The coast is clear: study finds no adverse effects on BC's coast after Fukushima nuclear accident

SFU Chemist Krzysztof Starosta has been monitoring BC soil and salmon for effects from the Fukushima nuclear accident since 2011.

March 08, 2018

In the years since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power accident, chemist Krzysztof Starosta and his team in SFU’s Nuclear Science lab have been using high-resolution gamma-ray spectroscopy to search West Coast soil and salmon for signs of radioactive isotopes Cesium 134 and 137.

The two isotopes are fission fragments that do not exist in nature and can be directly attributed to nuclear reactions. 

Concern for public safety and the possible negative health impacts from consuming Pacific salmon have motivated Starosta’s team to repeatedly sample and analyze West Coast soil and salmon samples since the accident.

The team collected soil samples from various sites in BC, salmon samples from BC’s Quesnel and Harrison rivers and a roof-debris sample.

Cesium 134 was not found in any of the salmon samples, but Cesium 137 was found in a third of the Chinook samples collected in 2013 and all of the Chinook samples collected in 2014.

Cesium 137 and 134 were also detected in the majority of the soil samples.

Despite these findings, Starosta says there is good news.

“The levels found in both the salmon and soil samples remained below Canada’s safety guidelines, posing minimal health risk to BC’s salmon and human populations,” Starosta says.

“Our findings that the environmental impact of the Fukushima accident in Western Canada was insignificant is a relief, and these results add to a knowledge base that will be useful for future research.”

Starosta explains that we’ve learned more about the transport and bioaccumulation of man-made radionuclides.

“Proximity to a nuclear disaster is critical,” he says “but wind and weather patterns that carry airborne radioisotopes should also be of concern. Wherever these radioisotopes land, they will eventually decay and release some degree of radiation.”

The team also attributed much of the Cesium 137 that was found to nuclear weapons testing from the 1960’s, the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 and, to a minor degree, the Fukushima accident.

This is the third paper that Starosta and his team have published on the subject. It appears in the Canadian Journal of Chemistry. The journal recognized the paper with its 2018 Best Paper Award.