Monday, 25 November 2013

Fukushima radiation

Radionuclides from Fukushima due to hit U.S. West Coast any day now”

  • Senior Scientist: “Really bizarre” U.S. gov’t not testing for it
  • Concerned officials contacting him about threat



24 November, 2013



Cape Cod Times, Nov. 24, 2013:
With the first plume of water carrying radionuclides from Fukushima due to hit the U.S. West Coast any day now, [Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Senior Scientist Ken] Buesseler’s latest project is to convince the federal government to monitor radiation levels in the sea water. [...] He predicts the radiation will be so diluted after the long journey across the Pacific that it will pose no threat [...] But he knows that’s not enough to reassure the public. [...] he knows people are concerned [...] he fields regular phone calls from surfers and salmon fishermen as well as congressmen. [...]  WHOI plans to set up a website, probably by mid-December, that will allow people to mail samples of water [...]
Nuclear Regulatory Commission
[Buesseler] spent this past week in Washington, D.C., meeting with representatives of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, asking them to come up with some sort of plan to keep tabs on levels of radionuclides [...] Scott Burnell, spokesman for the NRC, called it crowd sourcing and said Buesseler discussed the plans during a “friendly back and forth” meeting Friday. “He’s one of a few people who does this research,” Burnell said. “It’s not replicated in a lot of places.”
U.S. Congress
Buesseler also talked with U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., [...] Markey said in an email that an increased federal role is not likely considering the budgetary brakes being applied by the Republicans in Congress. “The sequester is a double-punch, cutting funding for the agencies charged with promoting scientific discovery and protecting our natural resources,” he said.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Senior Scientist Ken Buesseler: We’ve known that for two and half years. Every day they are making contaminated water [...] I’m a little disappointed in Japan. What (the denial has) done is made the public extremely mistrustful. [...]  We don’t have a U.S. agency responsible for radiation in the ocean [...] It’s really bizarre. [...] Given what’s happened at Fukushima [...] Wouldn’t you want to have some measurement?


Fukushima: WHOI senior scientist studies irradiated water


24 November, 2013



WOODS HOLE — Sloshing with Japanese sea water, the 5-gallon plastic jugs crowding Ken Buesseler's laboratory at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution contain evidence of an ongoing nuclear crisis.

Collecting samples off the coast where the Fukushima nuclear power plant was damaged in a March 2011 earthquake, the WHOI senior scientist measured higher than normal radiation levels long after the original disaster.

OFF THE CHARTS

The Fukushima disaster resulted in an unprecedented release of radioisotopes to the ocean, according to the spring edition of Oceanus, a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution publication. It says the amount of cesium-137 isotopes in surface ocean waters off Fukushima was 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than amounts entering the ocean after Chernobyl or from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the 1960s.

"It was very concerning," Buesseler said during a recent interview in his lab, dubbed "Cafe Thorium," after the naturally occurring radioactive metal.

"It dropped off, but it never went back to pre-Fukushima levels," he said. Buesseler, along with a team from WHOI, made the first of his three visits to the Fukushima area in June 2011, suspected groundwater flowing through the reactor site was carrying radiation into the sea.

After denying that scenario for months, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Japanese utility that operates the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, admitted in August that there have been spills at the site and that irradiated groundwater is coursing through the Fukushima property on a daily basis.

Leaks from hastily constructed storage tanks holding contaminated water used by cleanup workers to cool down the reactor site also are contributing to the ongoing radioactivity.

"We've known that for two and half years. Every day they are making contaminated water," Buesseler said. "I'm a little disappointed in Japan. What (the denial has) done is made the public extremely mistrustful."

With the first plume of water carrying radionuclides from Fukushima due to hit the U.S. West Coast any day now, Buesseler's latest project is to convince the federal government to monitor radiation levels in the sea water.

"We don't have a U.S. agency responsible for radiation in the ocean," Buesseler said. "It's really bizarre."

He predicts the radiation will be so diluted after the long journey across the Pacific that it will pose no threat to American fisheries or recreational activities.

"It's very much a coastal Japan contaminant problem," Buesseler said.

But he knows that's not enough to reassure the public.

Given what's happened at Fukushima, Buesseler asked, "Wouldn't you want to have some measurement?"

He spent this past week in Washington, D.C., meeting with representatives of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Energy, asking them to come up with some sort of plan to keep tabs on levels of radionuclides in the ocean.

Buesseler also talked with U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., who agreed the federal government has a role in making sure the oceans are healthy and safe.

But Markey said in an email that an increased federal role is not likely considering the budgetary brakes being applied by the Republicans in Congress.

"The sequester is a double-punch, cutting funding for the agencies charged with promoting scientific discovery and protecting our natural resources," he said.

Immediately after the earthquake, Markey, then a Congressman, wrote the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking for information on how the agency was protecting citizens from contaminated seafood and agricultural products.

His concerns were further heightened last year after bluefin tuna caught near San Diego were found to be tainted with elevated levels of radioactive cesium-134 from swimming in waters off the coast of Japan.

Despite carrying "fingerprints" of Fukushima isotopes, the tuna is still safe to eat, with traces of radiation 100 times lower than what is acceptable for consumption levels in the U.S., Buesseler said.

But he knows people are concerned. In his office on the fourth floor of the Clark building on Woods Hole Road, he fields regular phone calls from surfers and salmon fishermen as well as congressmen.


'IT WAS SPOOKY'

In the absence of a government monitoring program, Buesseler and other people at WHOI have come up with their own radiation measurement program.

WHOI plans to set up a website, probably by mid-December, that will allow people to mail samples of water collected off their beaches and docks to the Cape-based scientific institution, which will test them — for a tax-free donation to WHOI, Buesseler said.

Scott Burnell, spokesman for the NRC, called it crowd sourcing and said Buesseler discussed the plans during a "friendly back and forth" meeting Friday.

"He's one of a few people who does this research," Burnell said. "It's not replicated in a lot of places."

Scientific interest in measuring radiation in ocean waters dropped after the atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty in 1963, Buesseler said.

His own expertise in the field was honed after the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, when he studied the impact of the nuclear fallout on the Black Sea.

After the earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima reactors less than three years ago, Buesseler got private funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to pull together an international team of 17 scientists that chartered a boat from Hawaii to Japan to inspect the damage.

"It's almost like getting to a crime scene," Buesseler said. "You wanted to get there as fast as you could."

Photographs show the team members on the boat, the boxy white buildings of the stricken nuclear reactor clearly visible in the background.

"It was spooky," Buesseler said.


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