Fury Out Of Fukushima, |
Thunderbolts Blast California Beaches
By Yoichi Shimatsu
A terrifying barrage of thunderbolts that killed a 20-year-old swimmer and injured a dozen more beach-goers on a balmy Sunday afternoon signaled the arrival of an endless plume of radioactive seawater along the California coast. A reported nine powerful lightning strikes hit three widely separated areas, injuring a golfer and triggering wildfires on Catalina Island before moving northward to strike the Los Angeles seaside communities of Redondo Beach, where a car and a home were set aflame, and Venice Beach, site of the most casualties
In Venice, sport fishermen on a pier and sunbathers at the popular beach recalled seeing a brilliant flash close-up, feeling their skin tingling, then hearing a massive boom and watching victims of electrocution drop to the sand. The bizarre disaster is unprecedented in a coastal region where lightning strikes have been so rare that none were ever recorded in the past. Venice was hit by four strikes, while Catalina and Redondo suffered at least three shocks each. This is in a state where lightning rarely strikes; the odds of being struck by a bolt in California is one in 75 million.
Later that night, heavy rainfall hammered the drought-stricken coastal region, dumping more precipitation onto Los Angeles Airport (LAX0 in one hour than all the precipitation in the month of July over the past decade. Were those thunderbolts and downpour simply flukes of nature or a sign of climate change caused by global warming and an approaching El Nino?
The answer, in short, is none of the above. On the morning after the calamity, my dosimeter dispelled the possibility of natural causes or climate change, by showing the weather effects are directly related to radiation-contaminated water from Fukushima flowing southward in the California Current.
Sunset for the Golden State
Before discussing the shoreline findings and delving into how radiation triggers thunderstorms, let me first point out some of the near-term prospects of radiation contamination for this state, by far the strongest and most innovative economic engine for an otherwise depressed nation:
- bodily exposure while pursuing aquatic sports from fishing to competitions like the US Open Surfing Championship, now being held at Huntington Beach, pose an ever-increasing health risk, while other outdoor sports like golf and tennis are also inadvisable;
- marine mammals, birds and fishes along the southern coastline, whose populations are already diminished by radioactive wastewater from the San Onofre nuclear plant, are facing an extinction event as is happening in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska;
- sushi and seafood will soon be off the menu as the fishing industry becomes further constrained as fish, shellfish and squid bio-accumulate radionucleotides like cesium and strontium, which are moving up the marine food chain into predators including bluefin tuna;
- the value of seafront property and the health of occupants are being threatened by fog-borne radiation deposited on the exterior of and inside homes at dangerous levels;
- desalination of seawater, soon needed to alleviate an ongoing drought in the western states, cannot remove radioactive isotopes, as was discovered aboard the now-defunct aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, which was lethally contaminated by fallout off the Fukushima coast in March 2011.
How Radiation Triggers Lightning
Standing along the bluffs of Orange County, one can readily discern a straight band of dark cloud at sea level emerging from behind Catalina Island. This persistent cloud line, which is dissimilar in hue to white, fuzzy fog, is strikingly level in height. In contours and appearance, it is nearly identical to a now-permanent band of miasma off the Fukushima coast, about which I have commented many times during radio programs from inside that nuclear zone in Japan.
The Fukushima-type cloud line is apparently produced by high-energy isotopes including cesium and strontium, along with the likely presence of tritium or heavy water, clinging to a cold current (the Oyashio or Liman current off northeast Japan, and the California Current). The isotopes, which may also include americium and neptunium, are protons with a positive charge, hovering over the seawater, which carries a mild but opposite, negative charge.
What could have happened over the Catalina Channel and western Los Angeles to draw these high-energy protons toward land? Rising temperatures in the mountains surrounding the LA Basin lifted warm air into the sky, creating a vacuum in the valley. When the sea wind rushed in to fill this vacuum, fast-flowing air stripped electrons from the surface of the channel and the shore. This vast bubble of electrons at sea level was a bomb waiting to explode, and all it needed was a fistful of incoming clouds packed with Fukushima protons. When the plus-charged protons passed above the minus-packed shoreline, they connected and went boom!
This weather model is based on the assumption that the California Current is in fact radioactive, which was yet to be convincingly proven as I crawled out of bed, drank a cup of coffee, donned a bicycle helmet and pumped air into the tires of a borrowed bicycle.
By Air and Sea
My initial readings on that pleasant journey to a marine park opposite Catalina Island were taken at a couple of homes, where the edge of roof shingles, still moist from the nighttime rain, registered a consistent 0.20 microsievert reading, or high enough to pose a health threat. The general background reading in the garden areas was 0.12, indicating that the downpour had surged levels by about 8 points, a significant rise in just an hour.
Fukushima radiation delivered by the California Current to the Pacific states in late spring 2014, can be roughly calculated against the baseline of my past dosimeter readings from 14 months earlier. Back then in late spring 2013, measurements taken along the coasts of Orange County and northern San Diego revealed relatively high readings in seaweed and shore plants. The releases of cesium in water releases from San Onofre, although small compared with Fukushima, were enough to cause heart failure in mother sea lions, as I discovered with readings from the carcass of a female adult that washed ashore. The huge unending flow from Fukushima was yet to arrive.
In parts of Orange County where a year ago levels were about 0.08 microSv, the new measure is now between 0.12 and 0.16 microSv, that is, a third or half again higher that previously. This rise in radiation occurred since mid- to late-April, when the Fukushima releases arrived, a period of only three months. After moving some 8,000 kilometers across the North Pacific and 1,600 km down the West Coast, Fukushima nuclear isotopes still pack a lethal punch.
Fukushima radiation transits from the California Current, which flows on the outside of Catalina Island, approximately 45 kilometers offshore, by either of two means: first, the nucleotides are conveyed in fog and infrequent rain clouds to the coast; and second, carried by small swirling currents to the beaches. (Orange County is here used as the nearby model, while the same applies up and down the West Coast.)
With a dosimeter, one can trace the contaminated fog and rain that collect on rooftops, patios, highways and other hard surfaces on its way back down toward the ocean. Inside gullies, for instance below the Pacific Coast Highway (US 1), the level is at 0.20 microSv. That is high enough to put drivers at risk, especially if their air vents are open or convertible tops remain down. The bicycle suddenly felt uncomfortable, although better than walking.
While charting cross-sections of the coastline, it turned out that the highest levels were at the base of the bluff, where the sloping land meets the sandy beach. In narrow channels where freshwater drained, ground readings were at 0.24 microSv while clumps of well-dried kelp, which has high absorbency, registered a whopping 0.35 microSv, a number comparable to danger zones close to the Fukushima No.1 nuclear plant.
Unexpected Kelp Findings
Older and drier kelp clumps, which absorb fresh water, were more contaminated as a result. More recently deposited clumps, which were only half-dry showed lower levels, from 0.18 down to 0.14 microSv, consistent with diminished wastewater-dumping out of San Onofre since last year.
On the water’s edge, however, radiation levels in fresh kelp shot up to a surprising 0.28 microSv. Fresh kelp, with smaller leaf-shaped fronds, were showing much higher levels than older plants with big fronds and trunks called stipes. Those high readings from young plants were unexpected because kelp is among the slowest accumulators of radiation, as compared with other seaweed, due to thick cell walls, slow growth and a gelatinous protective coating. (Being more susceptible to radiation, smaller feathery algae clinging to rocks at the low-tide line reached 0.34 microSv. )
The situation was clear: Radiation levels have been rapidly rising inside the channel, despite the fact that it is shielded from the California Current by Catalina Island. The field sampling, although limited in area and time frame, does reveal that even island-protected bays along the Pacific Coast were heavily contaminated by Fukushima radiation over the past three months, and the threat level can be expected to increase over the coming months and years.
The seaside journey with a dosimeter puts a burden of extra proof on the Woods Hole-UC Berkeley study of radiation in California kelp forests led by Professor Kai Vetter, who is out to prove that California’s kelp beds are not radioactive. All I can say before the release of the official report is: Scientific fraud is a violation of the public trust and one’s own honor.
On my next visit to the West Coast, instead of borrowing a bike and bicycle helmet, I may have to select a diving mask from the 99-Cent Store to collect more marine data in order to challenge an official cover-up. While no profit can be gained from seeking the truth, there is some recompense in knowing that, in the words the British biologist John Lubbock, “listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
Yoichi Shimatsu is a science journalist and environmental consultant based in Hong Kong and Thailand, briefly visiting California for physical recuperation from radiation effects inside Fukushima.
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