John Bertucci carries his Geiger counter wherever he goes. The counter, which is a little larger than his hand, measures radiation levels in the air around him.
Bertucci is a founder of Fukushima Response, a network of people residing in northern California who collect and disseminate information about the radiation threats of the Fukushima Diiachi nuclear plant disaster.
The group of six people started meeting in May 2012 in a Petaluma coffee shop and have grown into a network of 35 activists with supporters from all around the United States.
Bertucci, Hohle, and others at Fukushima Response say that they are not convinced that the Environmental Protection Agency, a US governmental agency responsible for protecting human health and the environment, is doing enough to monitor radiation levels. Additionally no US government agency monitors radiation levels in ocean water.
The EPA monitors radiation levels in air, drinking water, precipitation, and pasteurized milk and reports the data to the public.
The agency’s air monitoring system, called RadNet, consists of 132 stationary monitors spread throughout the US. The monitoring stations continuously read radiation levels and a computer reviews the data and reports abnormal radiation readings to EPA laboratory staff.
“The government knows that we need more air monitors because after the 3-mile nuclear meltdown in Pennsylvania in 1979, many experts and reports recommended something like 250 monitoring stations for every power plant,” said Dan Sythe, a radiation monitoring expert based in Sebastopol and owner of International Medcom, a company which makes handheld radiation detection devices like the Geiger counter that Bertucci owns.
RadNet not enough
Most states have one or two stationary air monitors. Texas and California have 11 monitors each, the most of any states.An April 2012 audit by the EPA Office of the Inspector General echoed some of these concerns and reported that 25 out of 124 or 20 percent of the EPA’s air monitoring stations were not working right after the Fukushima disaster. Additional monitors hadn’t been serviced or had their air filters replaced in more than eight weeks.
“There is no evidence of Fukushima fallout here in California and local fish are safe to eat but I won’t be surprised to see small amounts of Fukushima fallout in the Pacific in the future,” said Eric Norman, a nuclear engineering professor at University of California Berkeley.
“Continuous testing is needed”
“There is no systematic testing in the US of air, food, and water for radiation, continuous testing is needed,” said Norman.
In 2011, marine scientists from Stony Brook University and Stanford University tested 15 Pacific bluefin tunas caught off of the coast of southern California and found small amounts of radioactive elements from the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
According to the research the migratory bluefin tuna were 1-2 years old and swam in radioactive waters between Japan and California.
Despite all of these indicators leading marine chemist Ken Buesseler says no US government agency currently tests radiation levels in the Pacific Ocean.
“I don’t expect the radiation levels to be high but we can’t dismiss the concerns that the public has,” said Buesseler, who works for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, a non profit research organization based in Massachusetts and focused on studying the ocean.
Buesseler, along with a team from WHOI, made the first of his three visits to the Fukushima area in June 2011. They suspected groundwater flowing through the reactor site was carrying radiation into the sea.
Buesseler says weeks after the March 2011 Fukushima Plant disaster occurred a large plume of radioactive air swept across the Pacific Ocean and over California.
According to Buesseler a second plume is headed towards California, this one is in the water and has taken almost three years to make it across the Pacific Ocean.
“The effects of Fukushima will be increasing as the front edge of a large water plume coming from the nuclear plant will reach California soon and increase over the years,” said Buesseler.
Buesseler recently took his concerns to Washington where he met with US government officials at the various agencies responsible for monitoring radiation levels in air, food, and water.
He said he visited officials at the Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“They all said that it’s not their responsibility to test the Pacific Ocean for radiation. This issue is falling between the cracks of government responsibility. It’s a health and safety issue here,” Buesseler said.