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West Coast Kelp Safe from Fukushima-Related Radiation (VIDEO)

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May 08, 2014 12:04 PM EDT
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The Kelp Watch 2014 project announced Wednesday that the West Coast shoreline, including kelp forests, harbors no radiation contamination as a result of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.
(Photo : David J. Nelson/Cal State Long Beach)

The Kelp Watch 2014 project announced Wednesday that the West Coast shoreline, including kelp forests, harbors no radiation contamination as a result of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan.

The study kicked off earlier this year when biologist Steven Manley, project leader, teamed up with researchers from Alaska to Chile to collect samples from kelp beds up and down the western Pacific shoreline and test them at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for radioactive isotopes.

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"Our data does not show the presence of Fukushima radioisotopes in West Coast Giant Kelp or Bull Kelp," Manley, of California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), said in a news release. "These results should reassure the public that our coastline is safe and that we are monitoring it for these materials. At the same time, these results provide us with a baseline from which we can compare samples gathered later in the year."

The initial survey results were taken from kelp growing in 38 locations in waters ranging from Kodiak Island, Alaska and Baja Calif. Scientists also analyzed brown algae samples obtained near the coasts of Guam and Hawaii.

Kelp was of particular interest because it is extremely sensitive to changes in radiation levels because it soaks up the contamination like a sponge, Southern California radio station 89.3 KPCC reported.

Researchers took their first samples in March, a month before they expected first radioactive waters to reach the West Coast from Japan. The results of the first round of tests will serve as a baseline against which to compare future samples.

They focused their search on the isotopes cesium-134 and cesium-137, in part because their half lives of two years and 30 years, respectively, are longer than some of the other radioactive materials that were released from Fukushima, according to the Long Island Press-Telegram. A half-life is how long it takes for one half of the mass of a radioactive element or isotope to decay.

According to Manley and fellow colleagues, the second of the three 2014 sampling periods is scheduled to begin in early July.

"One of the goals of Kelp Watch 2014 is to keep the public informed, to let them know we are on top of this event, and to document the amount of Fukushima radiation that enters our kelp forest ecosystem," he concluded in his statement.

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