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The signs of radiation that we’re looking for are, we expect, going to be extremely slight. In fact, at the moment we’re receiving a dose of radition that is noticeably lower than the one we were detecting on shore and indoors, and almost certainly far lower than what we experienced on the flight to Tokyo. We’re taking samples of water, air, and biota (mainly the lowest levels of the food chain) to test for a suite of more than a dozen different radionuclides. These natural and man-made radioactive elements include isotopes of potassium, uranium, and thorium that are always present in sea water as well as the telltale fingerprint of releases from Fukushima and Cold War nuclear weapons testing that show up in cesium-134 and -137 and the short-lived isotopes of iodine.
Many of the samples we’re taking will not be analyzed onboard. In fact, the refrain here has been that we will leave the ship with very little data. What we will have instead is a wealth of samples that we are pre-processing and packaging to send to labs all over the world with specific expertise in studying one isotope or another.
...Instead of working our way toward shore in a series of four-station legs, we are going to cut across the top of the inshore “box” by zigzagging between the top two stations of each leg. That will help get us to the innermost leg quicker and give us a little buffer in case we have more bad weather and have to stop work again.
...While the pumps are running, Crystal Breier is on the stern deck filling three large garbage cans with seawater water that she filters slowly (at one liter per minute) to extract radium. Radium is an element that originates on land and has several naturally occurring isotopes, two of which have relatively short half-lives, so any signs of those would indicate that there is groundwater from the nearby coast of Japan mixing into the ocean around us.
We are continuing to measure radiation in the air and water, as we have been since we left the dock, but it remains far below the level of concern. In fact, we’re still receiving a background dose of radiation that is one-sixth the average daily dose on land. That’s mainly because we are not surrounded by rocks and concrete buildings—known sources of things like as radon.
We are, however, detecting the presence of cesium-134 in the water, and there is only one likely source of that particular isotope—the damaged reactors at Fukushima just off to starboard.
Determination of the exact concentration will require more precisely calibrated instruments than those we have on the ship (bulky precision equipment does not always take to sea very well). What we can tell for now is that the amount of cesium-134 in our samples is lower than that of potassium-40, the most common naturally occurring radioactive isotope in seawater.
Jarvis Caffrey from Oregon State University makes his daily assessment of our effective dose on the ship. So far, we’ve received less radiation than we would have on land, primarily due to the lack of such naturally occurring sources as radon out here.
No one can call the figures that are emerging from the Fukushima area "hysteria'. Well, I suppose you can, but even the TEPCO figures are very high so if anyone IS being hysterical, it is them too.
I've always been a bit biased towards facts rather than hysteria.
Not bad for two weeks worth of work. But the real work begins after tomorrow, after everyone has gone their separate ways to anxiously wait for their individual shipments of bottles, vials, and bags. Over the coming months 16 labs in seven countries will analyze samples for a laundry list of isotopes that includes cesium-134 and -137; strontium-90; iodine-129; tritium; uranium-236; plutonium-239 and -240; rutherium-103 and -106; radium-223, -224, -228, and -226; and neptunium-237
That is not to say the scientists feel they have the luxury of time in which to carry out their work. There is still a sense of urgency that this work needs to get done as soon as possible. Plans are already underway for submitting results analysis to the appropriate journals (a rough draft showing preliminary data is already circulating around the ship) and for a meeting of collaborating team members later this winter.