The project, led by Woods Hole senior scientist Ken Buesseler, includes a citizen science website—ouradioactiveocean.org—where people can propose a location for monitoring and base their campaign to raise the $550 to $600 needed to ship and test a 20-liter sample.
“We already have dozens of seawater samples from the coast of Japan out to the middle of the Pacific, but now we need new samples—from up and down the West Coast of North America and across the Pacific, Buesseler said in a press release. “The trouble is, these samples are expensive to collect and analyze.”
The director of WHOI’s Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity, Buesseler was among the first marine scientists to monitor radiation from the Fukushima nuclear accident, hustling to the seas off of Japan in May of 2011, and he has remained among the most active.
But he has also been gently skeptical of alarming claims about radioactive seafood. At Helen Caldicott’s Symposium on The Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident last March, he said, “I had sushi last night.”
With its catchy URL—our radioactive ocean—Buesseler’s citizen science project seems poised to capture the attention of people alarmed about radiation in the Pacific, and to teach them more about it. Results of the testing may take 5 to 10 weeks to appear on the site’s interactive map, but participants can spend some of that time learning about radiation.
“The ocean contains many small sources of naturally occurring radiation that in most places exceeds the dose provided by radioisotopes released from Fukushima,” according to the project’s education materials. “In addition, the remnants of nuclear weapons testing in the 1960s and 70s are also still detectable around the world. Except for locations on land in Japan and sites near the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, all of these sources combined pose little risk to human health.”
Buesseler believes people interested in ocean radiation can find common ground in the monitoring project regardless of their levels of alarm..
“Whether you agree with predictions that levels of radiation along the Pacific Coast of North America will be too low to be of human health concern or to impact fisheries and marine life,” he said, “we can all agree that radiation should be monitored, and we are asking for your help to make that happen.”