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Radiation from Japan showing up in B.C. seaweed and rainwater, researchers say

Radiation from the nuclear reactor crisis in Japan is showing up in B.C. seaweed and rainwater, say researchers at Simon Fraser University.

Japanese officials are trying to prevent a nuclear meltdown at reactors in Fukushima that were damaged following a 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11.

The researchers found increased levels of the radioisotope iodine-131 in rainwater collected on Burnaby Mountain and in downtown Vancouver and in seaweed collected in North Vancouver.

“The only possible source of iodine-131 in the atmosphere is a release from a nuclear fission,” said SFU nuclear scientist Kris Starosta. “Iodine-131 has a half life of eight days, thus we conclude the only possible release which could happen is from the Fukushima incident.”

For now, the levels detected in the Lower Mainland are not harmful to humans, said Starosta.

“We’re basing this on Japanese studies following the Chernobyl incident in 1986 where levels of iodine-131 were four times higher than what we’ve detected in our rainwater so far," he said.

“Studies of nuclear incidents and exposures are used to define radiation levels at which the increase in cancer risk is statistically significant. When compared to the information we have today, we have not reached levels of elevated risk.”

The radiation is being carried on the jet stream from Japan to North America. Most of the radioactivity disperses in the atmosphere and falls over the Pacific Ocean on the way, but some has now reached the west coast, falling down with rain, mixing with seawater and accumulating in seaweed.

wchow@burnabynewsleader.com

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