10 September 2013

Guam asks For U.S. Help monitoring radiation Levels

Local EPA tests water, fish for Fukushima radiation impacts

By Gaynor Dumat-ol Daleno
Pacific Daily News

With the recent acknowledgment from Japan that the ruined Fukushima nuclear power plant continues to spill contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean, more than two years after the plant's meltdowns, the local government hopes to get additional federal government assistance.

The Guam Environmental Protection Agency is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assist in the local government's efforts to be more proactive in conducting more tests to ensure the seawater around Guam remains safe from harmful levels of radiation and that locally caught fish are safe to eat, said Eric Palacios, administrator of Guam EPA.

He said Guam EPA has requested for a federal grant to buy one or two radiation detection wands, each costing approximately $30,000 to $60,000, depending on the features.

Guam EPA also has asked for federal assistance to fund an initial $200,000 project to test tissue from locally caught fish for traces of harmful radiation levels or presence of other toxic chemicals.

U.S. EPA also is being asked to fund the fish tissue-testing program, Palacios said.

Guam EPA conducts weekly testing of seawater near Guam shorelines, and so far, Palacios said no trace of harmful radiation has been detected. The predominant cause of pollution of Guam's beach waters is water runoff from the island, Palacios said.

But with the recent reports and acknowledgment from Japan's government and the private operator of the doomed nuclear power plant that contaminated water continues to spill into the Pacific Ocean, Guam EPA wants to ensure that additional monitoring takes place, Palacios said.

At U.S. EPA, the agency's Region 9 office stated that several U.S. agencies are involved with environmental impacts of the spills and leaks of contaminated water stemming from the Fukushima disaster.

The U.S. EPA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Food and Drug Administration are involved, stated Dean Higuchi, press officer, congressional liaison and public affairs officer with U.S. EPA's Region 9 Hawaii office.

Guam fish safe to eat

"EPA is conferring with both NOAA and FDA to determine whether any actions such as food advisories might be necessary," Higuchi stated in an e-mail response to the Pacific Daily News.

"Contaminants from the spills are rapidly diluted by the vast amount of ocean water. This should provide confidence that your local species, far from Fukushima, are also safe to eat," Higuchi states.

Part of Guam EPA's concern is the highly migratory fish, such as tuna. International reports have also stated that contaminated water from Fukushima is expected to reach U.S. mainland shores as early as next year.

Guam EPA hopes to hear from the U.S. EPA sometime after the start of the new fiscal year in October on the status of the applications for funding for radiation detection wands and a program to test fish tissue for harmful levels of radiation.

An air monitor to detect harmful levels of radiation was dispatched to Guam immediately after the disaster, and continues to be monitored.

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty authorities operate the air monitor on Guam, and it's completely automated, according to U.S. EPA.

Contaminated water

The operator of the Fukushima plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, has acknowledged that hundreds of tons of radioactive underground water has been leaking into the sea daily since early in the crisis, caused by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, The Associated Press reported.

Several leaks from storage tanks in recent weeks have added to concerns that the plant is unable to manage the radioactive water, the AP reported.

The Japanese government announced Tuesday it is funding an untested subterranean ice wall, in a desperate step to stop leaks of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant after repeated failures by the plant's operator, AP reported.

Japan plans to spend an estimated $470 million through the end of 2014 on the ice wall and on upgraded water treatment units, AP reported.