Ocean kelp tested for Japan nuclear radiation - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Ocean kelp tested for Japan nuclear radiation

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(CBS 8) - It's been three years since the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster in Japan. This April, radiation from Japan is expected to arrive in the ocean waters off San Diego.

A YouTube video featuring a man with a Geiger Counter claiming to measure radiation off the coast of San Francisco from the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster has received more than 750,000 hits.

But experts say what he's really measuring is naturally occurring radiation in the sand.

Still, there are legitimate concerns about radiation arriving on the west coast from the March 2011 Fukushima Disaster in Japan.

The levels in San Diego, however, will be much, much lower.

"The area right around where the disaster occurred, there's a much bigger problem there and much more easily identifiable," explained San Diego State Biology Professor Matthew Edwards.

Edwards is one of 40 scientists along the west coast who, starting next month, will start taking kelp forest samples from Baja to Alaska.

"From a biological standpoint, giant kelp is the barrier along the coast. Anything approaching the coast has to go through the kelp forest to get to our coast," continued Edwards.

Professor Edwards says the kelp filters and concentrates a radioactive isotope from the Japan disaster called cesium that they can test for.

"Kelp uptakes things from the environment into its tissues. It will uptake metals and chemicals and it will uptake cesium," said Edwards.

For the next 12 months, scientists will collect the kelp offshore, dry it out and grind it down into power. It will then be sent to UC Berkeley to be tested in a lab for radiation.

Scientists do not expect to find levels that are a risk to humans.

"Personally, I don't think we are going to see things of a dangerous level. I don't know that, but that's is the belief going in. But it's likely we will be able to detect it," Edwards added.

The kelp tests should show average levels of radiation in the ocean and give an indication when levels are rising and falling - a much more scientific method than a hand-held Geiger Counter.

"My hope would be that these levels are going to be so low that they're not of concern. I'm just like everybody else. The ocean, to me, is something that I not only study, but I use," Edwards noted.

The kelp study is being led by Cal State Long Beach Biology Professor Steven Manley. Scientists will begin collecting the first samples up and down the coast this week.

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