Testing the Waters

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FLORENCE, Ore. — It’s been more than three years since a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. After all that time, there are still concerns leaked radiation is washing up on Oregon’s beaches.

In March 11, 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit a hundred miles off the coast of Japan. It was Japan’s largest quake ever and sent a 30-foot-tall wall of water toward the coastline.

The earthquake and tsunami killed nearly 16,000 people. Among the one million buildings damaged or destroyed, was the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Six months ago, ABC news was allowed inside the plant. In the report, radiation levels recorded were 2,000 times higher than outside Fukushima. The Japanese government claimed the radiation was contained, but scientists say they’ve measured radiation linked to the meltdown seventy miles away.

Those reports struck fear in many, especially as debris continues to wash ashore in Oregon.

“Well, the debris has started to pick up in recent weeks. Nothing very large in this part of the beach, but we have had a couple of things show up on the beach,” said Daniel Schewlakow, Oregon State Park Ranger.

For Schewlakow, the beach is his office. He takes three samples to be measured for radiation levels. One from the surf, one from the sand, and one from the tap closest to the beach.

Each quarter since August of 2011, samples have been taken from multiple locations along the coast. Each is tested for two types of radiation, and results are posted on the state’s public health division website. The results time, after time, show minimum detectable activity. Not once have tests came back any different.

“I guess it’s the government. So ya know, I guess you gotta trust what they say, but you never know,” Schewlakow said.

Resident Shane Mead says nothing will keep him from the beach; but, reports of trace amounts found in Bluefin tuna in California have him changing his diet.

“Well, I definitely think about staying away from food from the ocean, things like sushi. It just worries me that I’d be eating radiated, possible,” Mead said.

Returning home to Canada following a trip to Nevada, Keith Ross says he too is confident the coast is clear, but gives it thought.

“Always have concerns with radiation, debris, ‘cause you never know what’s coming over, either the tsunami, or the meltdown over there,” Ross said.

Residents and shop owners like Charlene Martin say they have no worries, never did. And from the tone of things, visitors to Old Town consider the Fukishima disaster old news.

“Business is wonderful, it has increased exponentially in the last year,” Martin said.

Enough to the point Martin had to move to a bigger location.

Mike Nielson, a retired contractor, has traveled the world refueling outages at nuclear power plants. He says he would never pass himself off as an expert in radiation, but there’s not many trained to do what he did and he knows a thing or two about radiation.

“It doesn’t stick. It’s like a particle, like a dust particle, it washes off, it can be cleaned up,” Neilson said.

Neilson knows the potential danger it brings, but he’s quick to point out it would have to be brought 5,000 miles across the ocean.

“So anything that comes this way, by the time it gets to us it’s going to be so diluted it won’t matter, and the things that are highly radioactive that are in the containment area of the power plant, are heavy, so they’re going to sink. If they even float at all, so it won’t get here,” Neilson said.

State officials generally agree. But just in case, Park Rangers like Schewlakow will stay busy at the office.

“Being able to come out here and see the surf and the people enjoying themselves in the sun in the summer, it’s really good,” Schewlakow said.

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