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Join the Fukushima Radiation Watch

If you want to get in on the fear mongering, help dispel some misconceptions, or just want to wade into the water, here’s your chance, citizen scientist.
Image: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Whether you’re worried about splashing in a radioactive surf, threats to ocean life, or just like filling up containers with water, you can help scientists watch for evidence of some of those 300 metric tons of contaminated ground water from Fukushima’s nuclear plant that seeps into the ocean every day finally reaching America, by lending your time and/or your treasure.

As perhaps a living testament to just the sheer immensity of the Pacific Ocean, radiation from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant still hasn’t been detected in the Pacific off the North American West Coast. While the radiation could be detected in the California air within days, the radioactive plume of cesium that was released at the same time should be arriving in Hawaii and Alaska later this year, and work its way down to the lower 48 in the following year or two.


Another testament to the Pacific Ocean’s size is just how unconcerned American authorities are about radiation from Fukushima—there is no US government organization monitoring the radiation’s spread.

Members of the public, however, are less confident. As a member of said public, I can certainly understand that—what’s more alarming than the words “spreading radiation”? When trace levels of radiation show up in blue tuna, or iodine 131 is found in kelp, it’s disconcerting, even if you accept that the levels are 100 times lower than the US's drinking water threshold, as Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Allison Macfarlane said at a December 6 briefing in Tokyo.

As the Center for Marine and Environmental Radiation at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution puts it , though, whether or not "you agree with predictions that levels of radiation along the Pacific Coast of North America will be too low to be of human health concern or to impact fisheries and marine life, we can all agree that radiation should be monitored.” The institution then calls on that same public to lend a hand.

Citizen scientists are asked for help both fundraising and collecting water from sites. Interested West Coasters can suggest sites to collect ocean water. Then are then responsible for raising the costs of the testing and shipping of the sample. The sample of course is several gallons of water and therefore fairly heavy.


The video on the site makes the collection seem pretty easy and fun though, once the fundraising is done:

The first round of results from La Jolla and Point Reyes, Calif., and Grayland and Squium, Wash. were announced on January 28. “Four samples from these three locations show no detectable Fukushima cesium,” they reported on their website. “Cesium-137 was found at levels of 1.5 Bq per cubic meter (Bq/m3), but this was already detectable prior to releases at Fukushima and came primarily from nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific during the 1950s and 1960s.” If it were Fukushima radiation, it would also have traces of the shorter-lived isotope cesium-134, which was released by the nuclear plant in proportion with cesium-137 isotope.

While other monitoring programs are up and running closer to the source, these first rounds of West Coast samples will form the baseline that the coming cesium plume will be measured against. The researchers point out that they’re not expecting any danger from the plume—“existing levels of cesium-137 are hundreds of times less than the dose provided by naturally occurring potassium-40 in seawater,” the site explains—and another FAQ explains how the situation warrants observation but not fear. The results of the tests get posted on an eye-catching map.

If you want to get in on the fear mongering, or if you want to help dispel some misconceptions, or if you just need an excuse to wade into the ocean, here’s your chance, citizen scientist.