First Fukushima radiation detected in Ucluelet waters

A chemical oceanographer with the University of Victoria will be speaking at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre April 14.

  • Apr. 10, 2015 6:00 p.m.

With scientists detecting the first trace amounts of radioactivity from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown in the waters off Ucluelet, B.C., public concern over contamination is top of mind, and that’s something Dr. Jay Cullen plans to address this Tuesday.

Cullen, a chemical oceanographer with the University of Victoria’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, will be speaking at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre April 14 about the fallout from Fukushima, marine food source contamination and the expected arrival of the radioactive plume of seawater.

“Most of the members of the public that I speak with directly or through writing are concerned about the radio nucleotides in food,” said Cullen. “People are concerned about levels in the marine organisms that we eat. So far, we haven’t detected Fukushima elements in the fish that we’ve examined.”

The specific element Cullen and other scientists are watching for is cesium-134, the fingerprint of the Fukushima accident. Only found in manmade nuclear incidents, explained Cullen, cesium-134 has a two-year half life, and so traces of it from Chernobyl or weapons testing in earlier decades have long since decayed. Any found now is from the 2011 incident in Japan.

Cullen also heads up the InFORM project, a monitoring effort by academics, citizen scientists, governments and non-governmental organizations that has been collecting samples of seawater along B.C.’s coast since August 2014. InFORM has been working in concert with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts to track the arrival of the radioactive seawater plume as it hits the west coast of Canada and the United States, and it was the WHOI that reported the detection of the first radiation levels.

According to the WHOI, the amount of cesium-134 in the Ucluelet waters does not represent any kind of health concern to the public.

In fact, the WHOI stated that even if a person swam in those waters for six hours a day for a year, the radiation would be less than 1/1000 of that of a dental X-ray.

With the public’s ingrained fear around radioactivity, Cullen’s focus is to make sure that the information that gets out is accurate and that’s the aim of his lecture on Tuesday.

“There’s a real demand from the public for quality information,” he said. “People find out all these outlandish claims, and they want to know what the risks are to their family. There are some people who are very attentive to any news coming out of Japan, and are rightly concerned about what the risks are. But overall, most people here are concerned with this contaminated plume of seawater.”

Dr. Cullen’s lecture begins at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 14 at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, 9811 Seaport Place in Sidney. Admission is $15 for adults, $8 for youth 7 to 17, and free for members.

For more information on the project, visit fukushimainform.ca.

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