By: Michael Collins -EnviroReporter.com
Millions of Southern Californians and tourists seek the region’s famous beaches to cool off in the sea breeze and frolic in the surf. Those iconic breezes, however, may be delivering something hotter than the white sands along the Pacific: Buckyballs.
According to a recent UC Davis study, these uranium-filled nanospheres were created from the millions of tons of fresh and salt water used to try to cool down three molten cores of the stricken reactors at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The tiny and tough buckyballs are shaped like soccer balls.
Water hitting the incredibly hot and radioactive, primarily uranium-oxide fuel turns it into peroxide. In this goo mix, buckyballs are formed, loaded with uranium and able to move quickly through water without disintegrating.
High radiation readings in Santa Monica and Los Angeles air during a 42-day period from late December to late January strongly suggest that radiation is increasing in the region including along the coast in Ventura County.
The radiation, detected by this reporter and the US Environmental Protection Agency, separate from each other and using different procedures, does not appear to be natural in origin. The EPA’s radiation station is high atop an undisclosed building in Los Angeles, while this reporter’s detection location is near the West LA boundary.
Both stations registered more than 5.3 times the normal amount, though the methods of sampling and detection differed. The videotaped Santa Monica sampling and testing allowed for the detection of alpha and beta radiation, while the sensitive EPA instrument detected beta only, according to the government Web site.
A windy Alaskan storm front sweeping down the coast the morning of March 31 slammed Southern California with huge breakers, a choppy sea with 30-foot waves and winds gusting to 50 mph. A low-hanging marine layer infused with sea spray made aloft from the chop and carried on the winds that blew inland over the Los Angeles Basin for several miles, bringing with it the highest radiation this reporter has detected in hot rain since the meltdowns began.
Scientific studies from the United Kingdom and Europe show that sea water infused with radiation of the sort spewing out of Fukushima can travel inland from the coast up to 300 kilometers. These mobile poisons include cesium-137 and plutonium-239, the latter of which has a half-life of 24,400 years.
Despite the fact that University of California and this reporter’s tests show high radiation in the air, water, food and dairy products in this state, the state and federal governments cut off special testing for Fukushima radionuclides more than half a year ago.
Southern California is still getting hit by Fukushima radiation at alarmingly high levels that will inevitably increase as the main bulk of polluted Pacific Ocean water reaches North America in the next two years.
Luckily, the area is south of where the jet stream has brought hot rains from across the Pacific and Fukushima, more than 5,000 miles away, upwind and up-current of the West Coast. Those rains have brought extraordinary amounts of radiation to places like St. Louis, with multiple rain events detected and filmed, showing incredibly hot rains.
Unluckily, North America is directly downwind of Japan, where the government is having 560,000 tons of irradiated rubble incinerated with the ash dumped in Tokyo Bay. The burning began last October and is scheduled to continue through March 2014, enraging American activists for this unwitting double dose.
American media coverage of Fukushima’s continuing woes and of contamination spreading across Japan and threatening Tokyo’s 30 million residents, while not robust, has been adequate. Coverage of contamination in America and Southern California has been practically non-existent.
That’s one of the reasons we started Radiation Station Santa Monica four days after the meltdowns began on March 11, 2011, transmitting live radiation readings for the Los Angeles Basin 24/7 ever since.
With nuclear radiation monitoring equipment, investigation team members have performed more than 1,500 radiation tests in different media throughout four states and in jet airplane cabins where, even accounting for higher radiation at higher altitudes, readings were more than five times the norm, according to the manufacturer of our Inspector Alert nuclear radiation monitor.
Those readings, along with the EPA’s, combined with the UC Davis study of buckyballs and a European study of sea spray radiation spread, strongly indicate that Southern California is being exposed to significant amounts of radiation. The closer to the coast, the more pronounced the radiation in this scenario.
Other reports of what the likely Fukushima fallout will be in areas throughout the Southland exist.
Researchers from Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University and the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University, released on May 28 a study that found 100 percent of 15 samples of Pacific Bluefin tuna caught off of San Diego in August 2011 showed indisputable signs of radiation contamination emanating from Fukushima.
This suggests that the popular and expensive animal usually carved up for sushi is even more contaminated now — nearly a year after it was first harvested and tested. Meanwhile, at least 1,000 tons of highly radioactive water used to cool the melted cores and spent fuel ponds is being dumped daily into the ocean, according to recent statements from the nuclear plants owners, Tokyo Electric Power Co.
The study also suggests that other highly migratory species, like turtles, sharks and marine birds, may also be contaminated with the radiation found in the tuna: cesium-134 and cesium-137.
Heading our way
The US Geological Survey (USGS) reported on Feb. 21 that Los Angeles had more cesium-137 fallout than any other region in the nation during the opening days of the disaster, from March 15 to April 5, 2011.
The amount of Cs-137 detected in precipitation at a monitoring station 20 miles east of downtown was 13 times the limit for the toxin in drinking water, according to a report obtained by the Pasadena Weekly.
USGS released another astonishing study Feb. 22, with data from measurements taken at its Bennington National Atmospheric Deposition Program in Vermont, confirming a grim cesium-137 scenario for Southern California.
“Deposition actually decreased as the air mass traveled east to west,” Greg Wetherbee, a chemist with USGS, told the Brattleboro Reformer newspaper.
“In the United States, cesium-134 and cesium-137 wet dispersion values were higher than for Chernobyl fallout, in part due to the US being further downwind,” Wetherbee told the paper. “With Chernobyl, there was more opportunity for plume dispersion.”
This double whammy of cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years, isn’t even in a uranium-60 buckyball. But they are both in the unfathomable spread of goo throughout the Pacific, riding on the second strongest current in the world and headed right for us.
The three reactor meltdowns have spewed trillions of becquerels of highly radioactive iodine-131, cesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium-239 into the atmosphere and Pacific since March 11, 2011. The initial explosions and fires sent untold amounts of radiation high into the atmosphere.
A Feb. 28 report by the Meteorological Research Institute, just released at a scientific symposium in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan, says that 40,000 trillion becquerels, double the amount previously thought, have escaped from the Unit 1 reactor alone.
This has resulted in fallout around the globe that especially impacts the Pacific and parts of America and Canada — two countries downwind of Japan on the jet stream. British Columbia, the Pacific Northwest, Midwest and Ontario have been hit especially hard by rain, sleet and snow, in some cases with dizzying amounts of high radiation.
A March 6 Department of Biological Sciences study conducted at California State Long Beach found that kelp along the coast of California was heavily impacted by radioactive Iodine-131 one month after the meltdowns began. The virulent and deadly isotope was detected at 250 times levels the researchers said were normal in the kelp before the disaster.
Radioactive fallout in St. Louis, Mo., rainfall, which has been monitored at Potrblog.com since the crisis began, has been repeatedly so hot that levels have been reached that make it unsafe for children and pregnant women. An Oct.17, 2011, St. Louis rainstorm was measured on video at 2.76 millirems per hour, or more than 270 times background levels.
The main wave of water-borne radiation from the meltdowns, including highly mobile uranium-60 buckyballs, is surging across the Pacific along the Kuroshio Current, second only to the Gulf Stream for power on the planet.
Millions of tons of seawater and fresh water have been used to cool the melted cores and spent fuel rods, generating millions of tons of irradiated water. The Kuroshio Current is transporting a significant amount of this escaping radiation from Fukushima Daiichi across the Pacific toward the West Coast.
The 70-mile-wide current joins the North Pacific Current, moving eastward until it splits and flows southward along the California Current, which flows along the coast. The American government has done nothing to monitor the Pacific Ocean for over half a year, even though a Texas-sized sea of Japanese earthquake debris is already washing up on outlying Alaskan islands and is suspected to have already hit the West Coast, including California.
“In terms of the radiation, EPA is in charge of the radiation network for airborne radiation; it’s called RadNet,” EPA Region 9 Administrator Jared Blumenfeld said on Feb. 9, during a news conference about new ship sewage regulations. “And we have a very significant and comprehensive array of RadNet monitors along the, actually along the coast, but on land. We don’t have jurisdiction for looking at marine radiation. Perhaps NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) would be able to answer that question, but we don’t have data or monitor it.”
NOAA suspended testing in the Pacific for Fukushima radiation last summer after concluding that there wasn’t any radiation to be detected.
“As far as questions about radiation, we are working with radiation experts within the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy,” NOAA media liaison Keeley Belva said in a Feb. 10 email interview.
In other words, no federal agency, department or administration is doing anything to sample and analyze water from the Pacific. Fish aren’t being tested for contamination, either.
“NOAA is not currently doing further research on seafood,” Belva added. “NOAA is doing a study related to radiation that is focused on radiation plume modeling.”
This lack of testing is disappointing, according to Dan Hirsch, a UC Santa Cruz nuclear policy lecturer and president of the nuclear policy nonprofit Committee to Bridge the Gap, which exposed the Rocketdyne partial meltdowns above the western San Fernando Valley in 1979 and continues to lead the fight to clean up the area today.
“EPA did some special monitoring for a few weeks after the accident began, then shut down the special monitoring,” Hirsch said. “What monitoring was done was very troubled. Half of the stationary air monitors were broken at the time of the accident. Deployable monitors were ordered but not deployed.”
Even when the government testing did work, increasingly high levels of radiation seem to have been ignored.
The paper also learned that the California Department of Public Health halted monitoring of Fukushima fallout when its Radiologic Health Branch issued its last report on Oct. 10, 2011.
That report shows an alarming rise in cesium-137 in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo dairy farm milk beginning June 14, 2011, when it tested 2.95 picocuries per liter (pCi/l) and steadily rising in four subsequent tests until it was 5.91 pCi/l. The hot milk was at twice the allowable amount of this radionuclide in drinking water, according to the EPA’s 3.0 pCi/l limit.
After that report, the testing suddenly stopped, for no other reason than the government had concluded that nothing from Fukushima had sufficiently contaminated anything to merit concern. Even detections of radioactive sulphur-35 in San Diego and plutonium-239 in Riverside did nothing to pique the interest of regulators.
“The lesson to be learned is that both the U.S. and Japan suffer from very lax regulation, a too-cozy relationship between nuclear regulators and the industry they are to regulate,” Hirsch said. “This can lead to dangerous outcomes. This was not unanticipated. Yet the need for immediate information was undeniable.”
Sea spray transmission
Special tests revealed elevated radiation in Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon rain. Southwest Michigan rain samples were hot. Santa Monica and Los Angeles rain and mist were also high.
Meanwhile, across the ocean, Japanese sake, beer, vegetable juice, seaweed, pastries and tea have all registered significant ionization above background. Powdered milk, turkey hot dogs and jet travel breathing masks were all part of the specific media tested, many of which were recorded in videotaped radiation detections.
The Jan. 27, 2012, UC Davis report “Uranyl peroxide enhanced nuclear fuel corrosion in seawater,” is the first account to analyze what is happening to the gargantuan amount of seawater, as well as fresh water, that has been hosing down the melted reactor cores and flushing into the Pacific.
The study spells out a horrific scenario in which compromised irradiated fuel turned huge amounts of ocean water into a series of uranium-related peroxide compounds containing as many as 60 “uranyl ions” in hardy nanoscale cage clusters that can “potentially transport uranium over long distances” and persist for “at least 294 days without detectable change.” How hot these nano-cage clusters of cancer-causing radiation are depends on what type and ratio of uranium isotopes make up the 60 in each one.
“A given isotope has the same radioactivity (half-life) regardless of what chemical state it is in” said Alexandra Navrotsky, PhD, director of nanomaterials research at UC Davis. “So the radioactivity for a constant number of U atoms depends on the proportion of different isotopes in the sample.”
There is a strong possibility that these uranium peroxide buckyballs are already sloshing around in the waters off Southern California as this reporter and the EPA’s radiation readings appear to indicate. But if it was the source of our high detections what was the mechanism that was transporting radiation inland?
Sea spray, perhaps. Radioactive sea spray has been shown to blow hundreds of kilometers inland in tests conducted in the United Kingdom by British and European researchers. As anyone who has ever smelled the salty ocean air miles from the ocean might expect, salt in sea spray can travel a significant distance. The same holds true for radioactive particles floating in the sea, even if in addition to U60 buckyballs.
In the 2008 report “Sea to land transfer of radionuclides in Cumbria and North Wales,” the greatest average concentration of cesium-137 and plutonium-239 in soil at a depth of 0 to 15 centimeters was found 10 kilometers from the coast. The highest average amounts found at 15 to 30 centimeters deep were 5 kilometers away from the sea illustrating the unpredictability of radiation fallout.
A 62-page UK study released in December 2011 found that sea spray and marine aerosols created from bubbles forming and popping when the sea is choppy or waves break have increased concentrations of radioactive “actinides.”
Actinides are chemically alike radioactive metallic elements and include uranium and plutonium. One actinide infused the spray with an 812 times greater concentration of americium-241 than normal amounts of Am-241 in ambient seawater.
The report cited information that sea-spray-blown cesium 137 was found 200 kilometers from the discharge source in the New Hebrides Islands in northern Scotland.
Another UK study found that the Irish Sea has a micro layer on top of it, perhaps only thousandths of a millimeter in thickness, that can become imbued with fine particulate material and its absorbed radiation.
These concentrations of plutonium and americium are four to five times their concentrations in ambient seawater. Plutonium concentrates by 26,000 times in floating algal blooms at sea, says the report.
These radionuclides and buckyballs make up the goo inexorably crossing the Pacific, which may just have begun to impact our shores.
Yet not a nickel of state or federal money is spent monitoring it. We are on our own in this Fukushima nightmare.