Should we be worried about Fukushima radiation?

This Jan. 12, 2016 photo, shows No. 3 nuclear reactor, bottom, at Takahama nuclear power station in Takahama town in Fukui prefecture, northwestern Japan. Japan has restarted a nuclear reactor that burns plutonium-based fuel for power generation, first under the post-Fukushima safety rules. The No. 3 reactor at Takahama nuclear plant in western Japan, operated by Kansai Electric Power Co., becomes the first one using plutonium-uranium hybrid fuel known as MOX to go back online since the 2011 meltdowns at Fukushima. (Photo: AP)

by Mary Bowerman and Tracy Loew
USA Today
Published 9 Dec 2016

For the first time, seaborne radiation from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster has been detected on the West Coast of the United States.

The levels are very low and shouldn’t harm people eating fish from the West Coast or swimming in the ocean, according to Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. 

“To put it in context, if you were to swim everyday for six hours a day in those waters for a year, that additional radiation from the addressed cesium from Japan … is 1000 times smaller than one dental x-ray,” Buesseler said in a phone interview.

But while people make a choice to be exposed to x-ray radiation, they don’t choose to be exposed to Japanese radiation, he said.

Cesium-134, the so-called fingerprint of Fukushima, was measured in seawater samples taken from Tillamook Bay and Gold Beach in Oregon, according to researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Celsium-134 was also detected in a Canadian salmon, according to the Fukushima InFORM project, led by University of Victoria chemical oceanographer Jay Cullen.

Massive amounts of contaminated water were released from the crippled nuclear plant following a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. More radiation was released to the air, then fell to the sea.

“In Japan, at its peak [celsium-134 levels] it was 10 million times higher than what we are seeing today on the West Coast,” he said.

Buesseler, who runs a crowd-funded, citizen science seawater sampling project that has tracked the radiation plume as it slowly makes its way across the Pacific Ocean, said the samples, were taken in January and February of 2016 and later analyzed. They each measured 0.3 becquerels per cubic meter of cesium-134.

He said scientists have turned to crowdfunding to measure the radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster because federal agencies are not funding research on ocean radioactive studies stemming from the 2011 event.

“We don’t expect to see health concerns from swimming or fish consumption, but we would like to continue monitoring until (the radiation level) goes back down again,” he said.

Learn more about Ken Beusseler’s crowd-funded, citizen-science seawater sampling project at

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