First Seawater Monitoring Result From Victoria, BC: No Fukushima Contamination as of Oct. 15, 2014

By Jay T. Cullen

@JayTCullen and @FukushimaInFORM

On the granite blocks that make up the south side of Ogden Point Breakwater getting ready to take the first InFORM sample (photo by Katherine Maas)
On the granite blocks that make up the south side of Ogden Point Breakwater getting ready to take the first InFORM sample (photo by Katherine Maas)

What we found:

137-Cesium activity = 1.3 (+/- 0.1) Bq m-3 (Becquerel per meter cubed of seawater)
134-Cesium activity = Not Detected
Water Temperature = 10.5 C

The InFORM team collected a seawater sample in collaboration with citizen scientists in Victoria on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at the Ogden Point Breakwater (map shown below).  The sample was processed and the amount of gamma emitting isotopes determined using a high purity germanium detector.  We look primarily for radioisotopes of cesium (134-Cs half life ~2 years and 137-Cs half life ~ 30 years) for the following reasons:

  1. 134-Cs has a half life that is short enough that all other human sources to the environment have decayed away making it an ideal tracer for Fukushima contamination
  2. next to the short lived Iodine-131 (half life ~ 8 days), Cs isotopes were released in greatest activity to the environment from Fukushima and would be most likely to represent a radiological health risk given their chemistry and propensity to be taken up by the biota
  3. other isotopes were released in much lower amounts from Fukushima relative to Cs (see other posts here and search for plutonium and strontium for example) and would therefore be much more difficult to detect
  4. because they are gamma emitters (unlike Pu isotopes and 90-Sr which emit alpha and beta radiation respectively) they are relatively easy and resource efficient to detect

The absence of detectable 134-Cs indicates that waters near Victoria have not been contaminated with Fukushima radioactive elements transported across the Pacific by prevailing currents as of Oct. 15, 2014. The presence of 1.3 Bq m-3 137-Cs is due to historical sources of this human made isotope owing to atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the 20th century and contamination from the Chernobyl disaster in 1986. You can read about the levels of 137-Cs in the North Pacific pre-Fukushima here.

More results will be published as they become available.

Sample Location on Ogden Pt. Breakwater, Victoria BC

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