Tiny amounts of radiation reach Berkeley from Japan

Miniscule concentrations of isotopes of cesium, iodine and tellurium in local water

Are you still concerned about radiation crossing the Pacific from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, despite the steady stream of scientific advice that it poses no danger?

Now you can check radiation readings from right here in Berkeley, thanks to the monitors that the Department of Nuclear Engineering has on the roof of Etcheverry Hall. A team of scientists working under Kai Vetter is testing air and water quality (from rainwater) every day.

What are the results?

Unless you are the most irrational worrier in Berkeley, there’s nothing to be worried about. Although the measurements are in the standard Becquerels per liter, the Berkeley team helpfully translates the data into more understandable terms. For air quality, the unit they choose is the number of years of breathing the air that would be needed for a person to receive the radiation exposure of a single round trip flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. On Monday the worst result was for a radioactive isotope of iodine (I-131): it would take 858 years of breathing the amount measured in Berkeley to equal that plane flight. At the peak measurement, last Friday, it would have required 168 years to equal the flight exposure.

Water quality is equally unalarming. Again, I-131 has the worst result: on Monday’s data, you’d need to drink 1,734 liters of water to equal the radiation dose from a single round-trip flight to Washington, D.C, and back. At the peak measurement, last Friday, you’d need to drink 134 liters to equal the flight exposure.

The scientists also tested water from Strawberry Creek. The results were 10 to 50 times lower than the rain water results. Finally, locally bought milk was also tested. The milk produced higher concentrations of radioactive iodine than the creek water, but lower than rain water. Around 3,800 liters of milk would be required to equal the radiation of one round-trip flight to Washington.

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