With all the misinformation around the internet here are links to articles that we trust. The following provide credible information about what is actually occurring and/or dispel myths about Fukushima radiation that are prevalent on the internet. I will not link to pseudoscience, misinformation, or outright lies in this post or allow them in the comments below. These posts and ideas have received far more attention and links than they deserve already. I provide the author, their credentials, a statement of the misinformation if applicable, the take home message, and my favorite quotes.
- My favorite magazine growing up, Popular Mechanics, has a very nice write up about understanding radiation counts from radiation safety expert Andrew Karam. Andrew Karam has over 30 years of experience in health physics (radiation safety), beginning with an eight-year stint as a mechanical operator and radiation safety specialist in the Navy. Since then, Karam has worked for the State of Ohio, Ohio State University, the University of Rochester and as a private consultant. Favorite Quote: “In the areas of Japan I visited, radiation dose rates were elevated to about three to four times typical natural radiation dose rates (which are about .1 mrem per hour), but nowhere near as high as natural radiation levels I’ve measured in parts of Iran.”
- Is the west coast being fried by Fukushima radiation? Dr. Andrew Thaler, a marine biologist and chief editor of Southern Fried Science, totally dismantles Michael Snyder’s Activist post 28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima. Take Home: No and the Snyder article distorts the truth and outright lies to advocate for his position. Favorite Quote: “The article is a paranoid, poorly reasoned attempt to link the tragedy of the Fukushima disaster to just about every environmental issue facing the US west coast in the last few months.”
- Are high radiation readings being observed on the west coast of the United States? No doubt you’ve seen the video of a man in San Francisco, California using a Geiger Counter showing high radiation readings on the beach. Enter Dan Sythe, the CEO of International Medcom Inc. that develops and produces radiation detection instruments and systems. Dan has a list of impressive credentials on everything Geiger Counter related. At the Geiger Counter Bulletin, he tests the same California sand and compares it to readings from Fukushima. Take Home: The radiation signature in the coastal sands is normal and is not the same as from Fukushima. Favorite Quote: “The radionuclides are in the NORM class of radioactive substances, not from Fukushima. NORM stands for Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material…If the sand were contaminated by radiation from Fukushima it would show Cesium 137 [it does not].” Super Favorite Bonus Quote: “The radiation level [in the sand] is elevated, but roughly equivalent to some granite counter top material from Brazil.”
- Related to the above, Wendy Hopkins an Information Officer of the California Department of Public Health, has made a public statement. Favorite Quote: “Recent tests show that elevated levels of radiation at Half Moon Bay are due to naturally occurring materials and not radioactivity associated with the Fukushima incident. There is no public health risk at California beaches due to radioactivity related to events at Fukushima.” By the way, Dean Peterson, Director for Environmental Health Services for San Mateo County, also stated that the radiation is due to naturally occurring minerals typically found in coastal geology.
- Dr. Jay T. Cullen, an Associate Professor of marine chemistry at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, researches the fate of metals that can be toxic and/or essential nutrients for organisms in the marine environment. He has an excellent set of articles at the Daily Kos including this primer and this one. Question: Is radiation, in the form of Cesium, reaching the west coast? Favorite Quote/Take Home: “Most recent measurements show that Fukushima derived Cs has reached the west coast as of June 2013 by ocean transport but that concentrations of Cs continue to be well below levels thought to pose environmental or public health threats.” Question: Is cesium being found in fish? Favorite Quote/Take Home: “Like fish sampled thus far in the north Pacific the contribution of Cs to overall exposure of human consumers to radiation by consuming these fish is very small.“
- Are babies in the U.S. dying as a direct result of Fukushima radiation? Michael Moyer is a writer and editor at Scientific American and writes about these concerns (Post 1, Post 2). The first post deals with an unpublished study where “researchers” cherry picked data to fit their agenda. This group revised their analyses and now have a “published study” that is so fundamentally flawed it’s not worth mentioning. Take Home: Babies in the U.S. are not dying from Fukushima radiation. Favorite Quotes: “A check [of the data] reveals that the authors’ statistical claims are critically flawed—if not deliberate mistruths…picking only the data that suits your analysis isn’t science—it’s politics.” But my all time favorite quote is this baby that comes across as a stern gentlemanly slap to the face, “No attempt is made at providing systematic error estimates, or error estimates of any kind. No attempt is made to catalog any biases that may have crept into the analysis, though a cursory look finds biases a-plenty (the authors are anti-nuclear activists unaffiliated with any research institution). The analysis assumes that the plume arrived on U.S. shores, spread everywhere, instantly, and started killing people immediately. It assumes that the “excess” deaths after March 20 are a real signal, not just a statistical aberration, and that every one of them is due to Fukushima radiation.”
- Skeptoid is an award winning blog and podcast dedicated to everything anti-science. The show is produced and hosted by Brian Dunning, a computer scientist who turned toward public engagement. If you want the unbiased and most critical assessment of any issue tune into them. A writer for Skeptoid, Michael Rothechild, has been providing background on the people making many of the alarmist claims on the impacts of Fukushima. Favorite Quote 1: “The piece was written by Gary Stamper, who runs “Collapse into Consciousness,” a website devoted to surviving the supposed coming collapse of society.” Michael has a series of posts that tackle the pseudoscientific claims being made about radioactive fish, whether we will all face a cesium soaked death, and a whole list of common claims about Fukushima. Make sure you read the last one especially. Favorite Quote 2: “Obviously, the situation at Fukushima is distressing, and not at all something that should be shrugged off. But compounding it with scaremongering about our food supply does nothing productive for anyone. But I urge you to make that decision based on sound scientific research and testable claims, not hysterical screeds backed by supposition and fear.”
- The list wouldn’t be complete without including Deep-Sea News posts. Dr. Kim Martini, a physical oceanographer, wrote an excellent post about Fukushima radiation that separates fact from fiction. Question: Is everyone on the west coast swathed in Fukushima radiation? Take Home: No. Favorite Quote: “This is not a map of Fukushima Radiation spreading across the Pacific. This is a map of the estimated maximum wave heights of the Japanese Tohuku Tsunami by modelers at NOAA.”
- Dr. Miriam Goldstein, a biological oceanographer now working on policy in D.C., wrote about recent studies of Fukushima radiation in fish. The title states the take home message: radiation levels were detectable but not hazardous. Favorite Quote: “So teeny fish in the waters off Japan just a few months after Fukushima had such low levels of radioactivity that they are considered safe to eat under Japanese law. And of this radioactivity, only 10-30% of the total radioactivity found in marine life was attributable to the Fukushima discharges – the rest was from naturally occurring radionuclides… tuna caught off California contains ten times LESS radiation than even the strictest food limit. What’s the theme? DETECTABLE but not HAZARDOUS”
- Dr. Chris Mah is a researcher at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and one of the world’s leading experts on starfish and echinoderms in general. Chris’s post here at DSN debunks the claim that the starfish dying on the west coast have anything to do with the Fukushima incident. Favorite Quote: “If there were waves of Fukushima radiation pouring onto the coast-and “melting” all the starfish as some folks would suggest, EVERYTHING would be dead. Not just the sea stars. Note also that all the divers involved in these surveys have reported NO ill effects.”
- I wrote about whether dead and irradiated animals were littering the Pacific floor. I am a deep-sea biologist and over the last several years my research has focused on the biodiversity of deep-sea communities off the California coast. Like many others, I am also working toward understanding how deep-sea life will respond to increased anthropogenic impacts, particularly climate change. This resulted in a high profile publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. My favorite quote of myself: “Nowhere does the paper or the press release mention radiation or Fukushima. Nilch, negatory, nadda, never. But this is not good enough for staff writer Ethan Hunt and other outlets that continue to recycle this story.”
- I finish the list by quoting Michael Rothechild again. “I believe the anxiety about the meltdown and its aftermath comes from a mix of negativity toward nuclear power, hostility toward plant operators TEPCO (which is well-deserved in most cases), a lack of knowledge about basic science, distrust of experts (who are seen as dishonest shills) and the common habit of sharing social content that’s driven by strong negative emotions – often without understanding it, and sometimes without even reading it.”
I understand why people are scared and concerned. I grew up in the age of imminent nuclear destruction (does anyone else remember doing nuclear attack drills in schools that were very similar to tornado drills?). My generation and the baby boomers before us were steeped in a pot of nuclear fear and skepticism. As Kim stated in her post, “While there are terrible things that happened around the Fukushima Power Plant in Japan; Alaska, Hawaii and the West Coast aren’t in any danger. These posts were meant to scare people (and possibly written by terrified authors). They did just that, but there is a severe lack of facts in these posts.” I caution everyone to thoroughly evaluate all claims and look at the biases and expertise of those making them.