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CSULB researchers launch 'Kelp Watch 2014'

Cal State Long Beach researchers are testing kelp for traces of radioactivity following the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
March 6, 2014 1:23:37 PM PST
Numerous researchers have predicted that radioactive contamination from Japan's 2011 nuclear plant disaster at Fukushima would reach the California coast this year.

On Thursday, a California State University, Long Beach marine biology team launched a project to determine if the predictions were true. The project is called "Kelp Watch 2014."

Not far from the Long Beach marina, just beyond the break waters, researchers found an ideal specimen.

Long Beach State Professor Steven Manley and two of his marine biology graduate students spent an hour harvesting 15 pounds of kelp.

"After we dry it and mill it to a uniform particle size, it will fit into a one-liter bottle," said Manley.

The project is all part of an international effort to determine whether radioactive contamination from the Fukushima nuclear disaster has made it to California.

"We're using kelp to detect the material coming over in sea water," said Manley.

It was three years ago next week when a massive earthquake and tsunami caused a nuclear meltdown in Japan, and radioactive material spilled out into the ocean.

Now, scientists from California to British Columbia are trying to figure out if trace amounts of radiation are showing up in kelp forests on the west coast.

"It's a very good sentinel, again, because we find it up and down our coastline, and it's designed to absorb stuff that's in the water," said Manley.

Manley says Long Beach is one of 40 collection sites. He doesn't expect to find any radioactive contaminates in the samples obtained Thursday. He said the point of Thursday's collection is to give researchers an idea of what our oceans look like before the radiation arrives.

"This is a reference point to which we can compare our other collections later in the year," said Manley.

Manley says they will make two more collections over the course of the year and then compare results with at least 40 other scientists. Manley says he expects later samples of seaweed to test positive for trace amounts of radiation, but he doesn't think it'll be enough to pose a health hazard.

"There's going to be low levels of these radioisotopes from Fukushima in the kelp, but it's going to be much less than naturally occuring radioisotopes," said Manley.

The results of "Kelp Watch 2014" should be made available by early next year.


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