Utilizing huge samples of sea kelp taken off the California Coast a program titled “Kelp Watch 2014” will keep vigil on the highly fragile ecosystem of the Pacific Ocean, and the fallout to this region caused by the Fukushima disaster.
The short term monitoring system comprised of scientists from California State University and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, initiated by CSULB Biology Professor Steven L. Manley and the Berkeley Lab’s Head of Applied Nuclear Physics Kai Vetter, will measure kelp which could be contaminated by radioactive waste being brought in by sea currents from Del Norte to Baja.
Kelp vitality is a good measure of the overall health of the Pacific Ocean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states:
“. . .kelp may experience reduced growth rates and reproductive success in more toxic waters and sediments. Studies on microscopic stages of kelp suggest that kelp is sensitive to sewage, industrial waste discharges, and other causes [radioactive disasters] of poor water and sediment quality.”
Samples will be taken many times throughout the year and sent to the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab Low Background Facility to be analyzed. Findings will be published for the public to see.
Dr. Vetter commented on the objectives on the project:
“UC Berkeley and Berkeley Lab’s analysis within the new Kelp Watch initiative is part of a larger, ongoing, effort to measure Fukushima related radionuclides in a large variety of objects. We have two main objectives—to learn more about the distribution and transport of these materials in our world, and to make the results and explanations available to the public.”
If the team of scientists and over 19 government and academic agencies involved in the project follow through with their promise, this will be some of the first transparency involved in reporting Fukushima contamination on our own shorelines. Dr. Vetter elaborated:
“Making our results available is a critical aspect of our work as it allows us to address concerns about Fukushima radiation levels and to explain the meaning and potential impact of these levels,” he added, “particularly in the context of the natural radiation background we are exposed to in our daily lives.”
Governments worldwide, however, have raised the ‘safe’ radiation contamination levels, and many argue that this has been done without a sound scientific basis. Even low –levels of radiation exposure can be lethal. The National Research Council of the National Academies talks about the problems with ‘high level radiation exposure’ and ‘absorption rates’ taking into consideration breaks in exposure that would allow an ecosystem or human being to ‘recover’ from said exposure, but if the estimates of 93 billion becquerels of cesium 137, strontium 90, and other radioactive particles being dumped into the ocean daily at Daiichi are even slightly correct, the measurements of sea kelp along the California Coast will indeed be telling.