Scientist wants samples from islanders for testing for radioactivity

  • Jan. 7, 2014 8:00 a.m.

A scientist at the University of Victoria is trying to find islanders and other west coast residents who’d like to submit samples to be tested for radiation associated with the Fukushima nuclear disaster of almost two years ago. Professor Jay Cullen said a plume of radioactive material from Japan was tracked across the Pacific and arrived off the west coast of North America last June. “As of 2013, (it was) detected inshore along Vancouver Island,” Dr. Cullen said, adding that there is no data for the west coast of Haida Gwaii. “More than likely, the concentrations off Vancouver Island are comparable to what you are seeing off Haida Gwaii,” he said. Dr. Cullen, who is a chemical oceanographer, said several radioactive materials have been found, with Cesium 137 the most potentially problematic. He said off Vancouver Island, a measurement of .009 Becquerels per litre was found, far below the 10 Becquerels/litre that Health Canada considers safe. “The perception that the public is getting is that there are high levels doing damage along the coast. Based on the concentrations that are being measured, that is very unlikely,” Dr. Cullen said. The plume also contains other radioactive material, including Strontium 90 at a far, far lower level than was released into the atmosphere during the nuclear bomb testing up until the 1960s. As well, radioactive isotopes of iodine, low levels of plutonium and tritium (hydrogen 3) might be in the plume. While release rates of radioactive material peaked shortly after the Fukushima disaster, and they have been dropping off since, there is no sign the release is going to stop, Dr. Cullen said. He said he thinks there needs to be more monitoring, especially since the radioactive discharge will continue. Dr. Cullen is in the process of trying to build a network along the coast to measure the incoming radiation. He’d like to see if any Haida Gwaii residents are interested. Contact him at jcullen@uvic.ca if you are.

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