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Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution leads expedition to measure radioactive contaminants in Pacific
Date:6/2/2011

noff from the subsequent attempts to cool the reactors represents an unprecedented release of radiation to the ocean. The total amount of radioactivity that has entered the ocean as a result of this accident is not well understood, and until now, only limited assessment of the impacts on the ocean has been undertaken.

"It's critical to gather early observations of the radioactive contaminants, or radionuclides, in the water and marine biota so we can establish a baseline," said chief scientist Ken Buesseler, a WHOI senior scientist and a recognized expert in the study of radioisotope geochemistry. "Together with measurements of ocean currents, we can begin to understand the potential near- and long-term severity of the releases and related public health issues."

The Japanese government and Fukushima plant owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), began measuring radiation in the oceaniodine and cesium isotopes10 days after the accident and have been monitoring the water around the reactors up to 30 km from shore, where radiation levels have been highest. As the radiation moves offshore, it is diluted and mixed through the ocean depths along the way, so that levels of some contaminants just 15 miles offshore are 100 to 1,000 times lower than waters near the reactors. To put it in context, even these elevated levels are not far removed from the US Environmental Protection Agency drinking‐water standard for cesium-137 or from natural radionuclide concentrations found in the ocean.

Although the elevated levels offshore pose little direct hazard for human exposure, questions remain about the impact of long-lived isotopes that can accumulate in the food chain and remain present in sediment, emitting a persistent low-dose in the marine environment for years to come.

Operating with the permission of the Japanese government, the ship will follow a track line from east to west and operate at 34 sampling stations, criss-crossing
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Contact: Stephanie Murphy
samurphy@whoi.edu
508-289-2271
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Source:Eurekalert

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