The trace amounts of cesium they discovered are linked to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
Although it has been close to three years since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster of March 2011 in Japan, an event that has largely been forgotten in the West, the environment may still be feeling the long-term after-effects of radiation poisoning, effects that reach much further than the Japanese mainland where recovery from Tohoku is still taking place in some areas. During a routine study of kelp forests off the coast of San Diego, California, scientists detected traces of radiation among the sea weed, forcing them to call off the study.
The trace amounts of cesium they discovered are linked to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, triggered after the plant had been hit by a tidal wave. The disaster, a Level 7 crisis on the International Nuclear Event Scale, is held to be the second worst in history, ranking second only after Chernobyl. In 2012, ultrasound screenings detected that 36% of children who were near the disaster had abnormal thyroid growths, although it remains indeterminate if these were a direct result, and overall, the number of illnesses and side effects resulting from the Fukushima incident are believed to be minimal.
Although scientists are largely unconcerned, Dr. Matthew Edwards, an ecologist at San Diego State University who studies kelp forest communities, told Fox 5 San Diego of the cesium’s origin, “We are more connected than we ever thought possible,” remarking on the far reaching impact of world disasters on our ecosystems, which is in his area of research interests. With kelp being a significant food source of much marine life, as well as the delicate nature of its tissue, it makes the ideal starting point for taking samples and researching radiation effects.
However, even Dr. Edwards advises against panicking: “I’m still eating fish and going in the ocean.” In a further effort to calm the public’s fears, a team of 50 volunteered researchers gathering from South, Central and North America, from 20 different institutions, will work together collecting samples along the Pacific coastline: from 33 different sites in California, including Malibu and Palos Verdes, two in Baja California, and one in Washington state. The sampling is to begin in mid-February and end in late winter.