In 2011 the world watched as an earthquake- and tsunami-battered Japan struggled to cope with a rising death toll and impending nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.
The unprecedented nuclear disaster had global repercussions and, with nothing but water between California and Japan, Californians were deeply concerned. Now, a newly released scientific study has given validity to California’s concerns about how radioactivity can cross oceans.
Just after the accident, scientists from CSU Long Beach tested giant kelp collected off the beaches of California, including locations in Santa Cruz and Orange County.
All kelp sampled showed signs elevated levels of radioactive iodine from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant’s series of meltdowns. Because giant kelp accumulates iodine, it is perfect for detecting the spread of radioactive material in the ocean.
In its largest concentration, radioactive iodine levels were 250 times higher in tested kelp than before the accident.
Iodine 131 does not naturally occur in the world’s oceans and has a half-life of just over a week, meaning all obvious traces of it disappeared from the California coast very quickly. By May 2011, scientists could not find any evidence of the contamination.
The iodine 131 that found its way to California’s coast is not considered harmful to humans, though it may have altered the thyroid systems of some species of kelp-eating fish.
What this study proves above all else is that we are truly living in a global eco-system and events on the opposite ends of the globe can absolutely influence one another.