Fukushima effect negligible

Radioactive contamination following a nuclear power-plant disaster in Japan never reached unsafe levels in the north Pacific Ocean for either marine life or human health, says a B.C. scientist.

Chemical oceanographer Jay Cullen of the University of Victoria has monitored levels of contamination from radioactive isotopes, used in cancer therapies and medical imaging, since the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011 following a tsunami triggered by an earthquake.

"We're confident in saying that the levels that we see now in our part of the Pacific from Fukushima are below those levels that represent a significant health risk either to the Pacific Ocean or to human beings in Canada or the west coast of North America," said Cullen, who is one of nine international authors of a study published last week on the findings in Environmental Science and Technology.

"We haven't been able to detect changes in the amount of these artificial isotopes that are in our Pacific salmon and steelhead trout or shellfish that we've collected all up and down the coast," he said.

Contamination levels were about one-tenth of what was seen in the north Pacific in the late 1950s and 60s before the ban of above-ground nuclear weapons testing, primarily by the United States and the former Soviet Union, Cullen said.

"Now what we see are levels that are similar to what we had in our part of the Pacific back in the 1970s," he said, adding those did not approach amounts believed to be harmful.

Contamination levels decay over time and will continue dropping along the coast of B.C., Cullen said, adding further studies will be done until 2019.

Radiation guidelines are set by Health Canada's Radiation Protection Bureau.

"The levels of radioactive contamination that we measured off British Columbia right now, they're about a factor of 1,000 lower than the levels that are permissible in our drinking water that don't lead to health problems for Canadians who drink average amounts of water over a year," Cullen said.

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