In early January 2014, the West Coast of the U.S. found itself wondering if radiation from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster had reached unhealthy levels on its beaches. A Spanish think tank, the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Physics and Complex Systems, published a report claiming that a radioactive plume would reach the shores of the western U.S. by 2014. The scare was furthered by a viral video in which a man walked along Northern California beaches with a Geiger counter reading “alert” levels. People of the internet seized these reports and flew into a tizzy about unsafe radiation levels in the U.S.
Scientists and local governments were quick to refute these stories and put minds at ease. The California Department of Public Health stated, “There [was] no risk at California beaches due to radioactivity related to the events at Fukushima.” Scientists from UC Santa Cruz and Stony Brook University in New York reported that only low levels of radiation had reached the West Coast from the Fukushima disaster two years ago and have been declining ever since. They were quick to point out that the radiation levels were well below those considered unsafe for human health, seafood, or wildlife; and that the levels of radiation are currently trivial when compared with those that already exist in nature.
Even with these governmental and scientific assertions, some companies have taken extra steps to reassure their customers. After facing pressure from their customers, Loki Fish Co in Seattle, WA decided to test the radiation levels of its North Pacific Salmon. After testing seven batches, they found that five showed no sign of elevated radiation levels and two showed levels well below those considered unsafe for consumption. Also, a new project started by Ken Buesseler of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has launched a new project called ourradioactiveocean.com that will allow people to send in radiation sample information from sites along the Pacific coast. This new project complements the ongoing efforts of SafeCast.org, which created mini Geiger counters that are used in Japan and globally to map radiation levels.
While there is no evidence of increased radiation from Fukushima on the West Coast of the U.S yet, the monitoring effort should continue for the foreseeable future. According to the IAEA report of January 2014, “TEPCO should prepare appropriate safety and environmental impact assessments [on water contamination]” and The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) “should enhance the seawater monitoring program by coordinating inter-laboratory comparisons to ensure good harmonization of environmental data.” These efforts, along with the new studies of ocean radiation levels, should mitigate fears over the spread of Fukushima Daiichi radiation.