March 11, 2014

Radiation After Fukushima


Keith: Yesterday, we told you about how the disaster in Japan three years ago is affecting the U.S. Today, Tom Hanson takes a look at how the radiation that leaked into the environment may be making its way here.

Tom Baity: A huge amount of the protein that I eat comes out of this bay in the ocean. I fish, I dig clams, I eat seaweed.

Tom: So you eat, you swim…?

Baity: Yeah, this is my life.

Tom: To Tom Baity, a fisherman here in Tomales Bay, California, the ocean means life itself. That is why he volunteered to be part of a project called Our Radioactive Ocean where communities help scientists test the ocean water for radiation. We went along with him six miles in his boat toward the open sea.

Baity: The sampling site is right here.

Tom: Tom finds a good place to stop, and it is time to test the water.

So, this part of the process is actually the simplest part. We just take the sample with this bucket over there. So, we throw it overboard and we collect the water. We pour it into this funnel and it goes into this jug which we are going to send over to the labs in Massachusetts.

This type of sampling is happening up and down the West Coast from Southern California to Alaska. And while the latest reports say the levels of radiation are almost nonexistent, there hasn’t been any long-term testing of the waters in the U.S. until now.

In early February, TEPCO, the owner of the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan, announced it underestimated the amount of radiation released into the sea, and that the levels are actually much higher than they thought. And a plume of radiation traveling from Japan is expected to hit the West Coast of the U.S. as early as April.

The thing about radiation is you can’t smell it, you can’t taste it, you can’t see it. And it’s hard to think that with 30 – 40 metric tons of radioactive fluid gushing into the ocean everyday off the coast of Fukushima, that it won’t have some long-term impacts even here on the West Coast more than 2,000 miles away. But, you know, really, I guess only time will tell with these kind of tests.

Radiation is all around us. From microwaves to computers to cellphones, we live in a radioactive world. But some types of radiation, like those used in X-rays, are linked to illnesses like cancer. And scientists don’t know what long-term exposure will cause, even if in small amounts.

Baity: My attitude is that the radiation is a non-issue but…

Tom: But Tom says he is not worried.

Baity: You know, they’ll probably be able to find trace amounts…but, again, trace amounts.

Tom: Not everyone in this community is so confident.

Amber Hernandez: When we swim or get fish or anything like that, I mean, it could affect us.

Raj Gandhi: Japan’s thousands and thousands of miles away and by the time it gets here the particle levels are so low. I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like an imminent concern.

Becker Alkhayatt: The impact, not just on sea life, the impact on the environment around the coast. It’s a massive issue in general. It needs to be sorted out.

Tom: And to sort it out – to know what impact it is having on the U.S. – is exactly what Tom, and others like him, are trying to do.

Tom Hanson, Channel One News.

Keith: We have got a link to the map of the results from Our Radioactive Ocean over at for you to check out.


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