ALASKA SEA GRANT PROGRAM REPORTS
Low levels of cesium-137 from the Fukushima nuclear power plant have been detected near Saint Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea.
Sampling conducted by residents of the island show the reach of the northern edge of Fukushima’s plume. Cesium-137 levels higher than before the 2011 nuclear power plant accident in Japan, Alaska Sea Grant agent Gay Sheffield said.
Cesium-137 is a byproduct of nuclear fission and is traceable in the environment. Measurable amounts of radioactive substances are found in the ocean from both naturally occurring and man-made sources, such as nuclear weapons tests and accidental releases from nuclear reactors. Fukushima failed after the Tōhoku earthquake Japan on March 11, 2011, mostly a result of the tsunami that followed.
The amount of the contamination is extremely low, according to the Alaska Sea Grant report. It’s west of the mainland in the Bering Sea and is actually closer to Russia than to the North American continent.
In March 2011, a tsunami damaged Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, sending unprecedented levels of radioactive materials into the Pacific Ocean. Saint Lawrence Island residents anticipated that Fukushima-related contamination would eventually reach the Bering Sea based on their knowledge of ocean currents.
“I knew that those Japanese currents would come to our waters and so that’s why I volunteered to do the testing,” said Eddie Ungott, a resident of Gambell.
Ungott has been collecting seawater samples for several years off the coast of Gambell. He sends them to Sheffield in Nome who then ships them to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts for analysis. During 2014, 2015 and 2017, the lab found very low levels of cesium-137, similar to those prior to the Fukushima nuclear accident. No testing was done in 2016 due to lack of funding.
Saint Lawrence Island has about 1,300 residents and is