WHOI Scientists Find New Source of Radioactive Fukushima Materials

COURTESY OF THE WOODS HOLE OCEANOGRAPHIC INSTITUTION: The new study revealed a previously unsuspected pathway for radioactive material to be transported, stored for years, and subsequently released far from the site where it was initially discharged. Illustration by Natalie Renier Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

WOODS HOLE – Radioactive material from the Fukushima power plant disaster has been found by scientists in an unsuspected place – in sands and brackish groundwater beneath beaches up to 60 miles away.

The sands have retained the cesium from the 2011 incident and have been slowly releasing it back into the ocean.

Scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Kanazawa University have published the findings in last week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences but say public health is not of primary concern because no one is exposed to or drinks the waters.

Days and weeks after the incident, the waves and tides brought the radioactive cesium from highly contaminated waters to the coast where it became “stuck” to the surfaces of sand grains.

In salt water the cesium is no longer able to stick to the sand particles.

So as waves and tides bring salty seawater to the shore, the groundwater becomes salty enough to release the materials from the sand back into the ocean.

Researchers say this unanticipated pathway for the storage and release of radioactive materials into the ocean should be taken into account in future management of coastal areas where nuclear plants are located.

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