Radiation on California Beaches

[UPDATE 3/2014: The CDPH did their own study and confirmed our findings below, the report of their findings can be found here]

In December this rather shocking video titled “Fukushima radiation hits San Francisco! (Dec 2013)” was posted to YouTube

To date it’s been viewed almost half a million times, and countless articles have been written referencing it as evidence, source, etc.. However the claims made in the video are inaccurate. Not that the beaches aren’t radioactive – they are – however this is a natural phenomenon that has been documented for over 50 years, a fact which is easily googleable to anyone interested. Unfortunately it seems that the creators of that video, and the media publications that have run with the story, haven’t been interested enough to spend a few minutes doing any research.

In the 2008 paper Radioactivity of sand from several renowned public beaches and assessment of the corresponding environmental risks by Radenkovic, et al, published in the Journal of the Serbian Chemical Society, notable concentrations of Ra226, Th232, K40 were found in LA-area beaches (see table 1). Going back even further 1959, Tracing Coastal Sediment Movement By Naturally Radioactive Minerals is a report by Kamel & Johnson, from Berkeley, which states “This radioactive thorium is added naturally at discrete places along the coast where rivers flowing through thorium rich granite out- crops reach the coast or where the thorium rich granite itself outcrops at the sea coast.”

As there is readily available information that these beaches should naturally show higher radioactive levels than nearby surrounding areas, any claim about outside cause or influence would first need to rule out these documented radioisotopes. Dan Sythe, CEO of International Medcom (whose Inspector device is featured in the video) and self professed “truth junkie,” was concerned about these reports and immediately had soil samples taken from the beaches in Half Moon Bay where the video was created to identify the cause of these higher levels. Using a SAM 940 Multichannel Analyzer he found the sand to contain NORM levels of Radium 226 and Thorium 232 – in line with what would be expected based on the previously linked papers. He did not find any Caesium which would indicate contamination from Fukushima. He documented his findings on the Geiger Counter Bulletin, in a post titled California Beach Radiation Not From Fukushima. Here are actual shots of the measurements:


Sand from beaches in Half Moon Bay,
showing levels of Radium 226 and Thorium 232.

Sand from beaches in Fukushima,
showing levels of Caesium 137.

 

Also worth noting is that while normal background levels around California are between 30-60 CPM, and measurements have been taken on these beaches in Half Moon Bay (as well as other spots along the west coast) of upwards of 200 CPM, this is still far less than what a person is exposed to on a typical commercial airline flight where levels are regularly over 800 CPM for the duration of the flight. 200 CPM is within the level you would expect to measure from a granite counter top, or a building with some kinds of exposed brick.

So the actual science here immediately disproves claims that there is radiation from Fukushima hitting the beach in any detectible levels. Yet – an important distinction – as many existing scientific models show that trace, though detectible levels will reach the coast in the next few years, a topic we’ll address in a future post.

It’s also worth discussing some of the other points brought up in the above video, as they seem to be the cause of much stress for many people. The video accurately shows that levels increase on the beach, and decrease towards the water line, which indicates that it’s not the water itself that is the source of the readings, otherwise the levels would continue to rise as the geiger counter was brought closer to the water. Additionally, it’s not the air, because in that situation the entire area would have higher levels – the entire beach, the path, the roadway, sidewalks – everything would have a higher level. Since it’s very clear that the elevated readings are restricted to specific areas, that’s evidence that the source is on/in the surface.

To document this we’ve sent a Safecast team with our own bGeigie Nano’s to the area and expect to have detailed maps/data back from them shortly and will amend this post when we have it.

25 Comments on “Radiation on California Beaches

  1. I am glad to see that common sense and science have prevailed beyond simple fear. I hope people take this to heart and study before coming to a conclusion, rather than the other way around.
    =)

  2. I support your views. With the HUNDREDS of nuclear test bombs going off in the Pacific for decades, the beaches on the West coast will most definitely be radioactive more so than what Fukushima would deliver. Junk science really irritates me to no end.

    • So higher levels on the beaches near San Francisco are not harmful, regardless of when it occurred?

      • Safecast doesn’t speak to if something is safe or not, as each person needs to make that decision for themselves. We’re simply providing the fact that the radiation on the beach isn’t from Fukushima, and is of a level similar to granite counter tops.

        • That is so weak….200CPM is high, especially if it can become internal. Granite doesnt have the same risk.

          You are doing the opposite of fear monger. Please respond

    • If the Fukushima meltdown released more radiation than Chernobyl (and it’s not clear to me that it did), it doesn’t change the fact that no one has died as a result of the Fukushima meltdown, but clearly, over 50 people died from radiation poisoning from the Chernobyl meltdown.

      As for “Fukushima is 10 times that of all the nuclear tests combined,” the article cited is clearly fear mongering, quoting, for example, Arnie Gunderson, fear mongerer extraordinaire. See, for example:

      http://atomicinsights.com/arnie-gundersen-going-international/

      If you’re looking for something to be truly scared about, how about air pollution and the burning of fossil fuels. 2,000,000 people die prematurely every year due to air pollution. We could put an end to that with nuclear power; i.e., save lives instead of continuing our deadly addiction to fossil fuels. And, by the way, next-generation nuclear reactors are far superior to old-style reactors such as the one at Fukushima. They have passive safety systems so they can’t melt down, even with total loss of power.

      If you are truly concerned about the human condition and about global warming, I urge you to get educated about next-generation nuclear power. We have the ability to power humanity hundreds of thousands of years. There isn’t even a nuclear “waste” problem. Next-generation reactors can use that so-called waste as fuel. (Old reactors are very wasteful and burn up only a small amount of the available fuel.)

      A couple of good books to start with are: “Thorium: energy cheaper than coal” and “The Answer”.

      • Thorium reactors aren’t on anyone’s radar. They are not being designed as a next generation nuclear reactor and none are contracted to be built. Any new reactors on the books will still be BWR’s that can melt down, explode, and will create waste that has to be stored for eons. Sorry to be so blunt, but the powers that be have no interest in nuclear reactors that will not produce plutonium, sad to say. MSR’s (molten salt reactors) should be the way to go and one was functional for 20 years before Hyman Rickover had it shut down. Why they haven’t been built since is a travesty.

  3. “200 CPM, this is still far less than what a person is exposed to on a typical commercial airline flight where levels are regularly over 800 CPM for the duration of the flight. 200 CPM is within the level you would expect to measure from a granite counter top, or a building with some kinds of exposed brick.

    So the actual science here immediately disproves claims that there is radiation from Fukushima hitting the beach in any detectible levels.”

    Do you “breathe in/ingest” particles from a airline flight and/or granite countertops? Still propagating this “background” myth huh?

    Secondly, your findings don’t “immediately disprove” anything. You taken any other samples? Have you accounted for what you “don’t know” about what was really going on at fukushima reactors? What about the mox reactor? What about the fact that “half lives” can be sped up under various experimental scientific methods that have been highly sought after for years in the physics community (do some research on speeding up half lives) and also take note that radium 226 is found in spent fuel. You are drawing wild conclusions and repeating “half truths” yourself when you start basing your opinion on such limited information/knowledge.

    • Actually they do immediately disprove exactly what we claim they do. The major detectable contaminate from Fukushima is Caesium which isn’t being found on the beach, where as Radium and Thorium are being detected – at the same naturally occurring levels they have been reported there for the last 50 years. So unless you are trying to suggest that the Fukushima meltdown 3 years ago somehow went back in time 50 years and transformed from one element to another, then the stuff on the CA beaches isn’t from Fukushima. There has been no “increase” on the beach, the levels on the beach are higher than surrounding areas and have been for a long time, nothing has changed.

  4. here is some more puzzle pieces to my previous comment:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_transmutation

    Overview[edit]
    Transmutation of transuranium elements (actinides) such as the isotopes of plutonium, neptunium, americium, and curium has the potential to help solve the problems posed by the management of radioactive waste, by reducing the proportion of long-lived isotopes it contains. When irradiated with fast neutrons in a nuclear reactor, these isotopes can be made to undergo nuclear fission, destroying the original actinide isotope and producing a spectrum of radioactive and nonradioactive fission products.

    Artificial transmutation
    Conventional fission power reactors also cause artificial transmutation, not from the power of the machine, but by exposing elements to neutrons produced by a fission from an artificially produced nuclear chain reaction.
    Artificial nuclear transmutation has been considered as a possible mechanism for reducing the volume and hazard of radioactive waste.

    Reasoning behind transmutation[edit]
    Isotopes of plutonium and other actinides tend to be long-lived with half-lives of many thousands of years, whereas radioactive fission products tend to be shorter-lived (most with half-lives of 30 years or less). From a waste management viewpoint, transmutation of actinides eliminates a very long-term radioactive hazard and replaces it with a much shorter-term one.

    It is important to understand that the threat posed by a radioisotope is influenced by many factors including the chemical and biological properties of the element. For instance caesium has a relatively short biological halflife (1 to 4 months) while strontium and radium both have very long biological half-lives. As a result strontium-90 and radium are much more able to cause harm than caesium-137 when a given activity is ingested.[12]

  5. Thank you for covering this. Nice to hear this articulated so well. Folks don’t believe that everything is OK and then there’s people who are totally in the dark and think there is NOTHING wrong at all. We need sound reporting and it is such a comfort to know that Safecast.org is now here for all of us! Thank you again…

  6. From my understanding with the coriums hitting ground water and the spent fuel would be releasing plutonium, strontium, uranium forming bucky balls when mixed with seawater under high temperature. I don’t think you can compare an air flight or granite to any potential internal exposure of plutonium, strontium. Also 3 melted cores hitting water it is conceivable to think that 400 tons of water per day entering the pacific is a low ball estimate.

  7. We appreciate the comments, and people’s concern. To address a few points a bit further:

    –The main point that everyone should keep in mind when trying to figure out if the claims that Fukushima radiation has made beaches in California radioactive is that many CA beaches have always been naturally radioactive, including the one in the video. This is well documented, as described in the blog post, and there’s no question about it. Geologists ad other specialists have known about it for a long time, but it hasn’t trickled down into public awareness yet. Even the public health official quoted in news articles didn’t seem to be aware of it. He should have been.

    –Dan Sythe took samples and measured them, and found only naturally-occurring nuclides, precisely the ones that had been documented for decades. No one should doubt Dan’s bona-fides both as a radiation expert and as an activist; he himself was Nevada downwinder as a child, and he made his company’s resources available to citizens affected by Three Mile Island, by Chernobyl, and is making a huge contribution to enabling citizen’s groups like SAFECAST to gather independent radiation data about Fukushima. And BTW, he makes the Inspector model used in the video.

    –As Sean mentioned, further tests are under way, and more sensitive equipment may well show residual radionuclides from nuclear testing, from Chernobyl, and yes, even from Fukushima. At the levels documented so far any radiation from Fukushima on the beaches will probably only be detectable with very high-grade lab equipment. Nothing that will be picked up by a commercial-grade geiger counter.

    (continued)

    • –The Alaska nuclide test report Stock pointed out is very informative, and I urge people to read the whole thing, and to find out more about the monitoring that has been being done there since 1965. Amchitka was the site of several underground nuclear tests; the neighboring island of Adak is used as a “control” to which nuclide levels can be compared.

      More info here:
      http://www.lm.doe.gov/Amchitka/Sites.aspx

      Report link:
      http://www.lm.doe.gov/Amchitka/S08833_Biological_Monitoring.pdf

      Brief fact sheet:
      http://www.lm.doe.gov/Amchitka/AmchitkaBioResults.pdf

      The 2011 monitoring season came 3 months after the start of the Fukushima disaster. As the report notes (section 9.0):

      “The results imply that Dolly Varden, rockweed, and to a lesser extent, Irish lord appear to contain a significant cesium isotope signature from Fukushima Dai-ichi. ……
      … Observations of Fukushima-derived fallout impacting on this region are supported by findings of elevated levels of 134Cs (and 137Cs) in lichen and soil collected from both the Adak and Amchitka regions.”

      So there’s no doubt that Fukushima nuclides made it to the Aleutians, and yes, they also made it to CA and elsewhere. The important question is “In what concentrations?” And, “How can we find out how much we got, and where it is?” The Amchitka tests focus on lichen because it’s one of the greatest biological concentrators of Cs. The levels in lichen are regularly hundreds or thousands of times higher than what’s found in the soil beneath them. Amazing creatures, and somewhat like mushrooms in this regard. In arctic regions, species like reindeer feed on the lichen, which contributes to high contamination levels in their flesh which persists for decades. It’s worth pointing out, however, that caribou in northern Canada, for instance, show eye-openingly high levels of internal contamination from natural radionuclides as well, particularly Po210, and people who have relied on them as a food source for centuries had high internal contamination themselves even before the nuclear era because of it.

      They tested fish, seaweed, and other marine species caught off Amchitka and Adak for Cs137, Am241, U234, 235, and 238, and Pu239 and 240at the same time, and came up with less than 1 Bq/kg of Cs in the highest sample, which was mussels. Table 15 shows that samples from the Irish Sea are much higher, up to around 11 Bq/kg. All this is just for context.

      I agree that there are good reasons to do more monitoring right about now, and not wait until 2016. And no good reason not to do more testing in CA as well.

      Anyway, we’ve established that Fukushima contamination was clearly detectable in Alaskan lichen in the sumer of 2011. But how did that compare to before the Fukushima disaster? A look at table 40 (it’s posted on the website Stock linked to) gives a very good idea:

      In table 40: Cs137 in lichen
      1970-71 Clam lake range 8000-27000 pCi/kg (300-1000 Bq/kg)

      1971-79 Clam lake range 1500-67000 pCi/kg (55-2479 Bq/kg)

      1997 Amchitka range 64-74 pCi/kg (2.3-2.7 Bq/kg)

      2011 Amchitka range 1890-7120 pCi/kg (70-263 Bq/kg)

      The point being that while Cs levels in 2011 had increased compared to 1997 due to Fukushima, they were still lower than anytime between 1970-79, due to nuclear testing. And this is one of the points: outside of the most contaminated parts of Fukushima and nearby areas, the fallout from this disaster was much less than that from the nuclear testing period. That doesn’t make it alright, and we’re not saying bomb test fallout was ok either. In fact as a society we’re still trying to understand what the health effects from testing were. From our point of view, as a group of people very committed to characterizing and measuring the contamination in order to help people make well-informed decisions regarding their health and well-being, the more we understand about how this compares with past radioactive releases and their effects, the better our decisions and choices will be.

      (continued)

      • About how Fukushima releases compared to Chernobyl, Ian Fairlie (a well-respected antinuclear scientist) summarized the most reliable findings on his website, with well-cited sources:

        http://www.ianfairlie.org/news/assessing-long-term-health-effects-from-fukushimas-radioactive-fallout/

        “The radioactive air emissions from Fukushima were about 3 to 5 times lower than those from Chernobyl apart from the inert gas, Xe-133……In addition, it is estimated (Masson et al, 2011) that ~80% of Fukushima’s radioactive fallout fell over the Pacific Ocean whereas most of the radioactivity from Chernobyl fell on land. ”

        So that’s the big difference: Chernobyl was bigger, but much more of Fukushima ended up in the ocean. The estimates converge around:
        –Chernobyl total: 100 PBq
        –Fukushima total: 75 PBq
        –Chernobyl to ocean: 18 PBq
        –Fukushima to ocean: 45 PBq

        It’s easy to find different estimates, but the data is gradually converging, and the only way to get a good picture is to do what Fairlie did and look closely at all of them.

  8. This article would be really interesting if there had been follow up tests done and results reported detailing more than just a few isotopes. Studying more than one beach, too. While a good read this article is not entirely balanced.

    • The idea of this article was to debunk the video that was posted on youtube. Not a long term study project.

  9. Thank you for the article, as well as thanks for the follow-up commentary here. Reposted in social media to combat the sudden flare-up of extreme alarmism that’s slowly clogging the interwebs.

  10. Ok, you did a good job of debunking the beach scare near San Francisco. Has anybody got a source on the radiation level measurements for the starfish being examined off the pacific west coast.

  11. Panic as Fukushima radiation ‘found’ on Californian beach!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTJlkEE3edo&feature=c4-overview&list=UUmb8hO2ilV9vRa8cilis88A

    ———
    I preformed my own radiation survey and sampling on 7 January 2013 at 2:07 Pacific Standard Time (PST). The location was at the same location as the location shown in the original video. The beach is at the north end of Half Moon Bay. It is the strip of beach between the El Granada Beach (Surfer’s Beach) and the west end of Magellan Avenue. It is part of the County of San Mateo, Parks Department, Mirada Surf park (http://parks.smcgov.org/mirada-surf). I scanned the whole beach and took samples from various locations along that beach. All along the base of the bluff there was a strip of black sand and all those areas had readings significantly above the areas with light-tan sand. Typically, the black sands extended a maximum of about eight meters from the base of the bluff and from there, to the surf’s edge was light-tan sands. The sampling area, with some of the highest readings, was at the following geographic coordinate location, 37.49755090°, -122.4648666°.

    I collected samples from a 5 cm deep trench in the black sand at this location. The black sand showed evidence of being at least this deep in many parts of the lengthy band of black sand. I also collected samples of the light-tan sand about 3 m beyond the strip of black sand, on the way down to the surf edge. After returning home I dried the samples and looked at the grains under a microscope. The light-tan sand looked like typical sand that primarily consist of quartz grains. Some were clear crystals that were rectangular in shape and others were a more oval shape and a milky white in color. It contained less then 10% black grains in black intrusions in milky quartz grains. In the black sand sample the grains were more uniform in size and shape. Most were close to spherical and extensively pitted. The the grain surface had a metallic luster. Typically, the black sand samples contained less than 10% of the lighter quartz grains.

    I brought the sample bags close to a strong magnet. The light-tan sands showed no attraction to the magnet. The black sand showed a strong attraction.

    I then compacted equal volumes of 3.00 mL from two sample bags. The mass of the two samples was then measured. The light-tan sand sample weighed 4.22 g and the black sand sample weighed 7.78 g. Therefore, the black sand was almost twice as dense as the light-tan sand.

    I then ran a 15 minute count of two 40 g samples that were placed next to my Geiger counter entrance window. First I took a background count. The values are shown below.

    Background count: 180
    Light-tan sand: 185
    Black sand: 290

    When I placed my RadAlert meter in the narrow trench I got a reading of 206 which was around 12 times the background count I got in an empty field on the bluff. High reading, such as this, suggest that the volume of black sand was rather large where I was performing the count. My guess is that many tons of black sand are on this one beach. Upon examining the bluff I noticed some small bits of granite rock, containing black specks, were exposed on the face of the eroding face. That could be the source of the black sand grains which the wave action has segregated from the majority of the sand grains.

    Conclusion: The black sand grains are likely to consist of the mineral monazite which in its most common form contains Thorium (Th). Most of the isotopes of Thorium are mildly radioactive. This mineral is often found concentrated on beaches. The most likely source is the eroding bluff but it’s also possible the sands could originate from the massive granite plutons in the high Sierra Nevada Mountain range to the east.

    I was trained as a radiation worker and have other knowledge about radioactive sources. The elevated readings I measured gave me no concern and appear to be consistent with naturally occurring sources of radiation that warrant no imposition of hazard warnings, or any other restrictions. People could camp on those black sands for several days and not get a significant exposure.

    My findings are also consistent with the observations and tests performed by other independent researchers who have looked at this video that went viral with the significant help provided by certain internet communities.

    The Geiger counter instrument I used is a RadAlert distributed by International Medcom.

    • Vernon: That’s great work, and highly appreciated. I also suspected it was mainly monazite, and Dan Sythe at Medcom forwarded us this 1959 geological survey which confirms it:
      Mineralogy of Beach Sands between Halfmoon and Monterey Bays, California
      https://archive.org/details/mineralogyofbeac59hutt

      It’s very detailed. They also found several other naturally radioactive minerals at Half Moon Bay, including uranoran thorite, rutile, and sphene. And Ano Nuevo has significant deposits of xenotime (yttrium phosphate), which they say is “distinctly more radioactive than the associated monazite.” Maybe it would be interesting to head down there and see what you find.
      (commenting by non-admins is auto-disabled after 14 days, but I’ve asked if it can be restored for this thread. Meanwhile email us at “infosafecast.org” if you like.)