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The purpose of this diary is to report initial results coming from Dr. Ken Buesseler's crowd-sourced and funded monitoring program Our Radioactive Ocean.  Samples collected this year by citizen scientists along the California coast indicate that 134-Cs is below detection in seawater at this point and 137-Cs levels are ~2 Bq/m^3 and consistent with activities expected from 20th century weapons test fallout. Given its short half-life of approximately 2 years this means that ocean transport of Fukushima radioactivity has yet to impact the coast of California.  Model predictions suggest that waters affected by Fukushima will arrive along the California coast this spring.  A press release about the program follows below the fold.

News Release
Radioactive Ocean Website a Success
No Fukushima radionuclides detected yet, baseline key to future detection


Media Relations Office

January 28, 2014

(508) 289-3340

With concern among the public over the plume of radioactive ocean water from Fukushima arriving on the West Coast of North America and no U.S. government or international plan to monitor it, a new project from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is filling a timely information gap.

Just two weeks after launching the crowd sourcing campaign and citizen science website, “How Radioactive Is Our Ocean,” WHOI marine chemist Ken Buesseler’s project has received more than 70 individual donations from the concerned public. New data on seawater radiation levels will be posted on the website today.

“We’ve received a lot of interest from the public so far, which has been great. Right now we’re gathering important baseline data, but we need continual support in order to monitor the plume over the long-term,” says Buesseler, who conducted the first major sampling off shore of the Fukushima plant in June 2011 and again in 2013.

Through “How Radioactive Is Our Ocean,” the public can support the monitoring of radiation in the ocean with tax-deductible donations to fund the analysis of collected seawater samples or by proposing new locations and funding the samples and analysis of those sites at Buesseler’s lab in Woods Hole, Mass.

The project aims to inform and include the public in the process of gathering information about radiation levels in the ocean. The website has garnered more than 18,000 visits to-date.

Although Buesseler does not expect levels to be dangerously high in the ocean or in seafood as the plume spreads 5,000 miles across the Pacific, he believes this is an evolving situation that demands careful, consistent monitoring to make sure predictions are true.

One community activist in Point Reyes, Calif., has already raised enough funds to sample the seawater in his coastal community at four intervals throughout this year.

“We need to know the actual levels of radiation coming at us,” Bing Gong says about what motivated him to get involved. “There’s so much disinformation out there. We really need actual data.”

In addition to the Point Reyes site, thus far, funding has been secured for bi-monthly sampling at the Scripps Pier in La Jolla, Calif., and goals have been met for at least single samples at Ocean Shores, WA, Santa Monica, Calif., and Mendocino, Calif.

Dr. Roger Gilbert, a radiation oncologist in Mendocino, Calif. raised funds to support analysis of his coastal community’s seawater.

“My motivation was concern over fear-mongering on the Internet about allegedly high levels of Fukushima radiation in the coastal waters of California. I am a radiation oncologist, more familiar than most with radioactivity, and it seemed highly likely that the vast dilution of radioisotopes from Fukushima by the Pacific Ocean would result in a barely (if at all) measurable rise in counts,” he says.

Community activist Bing Gong raised $2,200 from friends and neighbors and plans to continue to raise enough funds to sample the seawater off Point Reyes over the next three years.

“What we really need is support to sample the same sites multiple times over the next couple of years, like the support coming from the community in Point Reyes, where we will be able to fully monitor the plume’s arrival and movement over time,” Buesseler says.

The plume of radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is forecasted to be detectable at the Pacific coast in April 2014, according to a scientific model developed by Vincent Rossi, a post-doctoral research associate at the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems in Spain.

Rossi’s model projects that traces of Fukushima’s radiation will reach Alaska and coastal Canada first because of the trajectory of the powerful Kuroshio Current that flows from Japan across the Pacific. The plume will continue to circulate down the coast of North America and back towards Hawaii.

Fukushima contamination can be “fingerprinted” from precise measurements of the relative amounts of two cesium isotopes: The long lived cesium-137 isotope with a 30-year half life that has been in the ocean from 1960s weapons testing, and cesium-134, with a 2-year half life that can only be a result of the more recent 2011 Fukushima accident. Today new data will be posted on the website from four funded sample sites: La Jolla, Calif., Point Reyes, Calif., Grayland, WA, and Sequim Bay, WA.

No traces of Fukushima’s cesium-134 have been detected in Buesseler’s analyses yet. And, the level of cesium-137 is what's expected from the 1960s sources (1.5 Bequerels per cubic meter).

“The reason why we see such low levels of radiation in these samples is because the plume is not here yet. But it’s coming. And we’ll actually be able to see its arrival,” Buesseler says. “That baseline data is critical.”

Having samples from before the plume reaches the coast is important for building a complete data set that measures changing radiation levels over time and improving scientists’ ability to model plume behavior.

“We expect over the rest of 2014, levels will become detectable starting first along the northern coastline. But the complex behavior of coastal currents will likely result in varying intensities and changes that cannot be predicted from models alone,” Buesseler says.

The project currently has sponsors interested in collecting samples from 16 unique locations from San Diego to British Columbia and one in Oahu, Hawaii. However, none have been proposed yet from Alaska, where the plume is predicted to be detected first.

“Optimally, we’d like to be able to sample and analyze about 20 sites from Alaska to San Diego at regular intervals every few months. We even have had interest from the public as far away as Japan, New Zealand, Guam, and one sailing vessel traveling from Hawaii to Japan this summer, but the West Coast time series is our highest priority,” says Buesseler.

About the project

Nearly three years after the tsunami that resulted in the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant accident, questions remain about how much radioactive material has been released and how widely and quickly it is dispersing in the Pacific Ocean. Marine chemist Ken Buesseler at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) has been gathering samples -- some from as close as half a mile from the damaged reactors -- and has been analyzing this seawater for Fukushima contaminants since 2011.

No U.S. government or international agency is monitoring the spread of low levels of radiation from Fukushima along the West Coast of North America and around the Hawaiian Islands. The Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity (CMER) at WHOI, a private non-profit marine research and education organization, launched this project to involve the public in gathering seawater samples and raising funds for analyses that will provide the latest information about radiation levels in the ocean. The data is being posted on the website, Support for CMER’s on-going efforts to train the next generation of radio-marine chemists can be given by donating to its capacity building campaign.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit

Originally published: January 28, 2014

Originally posted to MarineChemist on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 12:07 PM PST.

Also republished by SciTech.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you (8+ / 0-)

    for bring real science rather than the hysterical pseudo-science that has permeated the discussion at times.

    We will work, we will play, we will laugh, we will live. We will not waste one moment, nor sacrifice one bit of our freedom, because of fear.

    by Lib Dem FoP on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 12:14:11 PM PST

  •  The people who need to believe in bad things (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cosette, whenwego, mamooth

    in order to justify their present angst and misery, or their belief that all is a conspiracy, are not going to like this.

    So, keep it coming and thanks for your evidence-based, and well-founded words on the subject.

    Their real God is money-- Jesus just drives the armored car, and his hat is made in China. © 2009 All Rights Reserved

    by oblomov on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 12:22:14 PM PST

  •  Drudge has been pushing... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...scare stories about Fukushima radiation reaching the West Coast, all of them sourced from Alex Jones' CT site.

    Thanks for this.

  •  Amazingly, some circles still insist (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    T100R, betson08

    on circulating the map of tsunami amplitudes.

    Dawkins is to atheism as Rand is to personal responsibility

    by terrypinder on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 12:41:52 PM PST

  •  Donated and tweeted out there for hopefully (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MarineChemist, crose

    more donations!

    It is every person's obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what they takes out of it. - Albert Einstein (edited for modern times to include everyone by me!)

    by LeftieIndie on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 01:27:59 PM PST

  •  People have the option of participating (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    worldlotus, elfling, mamooth

    in a rigorous, accountable, and professional scientific study that will go a long way toward curbing the dominance of inane speculation and pseudo-expertise in the public dialogue, and that will yield important scientific understanding.  I admire Buesseler's approach and I have sent WHOI some dough.  Enormous amounts of money  flow toward ads on Fukushima "news" aggregators, toward the sale of Geiger counters whose new owners don't understand how to make meaningful measurements, and toward herbal quackery and potassium iodide quackery.  Time to get our priorities right.  This is the sort of project that everyone from the jaded folks who think that governments are conspiring to suppress data, to the nuclear utilities, ought to agree is worth supporting.

  •  Gee, great initiative, but, umm (0+ / 0-)

    Shouldn't some agency of the federal government be already monitoring this, like, say, the EPA, the NOAA, or the Coast Guard? What's wrong with us as a country that our government doesn't find it a priority to ensure we are informed about whether or not radioactive seawater is washing up on our coasts?

    What will we have to crowdfund next?

  •  I love science! Thank you MC (0+ / 0-)

    Now to post a link on FB for friends and family who continue to resist rigorous studies, instead believing the scare stories and CT. Sigh.

    Fight them to the end, until the children of the poor eat better than the dogs of the rich.

    by raincrow on Tue Jan 28, 2014 at 05:08:49 PM PST

  •  Interesting water sample report from Japan (0+ / 0-)

    The Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) has just released the results of cesium measured in seawater samples taken about 100km north of the Fukushima Daiichi plant offshore from Miyagi prefecture on 3rd December 2013.

     The interesting thing I noted in the results shown on the map is that the amounts of radioactive cesium detected in samples taken from the bay area off Matsushima are significantly higher (3 to 4 times) than those detected in open water even a few km east of the bay where they are only a little higher than the initial values (0.0015 Bq/l for Cs-137)) being reported by the US west coast sampling project referenced in the initial diary.

    •  Hi nojay (0+ / 0-)

      Just looked. The 134-Cs/137-Cs ratio is below 0.5 suggesting that input is from mobilization of Cs produced some time ago rather than recently.

      •  Original isotopic inventories (0+ / 0-)

        I don't know the original ratio of cesium -134 and -137 involved in the initial releases from the reactor explosions in March 2011. It wouldn't be 1:1 exactly and the measurements of seawater samples taken afterwards would also be skewed by remnant Cs-137 from atomic weapons use and testing and the Chernobyl release in 1986. Remember though it is nearly three years since the reactors stopped operating so the isotopic ratio will be under 0.5 anyway due to the difference in half-life; assuming an initial 1:1 ratio of isotopes in the reactor fuel the ratio would now be about 0.4 (Cs-134 down to about 38% and Cs-137 down to 95% of initial amounts respectively).

         One thing that bugs me about the NRA results published by the Japanese government is that they don't give error bars on radioactivity measurements to two significant figures -- OK a given sample is 0.0024 Bq/litre but what's the +/- on that?


        •  Hi nojay (0+ / 0-)

          The isotope ratio was close to 1 according to Povinec et al. (2013) Biogeosciences and references therein.  The counting statistics will determine their error as I doubt they have made replicate analyses.  

          •  Quick readthrough (0+ / 0-)

            I looked through the Povinec paper briefly. They mention the isotopic ratios produced by boiling-water reactors as 6.8% for Cs-134 and 6.5% for Cs-137 which is, I believe, correct for regular fuel but reactor 3 was famously using MOX which shifts the isotopic ratios somewhat. The bigger problem of assuming a nearly-1:1 ratio of Cs-134 to Cs-137 in used reactor fuel is that if the reactor has been operating for any length of time more of the Cs-134 produced early in its operation will decay than the longer-lived Cs-137. To further complicate matters refuelling operations sometimes involve repositioning spent fuel assemblies which had been at the periphery of the core and hence not "burned down" as much as the centre assemblies to further burn up the fuel; these assemblies could have been in a reactor for well over a year through two operating cycles.

             I've not been able to easily find how long each of the 3 damaged Fukushima reactors had been operating at full rated power before the explosions. This might give us an idea of the actual inventories of Cs-134 and Cs-137 present in the cores in March 2011 and hence refine that ratio assumption.

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