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SDSU Professor Helps Test California Kelp For Radiation Exposure From Fukushima Disaster

California kelp is home to many small fish. Kelp samples will be taken from m...

Photo by NOAA's National Ocean Service via Compfight

Above: California kelp is home to many small fish. Kelp samples will be taken from more than 30 locations off the California coast, including Pt. Loma and North County.

Nearly three years after the Fukushima nuclear incident, testing for radiation will begin on samples taken from the kelp forest along the California coastline.

One of 50 scientists who will do the testing is San Diego State University biologist Matt Edwards. KPBS "Morning Edition's" Deb Welsh spoke with Edwards about the yearlong study.

Q. What do you believe will be achieved through "Project Kelp Watch 2014?"

A. One of the things we're trying to do here is get good spacial coverage by hitting as many sites up and down the west coast of North America as possible. We're also trying to get good temporal coverage to find out how things varied through the year.

Q. My understanding is that you doubt if radiation is detected, it will pose a public health threat. Why is that?

A. It's not that I doubt it will be detected. Our levels of detection are quite good with the instruments we have. However, by the time the waters reach our coast they've traveled great distances and it's been some time. And as water travels across the ocean it dilutes greatly.

Q. There's some confusion over "detectable" amounts of radiation and "harmful" amounts. If they're not harmful, or of concern, would there still come a point where they could affect the food chain?

A. At the levels we're talking about right now, I don't believe so.

Q. Fukushima radiation is just going to become, for lack of a better phrase, "a way of life" for us, much like radiation is part of our background from testing 50 or 60 years ago?

A. This is certainly going to be something that is going to be in the environment. You know radioactivity just doesn't go away.

Kelp samples will be taken from more than 30 locations off the California coast, including Pt. Loma and North County. The Fukushima nuclear plant was damaged in a 9.0 earthquake-generated tsunami in March 2011.

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