Fukushima Fallout in Alaska

SUBHEAD: Aerial deposition onto sea ice of radioactive fallout from Fukushima and health implications to seals.

By Dr. Doug Dasher 24 January 2014 for Alaska Marine Science Symposium -

Image above: Ice seal with symptoms of Unusual Mortality Event. From (http://rceezwhatnext.blogspot.com/2012/01/deaths-of-ringed-seals-in-alaska.html).

On March 11, 2011 off Japan’s west coast, an earthquake-generated tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant resulting in a major nuclear accident that included a large release of airborne radionuclides into the environment. Within five days of the accident atmospheric air masses carrying Fukushima radiation were transiting into the northern Bering and Chukchi seas.

During summer 2011 it became evident to coastal communities and wildlife management agencies that there was a novel disease outbreak occurring in several species of Arctic ice-associated seals.

Gross symptoms associated with the disease included lethargy, no new hair growth, and skin lesions, with the majority of the outbreak reports occurring between the Nome and Barrow region. NOAA
and USFWS declared an Alaska Northern Pinnipeds Unusual Mortality Event (UME) in late
winter of 2011.

The ongoing Alaska 2011 Northern Pinnipeds UME investigation continues to explore a mix of potential etiologies (infectious, endocrine, toxins, nutritious etc.), including radioactivity.

Currently, the underlying etiology remains undetermined.

We present results on gamma analysis (cesium 134 and 137) of muscle tissue from control and diseased seals, and discuss wildlife health implications from different possible routes of exposure to Fukushima fallout to ice seals.

Since the Fukushima fallout period occurred during the annual sea ice cover period from Nome to Barrow, a sea ice based fallout scenario in addition to a marine food web based one is of particular
relevance for the Fukushima accident.

Under a proposed sea ice fallout deposition scenario, radionuclides would have been settled onto sea ice.

Sea ice and snow would have acted as a temporary refuge for deposited radionuclides; thus radionuclides would have only become available for migration during the melting season and would not have entered the regional food web in any appreciable manner until breakup (pulsed release).

The cumulative on-ice exposure for ice seals would have occurred through external, inhalation, and non-equilibrium dietary pathways during the ice-based seasonal spring haulout period for molting/pupping/breeding activities.

Additionally, ice seals would have been under dietary/metabolic constraints and experiencing hormonal changes associated with reproduction and molting.

Dr.Doug Dasher, ddasher@alaska.edu
Environmental Engineer Associate II
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation
610 University Avenue
Fairbanks, AK 99709-3643
Phone: (907) 451-2170
Fax: (907) 47 1 - 5146

John Kelley, jjkelley@alaska.edu
Professor at School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences
Institute of Marine Sciences
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Fairbanks, Alaska 99775
Email: ffjjk@uaf.edu
Phone: (907) 474-5585
Fax: (907) 474-7204 

Gay Sheffield, ggsheffield@alaska.edu
Raphaela Stimmelmayr, raphaela.stimmelmayr@north-slope.org

Staff on 24 January 2014 for Alaska Public Radio

HOST: Steve HeimelAlaska Public Radio Network


  • Professor Doug Dasher, Environmental Oceanographer, University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Science
  • Dr. John Kelley, Professor Emeritus, University of Alaska Fairbanks, former Director, Naval Arctic Research Laboratory
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By Staff  on 2 November 2013 for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation  -

Scientists at the University of Alaska are concerned about radiation leaking from Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, and the lack of a monitoring plan.

Some radiation has arrived in northern Alaska and along the west coast. That's raised concern over contamination of fish and wildlife. More may be heading toward coastal communities like Haines and Skagway.

Douglas Dasher, a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, says radiation levels in Alaskan waters could reach Cold War levels.

"The levels they are projecting in some of the models are in the ballpark of what they saw in the North Pacific in the 1960s," he said.

John Kelley, a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, says he's not sure contamination will reach dangerous levels for humans but says without better data, who will know?

"The data they will need is not only past data but current data, and if no one is sampling anything then we won't really know it, will we?

"The general concern was, is the food supply safe? And I don't think anyone can really answer that definitively."

He says much of the monitoring is being done pro bono by universities, NGOs and state organizations.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: Alaska woulf rather go fishing 1/24/14


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