Question and Answer: Public Discussion of Fukushima Impact on the West Coast of North America

By Jay T. Cullen

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Map showing the location of public talks for the InFORM project June 1-4, 2015.

The purpose of this post is to report on a recent public discussion tour to convey the latest results of the Integrated Fukushima Ocean Radionuclide Monitoring (InFORM) network to residents of the north coast of British Columbia. This post continues a series aimed to report the results of scientific research into the impact of the Fukushima disaster on the environment. Between June 1-4, 2015 I traveled from Victoria up to Haida Gwaii, over to Prince Rupert and up the Skeena River to Terrace and gave 8 public talks to communicate the results of the networks monitoring efforts to determine the impact of the Fukushima Dai-ichi meltdowns on the health of the northeast Pacific and residents of the North American west coast. I was able to meet three of our citizen scientist volunteers who have been collecting shoreline samples to look for Fukushima derived contamination of coastal seawater. The response to these presentations was overwhelmingly positive and the public asked very useful questions about monitoring thus far. Despite the overall usefulness of the discussions some old misinformation keeps rearing its head. Here I’ll show some of the beautiful spots on our coast and begin the process of addressing some more of the misinformation related to Fukushima impacts on the west coast.

I was asked the following question on two occasions during the trip and I paraphrase here:

Q. Why did the American/Canadian Government turn off radionuclide monitoring stations after the Fukushima disaster?

The implication here is that there was a coordinated effort to conceal information from the public by shutting detectors off. This is a misconception based on misinformation that can be found in various forms online.

A. Neither the Canadian nor US governments turned off their detectors in the days and weeks following the triple meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in March 2011.

Indeed, in the case of Health Canada, scientists working for the Radiation Protection Bureau increased the frequency with which they made measurements. Observations are/were made using two systems:

  1. The Fixed Point Network (FPN) which measures radiation levels in air in real time. These measurements indicate the amount of radiation, natural background plus any artificial radionuclides from Fukushima transported through the atmosphere, in the vicinity of the monitoring stations.
  2. A more sensitive system of detections that represents Canada’s contribution to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) monitoring network which can sense much lower levels of radionculide activity in air but not in real time. Measurements are made on air samples integrated over a 24h period of time and while not normally reported to the public were posted for citizens in response to Fukushima between March-August 2011.

These data are available online here. In response to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear accident, daily data for March and April 2011 were made available online. However, since no elevated levels of radiation associated with the damaged reactors were observed after the first few weeks of the emergency and release rates from the reactors to the atmosphere diminished dramatically in April, and that radiation levels across Canada continued to be within normal background levels, Health Canada changed the frequency of data publishing from all monitoring networks on its site to weekly at the beginning of May 2011. Health Canada continued to collect data at the same frequency with its FPN and CTBT detectors with only the reporting frequency changing.

On September 15, 2011, Health Canada ended its weekly data postings and resumed its normal monthly posting of data from the FPN given that radiation levels across Canada were within normal background levels and there was no cause for concern. They did not diminish their monitoring effort however. This is key. They did not turn off monitors at any point but their return to normal monitoring and posting frequency, after dramatically increasing the reporting of data early in the disaster timeline, has been erroneously reported as cessation of monitoring or turning off the network.

Similarly, one can find a very comprehensive dataset posted at the EPA RadNet site dealing with the Fukushima disaster. The EPA RadNet system was operating on March 11, 2011 when the disaster began. In response to this disaster, the EPA deployed additional air monitors to Hawaii, Alaska, Guam and Saipan. All of the levels detected by the network were very low and well below any level recognized to be a public health concern. The EPA returned to the routine RadNet sampling and analysis schedule for precipitation, drinking water and milk on May 3, 2011. The last time that the EPA network detected artificial radioactive elements from Fukushima was July 28, 2011 in Hawaii. The data from the network are posted below. Similar to the Health Canada network this network was not turned off in the aftermath of the Fukushima meltdowns.

In Case You’re Interested (ICYI) here are some photos and some video of the north coast of BC and of Haida Gwaii. Haida Gwaii is the territory of the Haida Nation and Prince Rupert and Terrace are the territory of the Nisga’a Nation.

Totem pole at the Haida Heritage Centre (KAY LLNAGAAY) in Skidegate Haida Gwaii

Learn more about the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate.

Paddles at the ready looking out to the beach at KAY LLNAGAAY
Harbour at Masset Haida Gwaii
George Dawson Secondary School in Masset Haida Gwaii
Graffiti by friend of the InFORM project that spurred better handling of waste oil at the marina, preventing contamination of the harbour with hydrocarbons.
Sara’s Shop, longhouse style building in Old Masset
Dixon Entrance Maritime Museum in Masset site of public presentation on June 2, 2015

Some moving pictures of takeoff in a De Havilland Beaver seaplane at Masset followed by landing at Seal Cove in Prince Rupert BC.

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