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General News · 6th January 2014
Christian Gronau
For the past three weeks, I have had the loan of Delores Broten’s (Watershed Sentinel) “Gamma-Scout” Geiger Counter. I have been conducting a casual survey of various locations on Cortes Island.
Let me say right away : no radiation hot-spots were found. There are no indications that the 2011 disaster in Fukushima has had any measurable effect on our local environment. As far as levels of ionizing radiation are concerned, Cortes Island appears perfectly safe.
The topic of radiation is one fraught with hazards : it is complex to the point of being confusing (the jumble of measurement units alone - Roentgen, Curie, Becquerel, Gray, Rad, Rem, Sievert - is enough to make even the experts cringe). More daunting than its technicalities are the emotional reactions any mention of radiation engenders in the general public : some people seem strangely attached to their paranoia and are actually not welcoming of good news - and it certainly does not help that the term “radiation” encompasses such widely differing phenomena as the warm glow of your fire place and the radioactive blast of a nuclear explosion.
A number of people have asked me to publish the results of my survey - so here it is, a very simplified account of what I and the “Gamma-Scout” observed during the past few weeks :
The beach kelp is clean - the forests are quiet - the soils are fine - even the rocks produced almost nothing : which is to say that all tested samples read zero above general background radiation. Indeed, the local background levels for Cortes Island are slightly below global-average, which, in part, is explained by the fact that we live at sea-level, and the atmosphere protects us from cosmic gamma-rays - but it also is somewhat surprising, given the predominantly granitic nature of our bedrock, which often is a pronounced source of the terrestrial portion of background radiation.
There is one location, which produced a slightly above global-average reading : Red Granite Point. This very distinct body of granite (technically : Tonalite) apparently contains minute amounts of finely disseminated Uranium (and perhaps Thorium).
What does “below” and “above” global-average mean ? It means that by the safety margins placed on nuclear industry workers and Uranium miners by the National Research Council of Canada, Cortes Island as a whole is exposed to only 1.4% of the allowable dose, while Red Granite Point receives 2.6%. (Global average is 1.74%.)
One point of concern : if any of the houses in the Red Granite Point area have well-insulated and poorly-ventilated basements, the possibility of Radon gas build-up has to be considered. Radon gas is a radioactive decay product of Uranium and Thorium, which can accumulate in low-lying enclosed spaces. Making sure that a basement or cellar is properly cross-ventilated takes care of the problem.
As far as Fukushima itself is concerned, the danger is far from over : were another major earthquake to strike now, the consequences for Japan could be truly catastrophic - but it would take some extraordinary circumstances to affect the North American west coast in any major way.
For the time being at least, we have little to fear.
Some places on this planet have very high natural radiation levels, without any apparent negative health consequences to the resident population (Finland, for instance, receives 10 times the amount Cortes Island gets).
Life evolved and adapted on this planet to the constant and inescapable bombardment by cosmic and terrestrial radiation. There are indications that natural background radiation is of some benefit to the immune systems of living organisms, by activating and exercising cellular and gene-repair mechanisms. We are more deeply connected to the universe than we may think.