Seven years on, since the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (FDNPP) accident, it is useful to start to bring together information from scientific studies of the impact of the contamination on the North American environment and its people. I recently wrote to communicate the most recent results of the Integrated Fukushima Ocean Radionuclide (InFORM) project. This post summarizes a recently published, peer-reviewed paper by colleagues lead by Dr. Krzyzstof Starosta of Simon Fraser University in BC working in parallel to InFORM. The open access paper was published in the Canadian Journal of Chemistry and was recently recognized with the “Best Paper Award” by the journal. They studied the concentrations of anthropogenic radioisotopes (134Cs half-life ~2 years, 137Cs half-life ~30 years) and naturally occurring radioisotope 40K (half-life 1.25 billion years) in Pacific salmon (sockeye, chum and chinook) and in soil and roof debris collected in southern British Columbia to determine the local impact of the FDNPP accident. Their results were as follows:
134Cs (a fingerprint of Fukushima contamination) was not detected in any of the salmon samples
137Cs was not detected in sockeye or chum salmon but was detected in all chinook with an average level of ~0.2 Bq kg-1
Annual dose from artificial radionuclides to a human consumer of chinook salmon was estimated to be ~1/300 of the dose owing to naturally occurring isotopes in the fish and ~1/30,000 of the annual dose experienced for all other natural sources by the average Canadian
Most soil samples contained 134Cs and 137Cs which was delivered to the region by atmospheric transport shortly after the disaster
Levels of Fukushima radioisotopes in soil did not approach levels known to be harmful to living organisms
Extended testing of select 2016 salmon samples has identified the Fukushima-fingerprint isotope in one sample re-measured earlier this year. The maximum level of contamination observed in a sample (134Cs: 0.07 Bq kg-1, 137Cs: 0.51 Bq kg-1) is over 1,700 times lower than the Health Canada Action Level (1,000 Bq kg-1) and is not known to be a health risk for either humans or the environment.
No Fukushima contamination was found in any of the 14 fish Alaskan fish samples that were collected between February and September 2016, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The results, released on the Alaksa DEC website, show that the sampled herring, cod, and pollock, halibut, and salmon did not have any detectable levels of 131I, 134Cs (the Fukushima fingerprint radionuclide with a half-life of ~2 years) or 137Cs in the tissues. These samples were from across Alaskan waters from Southeast to Bristol Bay and the Aleutian archipelago and the Bering Sea. Results from 2016 are similar to their results from 2015 and are part of the network of institutions monitoring for Fukushima radiation in marine waters and seafoods.
The average minimum detectable concentrations for these Alaskan samples on this gamma spectrometer were 63.7 Bq kg-1, 2.1 Bq kg-1, and 1.9 Bq kg-1 respectively for 131I 137Cs, and 134Cs. While InFORM does not analyze for 131I, those detection thresholds for cesium are 2-3 times higher than are typical for our biotic monitoring program. This may be due to either a smaller sample size or a shorter time in the gamma spectrometer for the Alaskan samples, but the result remains that levels are well below those where intervention is needed (intervention levels for 131I = 170 Bq kg-1 and 134Cs + 137Cs = 1200 Bq kg-1 according to the US Food and Drug Administration). InFORM monitoring in 2016 found 9 salmon (out of 123) from BC and Yukon rivers with detectable levels (where the minimum detectable concentrations were less than 1 Bq kg-1) of 137Cs after a six hour detector run. These nine samples are currently being freeze-dried for an extended, 2 week long, detection run. Results from this additional analysis are expected probably mid-late spring 2017.
An interesting aspect of these 2016 Alaskan samples is that this was the first time a field-deployable gamma spectrometer has been sent by the US Food and Drug Administration to a site for local analyses of samples. Data from the spectrometer were then electronically sent to FDA scientists for analysis. The thought is that this model could be used in the event of nuclear emergency to allow for more rapid analyses of environmental samples.
Alaska DEC will continue monitoring fish samples for Fukushima radiation for at least 2017 and possibly beyond.
More results from InFORM’s 2016 biotic monitoring results are now available and reveal that Fukushima contamination was not detected in sampled BC salmon after initial testing. These results are an update to the earlier report on the first 20 of the 123 fish donated by First Nations from 10 rivers in British Columbia and Yukon in 2016. Nine fish did have individual levels of 137Cs detected near the minimum detectable concentration (MDC). These levels (<0.7 Bq kg-1) are not known to present a significant health risk and are ~1,400x lower than the national and international action level (1000 Bq kg-1). For perspective, you would need to consume 1000-1500 kg of salmon at this concentration of cesium to receive the same radiation dose acquired during a single cross country flight. There has not been a significant increase to the total 137Cs concentration in BC salmon since InFORM monitoring began in 2014.