Fukushima FAQ: 5 things you should know about water from the disaster

72747_0290eab454d860e857fd81acc4cf7456_8665f7b4cfa7424fb87684e220f3cbf7It’s been three years since an earthquake and resulting tsunami caused a partial meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

The first traces of sea water contaminated by that disaster are expected to reach California sometime this year. There are lots of questions about how ocean water from Fukushima will affect California. Here are some answers.

When will water from Fukushima reach Southern California?

Researchers have already found small amounts of cesium-134 and 137 off the coast of British Columbia in Canada. Those isotopes have been linked to the Fukushima partial meltdown.

The cesium was likely carried by the trans-Pacific Kuroshio Current. The coastal California Current is expected to transport that water south all the way to the Baja peninsula.

Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, says there are three models predicting how this water will travel. The earliest prediction has it arriving around April; the latest prediction has it coming in the second half of the year.

Not likely, says Phyllis Grifman with USC’s Sea Grant Program.

She and other researchers studying ocean radiation say by the time any nuclear material from Fukushima reaches California, it will be so diluted that it will not pose a health risk to humans.

However, to make sure there is no threat, Sea Grant helped fund Kelp Watch, a West Coast-wide survey to measure cesium levels in kelp. Researchers have already collected an initial sampling of kelp and will test it for nuclear material.

They will take additional samples later in the year to note any changes in cesium levels.

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