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Olympic Peninsula: West Coast Radiation Crisis, Part 2
Mon May 13, 2013 16:53

Olympic Peninsula:

Coast Radiation Crisis, Part 2

Yoichi Shimatsu



The azure glow
of Crater Lake was about to be smudged by a band of wispy smoke blowing
in eastward on the jet stream. As steely gray turned to black, I switched
on my dosimeter, which immediately whined in alarm. The radiation level
inside the jetliner cabin hit 2.26 microsieverts, equivalent to twice
the dosage at locations just 5 kilometers from the Fukushima No.1 nuclear
plant. Although my nerves were thoroughly rattled by the buzzing, the
dozing passengers were blissfully unaware of being bombarded by lethal


radiation reading inside a jetliner cabin while

flying over the Oregon-Washington state boundary.


The thin ghost
shadow riding through the sky had no semblance to a fat rain cloud. Here,
over the Pacific Northwest, was a vast plume of smoke from the incinerators
of Greater Tokyo that burn radioactive debris from Fukushima Prefecture.
The radiation levels gradually diminished as the jet made its descent
to SEA-TAC airport.

My journey
to Seattle from Southern California had been prompted by a questionable
claim from Washington State officials that the waves of tsunami debris
from Japan are not radioactive. This sort of optimism is based on the
assumption that any residual isotopes would be washed away in the North
Pacific Current during the passage of more than a year over a distance
of 7450 km (4630 miles).


Crater Lake, Oregon, on arrival of the leading edge

of concentrated particulates from Tokyo incinerators

burning low-level nuclear waste from Fukushima.


To the contrary,
my gut instinct tends to be pessimistic, especially after having conducted
several field research expeditions that discovered serious contamination
not only in northeast Japan but also on the southernmost peaks of the
Japanese archipelago. The spread of radiation, as far I have been able
to tell, is unstoppable.

New World’s

The Olympic
Peninsula is unexpectedly large. The three-hour drive out of Seattle wends
through a cactus desert in the rain shadow of snow-capped mountains and
then plunges into dark moss-hung stands of temperate rainforest. Beyond
the great arc of Crescent Lake, reminiscent of Scandinavia or Switzerland,
a road sign points to the town of Forks, location for the “Twilight” romantic
vampire series.


Beach, Olympic Peninsula, has been cleared of

all debris from the 3.11 tsunami that hit northeast Japan.


At the Last
Chance gas station, the breakfast fare caters to the sport fishermen rolling
their boats down a ramp onto the Salish Sea, which separates Washington
State from British Columbia. My choice is a frozen barbecue burrito reheated
in a microwave. Farther along, totem poles in front of a low-hung casino
were carved by the Makah tribe known for their seagoing war canoes, which
are still used to hunt whales. Unlike the Japanese fleet’s mechanical
contraptions and ballistic projectiles, these muscular paddlers hurl old-fashioned
harpoons in a fair contest between man and leviathan.

Turning south
from Neah Bay, the road peters out at gravel parking lot marked by a wooden
sign that reads: “Shishi Beach 1.6 miles”. The early stretch is a pleasant
stroll atop wooden planks through a forest as spooky as those in Lord
of the Rings. Then the path descends into an endless slog through perma-mud
and poison oak well beyond the promised distance. My thought while stumbling
along was : “So this is how the natives get their revenge.”


radiation levels from previous year’s seaweed are

found along the shore of the Makah tribal lands.



At last, the
waves crashing on pristine beaches devoid of foreign flotsam, come into
sight. After traveling 10,000 kilometers from the other side of the ocean,
I find not a matchstick much less a floating house or boat from Japan.
There were more bits of chewing gum wrappers on the trail than on these
lonely stretches of sand and bonsai-studded rocks.

Seaweed Tales

to say the least, I switched to a stratagem of measuring radiation in
the seaweed that had washed ashore. Within a few minutes, a pattern emerged.
Dry bunches of kelp above the dunes imply a serious radioactive event
happening about a year earlier with readings of up to 0.28 microsieverts.
More recently displaced wet seaweed show half that figure. At the water’s
edge, the readings are very low, only about 0.08 microsieverts, near the
background radiation across the peninsula.

The Pacific
Northwest has abundant rainfall yet lacks the high humidity of Japan.
Thus, instead of recycling radiation inland, the isotopes are washed out
to sea, rapidly lowering contaminations on land and in the bays.

It is a pity
that my science kit does not include any instruments to detect toxic chemicals
or microbiological contamination. The steep slopes of Japan’s northeast
coast meant that most of the region’s tanks for oil, fertilizer and pesticides,
along with refrigerant fluids, were stored along the shore and were swept
away by the tsunami.


attached to a mussel have bio-accumulated radiation from algae and plankton.


A Strand of

Calling it
a day, filled with hard-earned futility, I headed back toward civilization.
On the edge of Neah Bay village, the front yard of a shack identified
by the sign “FISH” is festooned with a string of colorful buoys. On closer
inspection, the plastic balls are covered with raised Chinese characters,
a bit of Japanese phonetic script and the Roman alphabet.

My experience
along the Fukushima coast showed that rubber plastic and fishing nets
absorb radiation more readily than wood or metal. The dosimeter recorded
an identical 0.16 microsieverts on every Japanese float, a level not immediately
harmful to the rare passerby. Nonetheless, the figure is a good indicator
of contamination on the journey from Fukushima. The Chinese balls are
between 0.05 and 0.08 microSv.


radiation levels are present in recently

dowsed items like wet kelp or this cast-off woman’s shoe.


Again, small
differences disclose a larger story. The made-in-Japan floats, aboard
trawlers or hanging to dry with nets in fishing villages, were pulled
out to sea by the tsunami and soon became irradiated by contaminated water
from the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. In contrast, the Chinese buoys were
attached to long fishing nets laid outside Japan’s 200-mile maritime exclusive
economic zone. Larger pieces of jetsam, for example, wooden beams, boats
and buildings, ripped those long nets to shreds, releasing the Chinese
buoys adrift. At that distance from the coast, radiation levels had become
greatly diluted.

So here, in
these findings, was undeniable proof that the federal and state governments
have again failed to inform American citizens of the radiation risk from
Fukushima. For all the funding spent on climate research, oceanic studies,
fisheries protection and marine biology, not a single official bulletin
mentions anything about what a visitor can learn from a string of buoys
in front of a salmon smokehouse.


collection of fishing-net buoys at a

salmon smokehouse run by a Makah resident


The proprietor,
a big strapping cheerful Makah fellow, stepped outside to provide answers
to the missing debris riddle. “The state has started to put two big containers
by the beaches on weekends, and volunteers come to clean up the beaches.”

The state Bureau
of Corrections responded to my query by answering that convicts from the
two nearby prisons had never been assigned to the beach detail. Therefore,
ordinary residents out of the goodness of their hearts did the hard work
of removing flotsam, which included radioactive materials. The volunteers
had no knowledge of the health risk and were given no advice on wearing
protective gloves and eyewear or about decontamination methods.

A state resident
who is an avid halibut fisherman told me: “It must be some sort of diversion
that the only thing that the biologists have been focusing on is invasive
species from Japan. They never say anything about radiation in the food

Gazing at the
ocean from the closest point in the Lower 48 to Japan, the truth is as
cold and bitter as the north wind. I shudder to think of what is still
to come.


consistent reading of 0.16 microsieverts is found on the buoys from Japan


Update on the
Marine Mammal Kill-off in Southern California:

Before heading
to the Pacific Northwest, I met a number of Southern California residents
whose lives are deeply connected to the ocean.

A California
Fish and Wildlife ranger did not flinch when told of my radiation findings
in the heart of a dead sea lion beached at San Onofre. He told me the


in Japan” is impressed on a small buoy.


The coming
feed shortage: “At this time of year (late winter and spring), there’s
a northward current from San Diego-Coronado Island up the Catalina Channel.
The colder California Current (moving southward) flows around the outside
of the Channel islands (Santa Catalina and San Clemente). Over the past
year, the water in the Channel has been colder than usual. Soon, a warm
current will strongly push north below the surface and there

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