For the first time since an earthquake and tsunami ravaged the Japanese north coast four years ago, disabling nuclear reactors there, radiation has been found on the shorelines of North America. However the concentration is so small that it poses no health threat, says a University of Victoria scientist.

Share story

VICTORIA, B.C. — Radiation from the leaking Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor has been detected on the shores of Vancouver Island, four years after a deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan killed 16,000 people.

University of Victoria chemical oceanographer Jay Cullen said Monday that it’s the first time radiation has been found on the shorelines of North America since the quake and tsunami ravaged the Japanese north coast and disabled the nuclear reactor.

Low levels of the radioactive isotope Cesium-134, which scientists say can only come from Fukushima, were found in waters collected on Feb. 19 off a dock at Ucluelet, B.C., about 195 miles west of Victoria, Cullen said.

Last November, the first sample containing detectable radioactivity from Fukushima was discovered about 90 miles off California’s coast.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Over the past 15 months, scientists and citizen volunteers have been collecting water samples at over 60 sites along the Canadian and U.S. west coasts and in Hawaii as they’ve looked for traces of radioactive isotopes.

“This is the first sample that’s been collected in North America with this contaminated plume of sea water, which we’ve seen offshore, but it’s the first time we’ve actually seen it at the shoreline,” Cullen said.

He said the arrival of radioactive water on North American shores from Japan was expected this year. The distance from Japan to Ucluelet is more than 4,700 miles.

“The levels we are seeing are so low that we don’t expect there to be impacts on the health of either the marine environment or people living along the coast,” Cullen said.

“We’re more than a thousandfold below even the drinking water standard in the coastal waters being sampled at this point. Those levels are much, much, much lower than what’s allowable in our drinking water.”

Cullen said in a statement that if a person swam for six hours each day in water with Cesium levels twice as high as those found in Ucluelet, they’d receive a radiation dose that is more than 1,000 times less than that of a single dental X-ray.