via / September 3, 2014 / It was raining when Eric Norman, Berkeley Lab physicist and University of California (UC) Berkeley professor of Nuclear Engineering, heard about the nuclear-reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan. “I immediately thought of Chernobyl,” he says, referring to the “nuclear rain” that fell in the days that followed the 1986 disaster in Ukraine. Norman wanted to know if, following the March 11, 2011 Fukushima breach, radioactivity could be found in Bay Area precipitation. He and his students collected weeks’ worth of rainwater around Berkeley Campus to find out.

The results: low levels of a number of different radioactive nuclei produced by the fission of uranium-235 including, cesium-134, cesium-137, and iodine-131. (The number after the element represents the total number of protons and neutrons in the atom’s nucleus.) “The levels we saw were detectable, but low and not a health hazard to anyone,” Norman says. With findings in hand, he informed the local media that there was nothing to worry about, he says, and did his best to stress the lack of dangerous radioactivity in the rainwater.


Berkeley Lab physicist Eric Norman at the 2014 American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco. Credit: Kate Greene

Fast-forward a couple years. “I thought that was the end of it until I started seeing reports on the Internet and elsewhere,” he explained at last month’s 2014 meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco, CA. People were again concerned about health hazards caused by the radiation.

“I think part of the reason for that was there were reports of continuing leaks and releases of radioactivity—it wasn’t just a one-time thing—and people began to think of the idea of radiation being transported across the Pacific, which of course will happen,” Norman says. “I don’t know where they got the numbers, but they were claiming very high numbers that were causing health effects on people especially children.”

Norman didn’t immediately dismiss these new claims, but he couldn’t find any up-to-date measurements of environmental radiation. So he decided to conduct his own study. In 2013, he and his students tested in fish, plants, milk, seawater, and salt from a variety of locations throughout the Pacific Ocean and coastal regions.

They compared the ratio of radioactive isotopes in the new samples to a sample Norman had collected years before: about a month after the Fukushima disaster, he noticed his backyard weeds had grown high from all the rain. Upon testing these weeds he found extremely low but detectable levels of cesium-134 and cesium-137, still well below limits for safety and health concerns.

If any of the new samples contained these two isotopes in the same ratio as that of the weeds from 2011, it would indicate the presence of Fukushima radiation.

With the help of Al Smith, physicist at Berkeley Lab and one of the world’s experts on background gamma ray counting, and Keenan Thomas from UC Berkeley, the team analyzed and interpreted the results. They especially expected to find at least some cesium isotopes in the seaweed since it concentrates potassium, an element that’s in the same column of cesium on the periodic table. “We looked very hard,” Norman says. The scientists sampled their fish, seaweed, and other Pacific products from Hawaii, the Philippines, the West Coast areas, and Japan. But none of these samples showed any indication of radiation from Fukushima, Norman says.

Why were radiation levels in these samples so low? “Many we saw in the rain water were very short lived,” Norman explains. Iodine-131, for instance, has a half-life of just eight days. Additionally, dilution from ocean water plays a significant role. “We’re a long way from Japan and there’s a lot of water in the Pacific,” he says. “Whatever gets dumped in the ocean will get diluted by enormous factors.”

Even so, Norman and his team continue to test samples so that they’ll have up-to-date data to counter any scare claims of Fukushima radiation. Recently he’s grown grapes in his yard and analyzed leaf samples. The isotope levels from his backyard flora, so low to begin with in 2011, have now completely faded away.


**More information: Norman EB, Angell CT, Chodash PA (2011) “Observations of Fallout from the Fukushima Reactor Accident in San Francisco Bay Area Rainwater.” PLoS ONE 6(9): e24330. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024330

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By Broc West| 15 Comments | Featured, News


  1. and another reliable source says: “””Due to topography and site characteristics, this groundwater gradient flow discharged into the Pacific Ocean… Cs-137 was detected in three samples of fish most likely due to rainwater washout of Fukushima Cs-137… Cs-137 was detected in 2012 vegetation samples… due to rainwater washout of Fukushima Cs-137 [that] was absorbed by plant life and the soil. DCPP… has routinely detected Cs-137 in plant life since March of 2011 due to this Fukushima event…”””

    Also, “””Fukushima nuclear material reported in West Coast groundwater; It’s discharging into Pacific Ocean — Fallout also found in meat and fish from same area — “Routinely detected’ in plant life long after March 2011″””

    • Another unreliable source you mean.

      They report Cs-137 at the 0.1 Bq/kg level which is almost certainly the legacy of above ground testing. They do not report any Cs-134 which would be the signature of a recent release.

      If you eat 2 kg of food a day that’s 73 Bq of Cs-137 a year.

      73 Bq/year x 1.3e-2 microSv/Bq = 1 microSv/year of additional dose compared to the 3500 microSv/year you get from natural background.

      • People are naturally frightened by all of this, so much so that all rational thought goes out the window. No matter how many times you run the actual numbers by them, they will cling strongly to their need to believe the worst.

        But thanks for this post just the same.

    • Dear ANON CONCERNED, Thankyou for posting your thoughts, feelings and “cited data”…. Much appreciated 🙂

      There is (can be) NO DOUBT at all that Fukushima is an ongoing, horrific global disaster – FULL STOP! I find it incredible that anyone can argue otherwise.

      NB: I have tried via all your latest postings to “reply” to you (with thanks, etc), and I haven’t been able to get past “Game Complete”…Hmmm…Maybe because I’ve had a few things to opine/add (?)… especially about the “attacks” you’ve received… so here goes (again)….

      🙁 There’s no point getting involved in a “tit-for-tat” with DIEMOS – s/he’s a “do it with sums apologist”… and definitely no point in engaging with ZEBULOUS, s/he’s worse!!!

      Again, I Thank you 🙂

  2. I find to be extremely reliable and that site gives its sources.

    Consuming radiation is not comparable to walking past or around d radiation.

  3. extremely low but detectable levels of cesium-134 and cesium-137, still well below limits for safety and health concerns.

    such f’ing bullshit!!! there is no safe limit of radiation. any amount increases your cancer risk.\They love to lie to us!

  4. Really… A 2011 paper is news?

  5. URGENT: Maybe you should be telling the people that the radiation is being found in the fish that swim and are being caught and eaten off the west coast of the USA and Canada! TEPCO has lied to the people of Japan and to the world about the true levels of radiation released into the atmosphere, ground and into the Pacific Ocean! TEPCO also continues to dump millions of gallons of radioactive waste into the Pacific Ocean nonstop every single day to contaminate the fish, ocean life and animals. There is now verified proof of DNA damage and mutations throughout the food chain and we humans are next to suffer! Experts recommend to commence detoxing with the natural mineral called zeolite that is proven to safely remove both radiation and heavy metals from the human body.This MUST Be Done to help prevent DNA damage that will cause disease and future ongoing mutations! For more quality information do an online search for the single word Zeolite.

    • Barry’s an idiot. Pass it on.

      (Nice cut and paste job from another thread, Bare)

      • Barry sells Zeolite.

  6. OWhere did your rain clouds accumilate from? Im not certain
    If the cloud accumilated first between the reactor
    Plant leak and California.Chasing clouds?

  7. Appreciate the great article! Now interested in any Data gathered in the Aleutian Chain and Bering Sea fisheries. I believe this would have been the hardest hit area due to the jet streams and Ocean currents?

  8. I c that ScottieGirl was correct about the snotty twosome that are intolerant and rude towards those with other opinions/conclusions, and different experts we trust for our data! E-hug, SG!

    ENE News is NOT the purveyor of its own journalism – if you are going to badmouth their work as a clearinghouse of energy news (I, and Arnie Gunderson, and several solid newsgroups use them) please go back to read their sources from the original news sources quoted – such as Washington Week, or Japan News.

    The satellite images of the Fuku’ plume spreading over the Pacific, with up to 750rads (about 7.5 Greys, isn’t it?) over the 10 westernmost American states is no fabrication. The amount of precipitation during the passage of the cloud determined where and how much fallout was brought down on us. Terrain determines where the hotspots could be (likely ARE) since that controls where water collects.

    You are also talking about 73 isotopes released by Fuku’ but I usually hear people nattering about Iodine-131 because it decays sort of fast. Cesium and Plutonium, Americium and Strontium…these are serious threats to health once ingested. Check the CDC for that, if you disagree with Arnie Gunderson. (consultant to both disasters)

    Since the US Govt has shown…yawn…amount of interest in mapping the country as Japan did in only 3 weeks…what is a concerned citizen to think? That the US authorities are somehow more trustworthy and candid than the Japanese have been towards their public? Time is critical in diagnosing and treating radiation exposure – we have the right to information and full disclosure. In 4 years, that hasn’t happened.

    Last question. If the naysayers are so smart, and so correct – what do we do about possibly 3 coriums still working themselves into the substrata of Japan? There is no reason to believe the explosions discharged ALL the fuel into the air…much would have been forced laterally and downwards as the containment vessel (s) were breached. The ongoing radioactive groundwater leaks confirm the noxious status of these 3 reactors. The negative sardine and salmon fisheries reports support marine damage proceeding.

    My, lots does go on beyond the hallowed halls of Berkley. How about your Chair having open dialogue with Arnie sometime?

  9. Follow the hyperlinks in the ENE News summary 16 Aug 14 – to reach any of the cited sources.

    I believe Inuit elders, and career fishermen to tell me what is normal for Salmon long before I trust an energy company exec, a liberal reporter, or a government talking head. It’s a credibility issue, plain and simple.

    Clearly, something is disrupting migrations, sickening, and killing these important food fish. Whistleblowers predicted this in 2011. Now it’s happening. So sad. How DO you get Cesium-137 and kin out of an ocean?

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