

Vetter said once the radiation does get here, it will not pose a threat to people, plants or animals. Scientists expect the radiation to arrive sometime this spring or summer.

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Vetter also posts air monitoring information on radiation from sensors in Berkeley. And the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has a program to test ocean water for Fukushima radiation.

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