Just over four years ago, environmentalist David Suzuki raised a frightening alarm about the post-tsunami disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.
Suzuki told an audience at the University of Alberta that, if a fourth plant at the facility were to fail, then it’s “bye bye Japan and everybody on the West Coast of North America should evacuate.”
The evacuation never happened.
And a new study out of Simon Fraser University (SFU) shows that B.C.’s coast never suffered any “adverse effects” from the disaster at all.
Coverage of Fukushima on Globalnews.ca:
The study, which was published in the Canadian Journal of Chemistry, arose out of concern that the nuclear accident could have contaminated Pacific seafood with radioactive material.
To do this, researchers looked at concentrations of the radioactive isotopes Cesium 134 and Cesium 137 in Pacific salmon. They collected samples from Kilby Provincial Park in 2013, and from the Quesnel River in 2014.
They also looked at soil samples.
Ultimately, researchers did not find Cesium 134 in any of the salmon samples, but they did find Cesium 137.
They also found both Cesium 134 and Cesium 137 in all of the soil samples they looked at.
All of it, however, was below Canada’s safety guidelines, “posing minimal health risk to B.C.’s salmon and human populations,” co-author Krzysztof Starosta said in a news release.
Starosta said he wasn’t surprised a bit at the study’s results in an interview with Global News.
“I was absolutely convinced that this was going to be the result of the study because we know from previous studies about the impacts of previous accidents,” he said.
Starosta’s research of the Fukushima accident stretches back to 2011, weeks after the disaster took place.
At that time, he and his team measured the presence of another isotope, Iodine 131, in rainwater in Burnaby.
Similar research was performed after the Chernobyl accident in 1986.
They found that the presence of Iodine 131 was “10 times smaller” than it was after Chernobyl.
That allowed researchers to conclude that “other isotopes will be arriving in a similar ratio.”
“We could scale essentially to the similar studies after Chernobyl, and essentially, there’s no impact of the Chernobyl accident on the coast of B.C.,” Starosta said.
“Our results after Fukushima were showing 10 times less.”
Radioactivity has always existed in the environment, and each radioactive isotope will have a different half-life — or, the time it takes for one-half of its atoms to decay.
Because of this, scientists can measure the release of one isotope by looking at the releases of another.
Cesium 137 has a half-life of 30 years. So any presence of that isotope could have been due to the Chernobyl disaster, which happened just over 30 years ago.
In this study, researchers looked at the presence of Cesium 134, which has a half-life of two years.
Any presence of Cesium 134 in the samples they looked at in B.C. could, therefore, be attributed to Fukushima, Starosta said.
“Cesium 134 can be only attributed to Fukushima because there was no other releases on that scale in recent history,” he said.
Starosta went on to say that fears and emotions around the Fukushima disaster essentially “put another stop on the development of nuclear power in North America.”
And for him, that’s a problem, because it’s a source of energy that can work in areas that can’t produce it by other means.
The latest study, he said, would “add to a knowledge base that will be useful for future research.”