Radioactive Kelp From Japan Found On The West Coast
April 11, 2012

Radioactive Kelp From Japan Found On The West Coast

As the nuclear reactor in Fukushima, Japan suffered a meltdown after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the surrounding areas became contaminated with radioactive particles. Now, as other items and debris from the earthquake are being washed up on the West Coast´s shore, some of these radioactive particles have been found in giant kelp along the shore.

According to a recently published study, radioactive iodine was found in kelp samples from beds along the west coast from Laguna Beach to Santa Cruz. The waves, currents and jet streams made quick work delivering these particles to America. The tests found radioactive particles in the kelp samples as soon as a month after the nuclear reactor explosion. While the levels of radioactivity were not at levels dangerous to humans, they were significantly higher than measurements prior to the explosions. According to the study, these measurements were similar to the levels of radiation found in British Columbia, Canada, and northern Washington following the Chernobyl explosion of 1986.

The study was published in March in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Scientists use giant kelp to measure the levels of radioactive level in the environment because the kelp accumulates iodine. In their paper, the researchers said the radioactive particles (particularly iodine 131) were released into the atmosphere following the explosion and made their way across the Pacific Ocean. The researchers also believe the particles fell into the ocean following a period of significant rainfall, ending up in the kelp beds.

According to the LA Times, the highest levels of radiation were found in Corona del Mar. The researchers believe the levels are higher here because these kelp beds are also exposed to urban runoff, increasing the amount of rainfall they received.

Though it is not well known what kind of effect this radioactive material will have on the kelp, it is believed local sea life and crustaceans may have consumed the material as they ate the kelp. Certain species of fish whose systems contain iodine are likely to be most affected. These species include Opaleye, Halfmoon, or Senorita fish, according to the LA Times.

In a statement released by Cal State Long Beach, Steven Manley, lead author of the study, said, “Radioactivity is taken up by the kelp and anything that feeds on the kelp will be exposed to this also.”

“It enters the coastal food web and gets dispersed over a variety of organisms “¦ It´s not a good thing, but whether it actually has a measurable detrimental effect is beyond my expertise.”

In an attempt to corroborate their findings, the researchers also took samples from kelp in Sitka, Alaska. While they did not find any radioactive material in the Alaskan kelp, the researchers say this could be due to different atmospheric patterns than those found in California.

So far these reports seem to confirm previous suspicions about the low risk of health threats to California residents. As early as a week after the March 11, 2011 earthquake struck Japan, radiation officials were expecting these particles to come across the Pacific to America. However, the same officials also predicted the levels of radiation would be well within safe limits. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as these particles travel through the atmosphere, many of them would wash out before they reached the west coast. In a March 2011 report in the LA Times, Edwin Lyman, a specialist  at the nuclear watchdog group Union of Concerned Scientists said, “My judgment is that there will probably be measurable radiation, but except for a few hot spots it is not something we should really worry about.”