Fukushima Radiation In California
    By Gunnar De Winter | August 16th 2011 06:55 AM | 36 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    We all remember the earthquake and ensuing tsunami that hit Japan (see figure 1) and caused major troubles in the Fukushima nuclear power plant, which was severely damaged. Problems with containing radiation followed, leading to the pumping of huge amounts of seawater into the reactor, in an attempt to cool it down.


    earthquake observed in Japan

    Figure 1: Height of tsunami following earthquake. CLICK FOR LARGER SIZE. Source: Wikimedia Commons, derived from the Japan Meteorological Agency

    The question on many people’s minds was: how much radiation was released?

    Recently, a team of researchers at the University of California, San Diego, has released the first quantitative measurements of the amount of radiation that leaked from the damaged reactor. Their estimate is based on signals that were sent across the Pacific Ocean after seawater was used to cool the reactor. On March 28th, 15 days after the seawater pumping began, the team measured a great peak in radioactive sulfur in the air in La Jolla.

    When fuel rods melt, they leak neutrons and other products. These neutrons knocked protons out of the core of the chloride ions in the seawater, resulting in a radioactive form of sulfur. As the water hit the reactor, it almost completely vaporized. This steam, including the radioactive sulfur, was released through vents to prevent an explosion. In the air, this sulfur reacted with oxygen to form sulfur dioxide gas and then, sulfate particles, all carried over the Pacific through westerly winds, eventually reaching a measuring device at the end of Scripps Pier in California.

    Using models, the research team traced back the path of the particles (see figure 2) and subsequently calculated how much radiation must have been released. The estimate is that 400 billion neutrons were released per square meter surface of the cooling pools, during the first week of pumping operations.


    Figure 2: Radioactive sulfur can be traced back to the Fukushima reactor based on NOAA data.

    (Credit: Gerardo Dominguez)


    The trace levels that reached California were never a health risk.

    Even though cosmic radiation can also produce radioactive sulfur, it is very unlikely that this disturbed the measurements, since this rarely mixes down into the layer of air just above the ocean, where the measurements were taken.

    Besides estimating the amount of radiation released, this radioactive sulfur can be used for other inquiries as well. The nuclear reaction marked the sulfur to a specific time and place, and as such, it can be used to measure all kinds of processes, for example, the transformation to sulfur dioxide and sulfate, and their transport across the ocean, but also tracing it through the streams and soil of Japan, which might lead to a better understanding of how this element cycles through the environment. Work like this is already being performed by the research group.



    Priyadarshi, A.; Dominguez, G. and Thiemens, M.H. (2011). Evidence of neutron leakage at the Fukushima nuclear plant from measurements of radioactive 35S in California. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Published online before print, August 15. doi:10.1073/pnas.1109449108.


    As long as there is profit there will be nuclear disasters.

    Unfortunate that the American value system is used to determine the viability of human survival

    What a ridiculous statement. "And as long as there is air to breathe, there will be lung cancers."

    yea, that statement is pretty idiotic. To think that we would be forever stuck in this age of power..... i wont believe it!

    that graph doesnt stop there!!!! As big as that pattern is, it covers 100% of the united states. peoepl all across the u.s. are falling ill cause of this.

    It would probably be better to use English speakers to write articles in English. The grammar mis-used in this article makes it unreadable. ie "The question on many people’s mind was: how many radiation would be released?" It is also a good idea to have an editor to look at ones work before it is published.

    The sentence you refer to was indeed absolutely horrible. For that, I humbly apologize. (btw, I believe it's misused, without the hyphen, and one's work with an apostrophe. But hey, we all make mistakes, don't we?) Once again, my apologies for the horrid sentence, which has been changed now.
    I design machines for a living. Some people justify their existence based upon what they WRITE. If the machines I design; twitch and smoke until they EXPLODE - people would CALL me on it. They would also be quite surprised that the checks built into the design and manufacture review would not have found such GROSS ERROR. Thanks for Playing
    btw "Their estimate is based on signals that were sent across the Pacific Ocean after seawater was used to cool the reactor. On March 28th, 15 days after the seawater pumping began, the team measured a great peak in radioactive sulfur in the air in La Jolla." - interesting jumble - not quite a sentence - not quite a paragraph - what could it be?

    I design machines for a living. Some people justify their existence based upon what they WRITE.
    I suppose that is the choice.  Read science from professional writers who don't know the topics they cover or from scientists who are writing for altruism. I assume the only engineers you respect aren't the best designers - but they have perfect grammar.
    Thank you Grammar Nazi, with out you we would be subjected to a life of spelling and grammatical errors, to which we are obviously unable to read because of our stupidity.

    if it smells like bullshit it is because it is. Don't worry after they pump you with enough shit you will be enlightened. I saw the light and I flipped the witched....

    "The trace levels that reached California were never a health risk". What a crock...What about the fish that were in the feeding paths all across the Pacific? And the air currents? And the contaminated vessels that traveled through the same currents? More lip service to keep the sheep satisfied...

    Is this a science site, or propaganda site? This garbage isn't even half-assed.

    Nobody will do anything about it anyway.

    >The trace levels that reached California were never a health risk.

    Really? According to whom? The nuclear power industry? Do you believe that by this point in time people cannot recognize corporate press releases disguised as "news"? For shame.

    Well what can you do about it? Radiation in the air isn't really cleanable is it? I don't think grabbing a couple bottles of Dawn is going to do the trick.

    This is an act of war against the United States by Japan. We must act expediently before this becomes the next Pearl Harbor. The Japanese are finally in a position to be fulfilling their failed biological warfare plans from the WWII era. During WWII the Japanese had plans to fly explosive and Yersinia pesitis filled balloons on the jetstream from Japan to California. This story is a reference to the evolution of that technology. The Japanese now have nuclear warfare capabilities and don't need rudimentary balloons to "bomb" the United States into military and economic ineffectiveness.

    Americans, we must act now before it is too late. Invade Japan with all available muster and seal up this war crime radiation channeling. The crashing of the American markets have told Japanese military planners that America is weak and will be easy prey to an invasion. People call your congressmen and demand they declare war on Japan. Do not let this turn into the next Pearl Harbor. Don't say you weren't warned!

    There was never a nuclear plant meltdown. Nuclear plants are built to withstand natural disasters and automatically shutdown when set operating parameters are exceeded. The Japanese government is manipulating the mainstream media to report that this is an "accident". Now you have the truth, the Japanese are preparing to depopulate western America - in order to prepare for an invasion.

    Huh?? I want what you are smoking...

    My son, I do not smoke anything. I merely report the truth as I am divinely gifted with with the ability to see through smokescreens.

    Bless you my friend.

    LOL! You mean they haven't invaded already with Pokemon, Playstations, Honda's and Sushi?

    I kind of agree.  If Pokemon is not revenge for Hiroshima, I don't know what could be.
    Hell Yes, let that radiation mutate those fat fuckers in California. DOWN WITH AMERICA. America is full of fat fuckers anyways even though people in Africa are dying right now from lack of food, FUCK YOU America you deserve radiation

    Us Americans have been building an immunity towards radiation for years now. It's called fast food and the Microwave. Were just testing the effectiveness of our efforts. Our weather machine created the earth quake that caused the tsunami which cracked a reactor which sent some radiation towards our borders. All to see if we have prepared enough for nuclear war...

    Well over 20,000 people died from overexposure to water in the tsunami and earthquake, none died from radiation.
    Most likely 20,000 people per year will continue to die from water exposure, either over- or under-. some in Africa, some in the pool near your houses.
    Next to none will die from radiation

    Cancer rates have gone up since nuclear testing began. That statement in and of itself proves that your conclusion is wrong, however we dont know if its because of radiative fallout or other environmental factors. However it is a pretty strong correlation between internal radiation exposure and cancer. I'd personally estimate 100,000+ cases of cancer and 500,000+ other anomalies like birth defects, just from the quantity of radiative isotopes released into the environment so far, the meltdown is still occurring there, every now and then you hear about a new release. This still has the potential to cause a worldwide panic, judging from the quantity of fuel in the pools, however that is looking less and less likely as time goes on.

    "Nobody will do anything about it anyway."

    Reply - What can be done? Once it has been, you can not undo it. The plant went out of control and there was a loss of containment. Unless you can back up time, the past is what it is.

    The level of radiation is of no danger, there are Xray techs and nuclear plant workers around the globe that see much higher annual doses of radiation and see absolutely no ill effects. The fear is of the unknown, not of the facts.

    For the study and the article to be usefull it would need to actually quantify the typical dose recieved by the coastal Kalifornia residents and then compare these exposure increases to other typical medical or industrial exposure quantities in a way that the average person can relate to it. But, if this was to be done, the article would be pretty boring because it would show you how miniscule this exposure really is!

    According to the researchers, the radioactive sulfur observed was produced by partially melted nuclear fuel in the storage ponds or reactors. While cosmic rays can produce radioactive sulfur, the team noted that these rays rarely mix into the layer of air right above the ocean.

    Despite the high levels of radioactive sulfur recorded in California, Thiemens and his team said these levels were not dangerous to human health.

    "Although the spike that we measured was very high compared to background levels of radioactive sulfur, the absolute amount of radiation that reached California was small," said Thiemens. "The levels we recorded aren't a concern for human health. In fact, it took sensitive instruments, measuring radioactive decay for hours after lengthy collection of the particles, to precisely measure the amount of radiation."

    This study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    I have a CD V-700 model NO. 6B geiger counter
    which measures radiation levels in increments of .01 milliroentgen from 0 to 50 milliroentgens/hour.
    Background radiation levels at my location near Portland, Oregon USA are typically between .02 and .03 milliroentgens/hour and that is what I measured as I was writing this comment. The highest radiation level I measured about 3 weeks after the earthquake was .06 milliroentgens/hour. It hovered between .03 and .05 milliroentgens/hour for about 2 weeks before falling back to normal background levels.
    I see no reason to be the least bit concerned in my area. Yes, radiation reached 3 times normal but 3 X nearly 0 is still nearly 0. Affects of radiation in North America from this disaster need to be kept in perspective.

    Damn. Some of you people need to calm down a little. Simple fact. Between US, Russia, And China. Over a thousand nukes have been tested both above ground and in the ocean. Stupid cold war anyway...

    Has anyone seen how the insect population is down this summer? Very few earwigs, tomato worms etc. Seems strange that the last few years they were out in force munching on my vegies and this year not! My neighbors also report not seeing as many pests also. Coincidence?

    Gerhard Adam
    Compared to what?  Are you suggesting some unusual die-off?  Do you have any data regarding the fluctuations in the insect population year to year?  Is this year wetter, drier, hotter, colder, etc. than previous seasons?

    It seems like you're implying that this has something to do with radiation.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Well, compared to years past, the earwig population was large, that is they were everywhere in planted vegie areas, eating same. I do not use poisons on or anywhere near my crops or the yard in general. So when I noticed the bugs were few and far between this year I considered the facts of the the past year. The summer season has been alittle cooler, more wind, not a great difference in the weather. My neighbors have noticed the same conditions on the insect population. We were dusted this year with radiation so go figure. Just trying to put this out there to see if there is a connection. Thanks for the interest.

    Gerhard Adam
    Well, I think that it's a problem when we deal solely with perceptions (although I can understand the point that it drew your attention).  Since earwigs live for about a year, so it's unlikely that any summer dusting would've affected birthrates (for the current population).  It's equally unlikely that adult earwigs would be much affected by the radiation (since insects tend to be quite hardy in those cases).

    It would be interesting to note whether there's any change in the number of predators (i.e. birds, lizards, etc.) or whether the population may simply have shifted to other areas where there is even more food availability.

    Another factor is whether other insects that earwigs may eat have experienced a population decline or have moved, since that would also affect the apparent number.
    Mundus vult decipi
    When I was a kid there was a gypsy moth infestation and Legionnaires' disease.  One year, in mid-October, we had three feet of snow fall.  If I just want to take a snapshot in time and draw correlations we were on the cusp of a New Ice Age, needed more pesticides and a modern-day plague was spreading like wildfire.
    So I know this is old news and most said we would not receive any fallout in Cali but what about now a year later?
    Any new reports?

    I found some live data here on some Radnet Map but am not too good at figuring it out.

    What does it mean? Slow radiation exposure?

    Gerhard Adam
    No.  It means that there's nothing going on.  You should be aware that we are always exposed to what is referred to as "background radiation".  This is normal exposure that occurs simply from the environment at large.

    So, there is no such thing as "slow radiation exposure" in that sense.  You would either get dosed with a significant amount in a short period of time, or it dissipates.  Nothing more than that.

    If you read the data from the map, you'll see that 100 CPM is what causes an alert to be considered.  The current levels in California are quite normal.
    Mundus vult decipi